The biggest news from last week’s virtual HR Tech Conference was not about tech. It was about research from Marcus Buckingham on how companies can boost the resiliency of their workforces.

Resilience is independent of employee engagement, according to Buckingham, but related to it. It is possible to be highly engaged and very resilient, and vice versa. Engagement is a proactive frame of mind to do your very best at work. On the other hand, resiliency is a reactive frame of mind relating to your capacity to withstand and bounce back from challenges.

Buckingham and his team at the ADP Research Institute, surveyed more than 26,000 employees in 25 companies to develop a statistically reliable, global measure of resiliency, equally represented by men and women. He thought going into the survey that countries with high COVID19 cases and death would be the most resilient. He found he was wrong.

Buckingham identified 10 straight forward questions that reliably measure individual resilience. They break down into three areas of an ecosystem: self, team leaders, and senior leaders, shown below from his presentation at HR Tech.

Buckingham identified actions that individuals, team leaders, and senior leaders can do to be resilient.

First for individuals. Individuals need to know what they can control and cannot control and focus on what they can. They should also try to find strength in work. If they can, they will be more resilient.

Second for team leaders. Team leaders need to check in frequently with each employee every week to see how they are doing. Buckingham recommends they ask two questions: What are you working on this week? How can I help you? Team leaders also have the ability to tell employees what they need to know for any crisis in the near team. The more they do this, the more resilient their workers will be.

Third, for senior leaders. The need to stay one step ahead of events. Buckingham means events in the near future, such as around the corner, not next year. Such concerns may include work employees need to do, information relating to customers we will continue to serve, and details about the small steps they can take to continue the business. He emphases that senior leaders should not sugar coat bad news. Speak to reality, what they know. Senior leaders need to follow through on what they say they will do and build trust with employees.

Buckingham’s advice for senior leaders and team leaders is similar to the advice we provide at InnovationOne, working with clients. Executives need to point to a strategic direction, be transparent and honest about what they know, and follow through on their promises. Team leaders need to be clear about goals and changes at work and encourage employees to ask questions. Most of all, they need to build trust with each team member.

Buckingham’s research found that 17 percent of employees around the world are highly resilient. Resilience does not differ by gender, age, or by how countries responded to COVID19. Countries with higher death rates do not have more resilient workforces than countries with low COVID19 death rates, and vice versa.

What does drive resiliency is the amount of intimacy an individual has with COVID19. If you or a family member, close friend, or worker had COVID19, you are four times more likely to be highly resilient.  Workers who had changes at work became more resilient than those who did not. These changes at work include the following:

  • watching employers be furloughed or laid off
  • being furloughed or laid off
  • changing work hours
  • being required to work remotely
  • seeing a facility close
  • being required to depend more on technology
  • experience having pay raises or promotions frozen
  • being ordered to shelter in place
  • having access to more PPE

Workers who have experienced at least five changes at work are 13.2 times more likely to be highly resilient.

Buckingham says employees who have experienced change are more resilient than those who have not. Change is not a problem. Sugar-coating reality or making false promises is a problem. His advice to executives is this: do not rush to make things normal. People will not feel better with those words. What makes people feel better is knowing reality and what they have to do. This understanding takes a normal human fear and turns it into action and confidence. His research shows that the higher people are in the organization, the more they are resilient.

The dramatic changes facing us at home, work, and in our communities will continue. Knowing what we can control and what we cannot control, the difference, and the path forward (the old Irish serenity blessing) is the way to build resilience among your workforce. This is the focus of leadership during a crisis.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization