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Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
Extreme or traumatic events occur in a variety of ways and affect many communities and businesses. Man-made or natural disasters or personal tragedies, such as the ones listed below, are realities we see too often in the news media.
Many of us are also now experiencing a heightened level of stress because of the coronavirus pandemic. Having resilience helps strengthen us as we go through life and meet the challenges we face.
These events, whether local or global, can affect employees’ and organizations’ ability to function. How do employees and organizations continue to function during and following such events? One way is to use resilience.
Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. Others have defined resilience as a stable trajectory of healthy functioning after a highly adverse event, a process to harness resources to sustain well-being and the ability to bend—but not break—bounce back or even grow in the face of adverse life experiences.
Most researchers agree that resilience is a common and natural phenomenon. Resilience does not imply that problems go away; rather, it’s a matter of individuals having the ability to see past problems to a positive, future outcome. Resilience in the workplace can lead to increased leadership ability, welcoming challenges, increased effort, a belief in being successful and an increase in performance improvement.
Factors that determine resilience
Why do some individuals cope better, move forward more readily or even thrive after adverse events? Individuals can possess some or all of the factors to varying degrees, at different times in their lives and in various settings. Multiple factors determine resilience:
Positive, supportive relationships, hope and optimism are the most frequently noted factors determining resilience. Repeated exposure to stress that can be managed fosters better modulated behavior and emotional response to future stressors. Many of these factors can be developed, enhanced and fostered in individuals, as well as in organizations.
Individuals react differently to different traumatic events and adversity. How you have responded to adverse events in the past can be an indicator of how you will respond in the future. Start with identifying types of events that trigger a strong emotional response and feelings of uncertainty. What has been your usual response to these triggers?
Do you stay paralyzed in negative emotions or allow them to move through you and let positivity and hope emerge? Do you immediately look for ways to fix the situation, with or without acknowledging the emotional impact of the situation? Can you recognize when you are able to handle feelings and behaviors on your own and when you need to ask for assistance and support from others?
Do you know about resources and support available to you? The more you understand your usual reactions to adverse events, the better you can be at changing or minimizing negative, unhelpful responses and replace them with thoughts and behaviors that increase your resilience.
Building resilience involves taking steps and preparing for adverse events—practically and emotionally—before adversity occurs. Having sufficient and varied skills or tools available can help you function better during and through challenges. Try adding some of these to your resilience repertoire:
Building a culture of resilience
All levels of leadership have a responsibility to develop, enhance and support resilience in the workplace. Supervisors are pivotal to the workplace culture due to their position between front-line employees and upper-management. They provide practical, tangible information regarding available resources, decision-making and action-planning that supports resilience.
Competent supervisors understand and use social capital—knowing who to call and where to go to get needed resources. Supervisors also have the opportunity to build psychological resources, which may be even more critical during and after extreme stress or traumatic events when tangible resources may not be plentiful.
Supervisors are positive communicators who can increase cooperation and problem-solving, while decreasing conflict. Having an optimistic style helps employees see setbacks as external and temporary, while successes are seen as internal and long term. Supervisors are leaders who frame challenges as opportunities for personal and professional growth, empower positive thinking and provide emotional support to foster coping skills.
Role modeling can instill hope, positivity, optimism and emotional regulation. Demonstrating concern and consideration toward employees encourages reciprocal behavior and increased commitment to organizational welfare. Supervisors are teachers who allow employees to master tasks and then build new skills, thereby increasing self-efficacy and confidence that can be used in times of adversity.
Everyone should be aware that individuals can be re-traumatized and experience strong emotions and feelings of uncertainty related to a prior trauma. These emotions and reactions can be as intense as when the initial trauma occurred.
Anniversaries, similar events, the threat of events, media reports, witnessing others’ or hearing about traumatic events can be triggers. Supporting resilience is crucial to limiting the effects of re-traumatization.
The new normal
The USPS and other organizations often have to resume operations directly after an adverse or traumatic event or even while the event still is occurring. There are principles that can help guide supervisors when having to manage operations under such conditions. They include promoting a sense of safety, being calm, having a sense of self and being mindful of tangible and psychological resources.
chological resources. Supervisors and employees should understand that re-traumatization is possible when new adversities arise. Resilience—inherent, acquired and supported—is crucial for organizations to complete their missions during and after adverse or traumatic events.
If you would like to learn more about increasing your resilience or that of your team or work unit, the USPS Employee Assistance Program has counselors and coaching services available. For more information, please contact your EAP at 1-800-EAP4YOU (1-800-327-4968) 877-492-7341 (TTY).