CPD: The links between organisational and individual resilience within the workplace

In the second article of our three-part series, Catherine D’Arcy-Jones looks at the drivers behind organisational resilience – how organisations respond to challenge and change – and the impact this can have on individual health and wellbeing.

The first article in this series, published in our September edition, looked at the main psychological aspects underpinning resilience and the use of resilience scales. This article takes this discussion one step further, building on these theoretical aspects in both the individual and the organisation, considering both the workplace and the role of occupational health (OH). It is setting the groundwork for a closer look at the role, and influence, of OH within this context in the third and final article.

About the author

Catherine D’Arcy-Jones SCPHN, RGN, BSc Psychology, MSc Health Psychology, BSc Occ Health is director of occupational health company OPA Health

The literature relating to organisational and individual resilience is vast and research in this field is continuing to grow. There is no doubt that this current climate with the challenges of Covid-19, the government responses and likely ongoing impact of actions taken, will be subject to research for many years to come.

Businesses have had to make very quick adaptations to ensure their survival in times of great uncertainty; some have succeeded and others not, with some failing to adapt effectively. There will be many lessons to be learnt within the business world (with hindsight) that can be used to promote organisational resilience for the future.

Against this backdrop, the role of OH, on both an individual and at an organisational level, has never been so important, from maintaining safety and supporting the mental health of individuals unable to work through to keeping businesses working that are contributing to the economy.

Understanding organisational resilience

Organisational resilience encompasses not only aspects of bouncing back from adversity but also the ability of a business to respond to, recover collaboratively and learn from events that are seen as disruptive and challenge resources, technology, infrastructure and ultimately the delivery of services.

It is a process that develops over time and is not static. This cannot be taken in isolation, as one organisation’s resilience will in some part be reliant on the resilience of another’s, be this from customers, suppliers, regulators, competitors or the businesses sector as a whole.

In developing resilience, organisations need to ensure areas such as financial reserves, positive relationships and people management processes are adequate (Välikangas, Romme and Georges 2013) and able to respond efficiently and effectively to the demands placed upon them.

The notion of organisational resilience was introduced in 2014 by the British Standards Institution in its BS 65000 standard. It defined organisational resilience as: “a strategic objective intended to help an organisation survive and prosper… the ability to anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt… to minor everyday events to acute shocks and chronic or incremental change”.

BSI’s guidance is aimed at assisting organisations to be, “adaptable, competitive, agile and robust”. It was further enhanced in 2016 by the International Organization for Standardization developing ISO 22316, which took a global approach to organisational resilience regardless of business size, type (public or private), industry and sector. Gaining this accreditation brings benefits to organisations, and as listed in “Benefits of ISO 22316” below.

ISO standards are regularly updated to reflect changing external influences and sit alongside the BSI standards. At the time of writing, new BSI guidance for organisational resilience was due for publication (and hopefully during 2020). It is certain that the world and individual country responses to Covid-19 during 2020 will influence organisational resilience advice issued from these bodies going forward.

This challenging time has highlighted those businesses with effective resilience planning, demonstrated by those being able to adapt to the daily economic challenges. It has also brought some surprises for major businesses that have struggled and been ill-prepared for the intensity of this short notice demand.

Planning for organisational resilience is a proactive process and one that will, no doubt, be addressed by all in detail post Covid-19.

The literature on this topic is vast and reviewing the organisational resilience literature has highlighted some main themes to consider. These can be grouped into three areas: ownership, leadership and collaboration, but they do not make up the totality of fields identified in this area.

However, they are crucial in the eventual outcome of any interventions that are embarked upon by businesses to seek solutions to uncertainty and adverse events. Let us therefore look at each in turn.

Ownership. This relates to the structure, mapping and disciplines organisations have in place, including clear lines of accountability and understanding within the business at all levels, from the chief executive downwards.

This brings clarity within the organisation in how to interact between allocated responsibilities and how each discipline within the business needs to be adaptive when change is required, either reactively or proactively.

The importance of job design and flexibility within this cannot be underestimated. Research into the advantages of a rich diversity of team members working within their disciplines yet collaboratively to a common aim has been linked to stronger organisational resilience (Baral and Narbin 2013; Nishi et al 2018; Duchek et al 2019).

Leadership. Leadership behaviour is influential. There is a plethora of leadership research that highlights the importance of this and the impacts of poor leadership. Leadership affects organisations at every level and is the glue uniting the values and attitudes of those who work together in promoting and shaping the culture of a business.

Within the context of organisation resilience, leadership is associated with key factors such as communication style, engagement with front-line workers, consistency, auditing and recognition of internal and external risk factors.

Effective leaders need to cope with juggling the requirement of business stability and control with the need to be flexible in responding to uncertainty, known and unknown demands. They need to lead and guide individuals by adapting their leadership styles dependent on the situation they are faced with.

This, in turn, impacts on the behaviour of employees and their sense of engagement in tasks associated with maintaining an organisations resilience (Grote 2019).

Collaboration. Teams and individuals need to work together within the overarching framework of an organisation. They need to maintain their field of speciality, promote understanding and recognition regarding the valuable contribution each discipline contributes to an effective response of an adverse event or time of uncertainty (TPP 2018).

Collaboration promotes trust and sharing capabilities reinforces engagement within an organisation to seek solutions in the face of adversity.

Benefits of ISO 22316

  • Advance the ability to clarify the nature and scope of resilience
  • Allow you to identify the main components of resilience and enable an organization to review its resilience
  • Provide the necessary knowledge to implement and measure improvement
  • Increase the capacity to adapt and respond successfully to unforeseen events
  • Improve the ability to reduce costs and increase efficiency through the avoidance of pitfalls
  • Gain a better understanding of the threats
  • Build an organisational resilience culture
  • Increase the confidence of clients
  • Ensure legal compliance
  • Ensure contract compliance
  • Increase the competitive advantage

Individual resilience within an organisation

It goes without saying that individuals with higher resilience, with the ability to adapt to adversity whilst continuing to work effectively in uncertain times and the flexibility to change with the requirements of an organisation, are beneficial to any business. However, businesses are made up of a range of individuals, all with a variety of abilities to cope with changing demands.

It is therefore the role of the organisation to ensure systems are in place to develop stronger resilience skills for their employees. It is the role of the individual to embrace learning and proactively put these in place, as this will benefit them both in the workplace and in their personal life.

Earlier this year, BSI undertook research with business leaders and revealed that, despite 88% believing resilience was a priority for their organisations, only a third trusted that resilience practices were fully embedded, and less than half expected this to be the case in three years’ time (BSI, 2020).

Commitment to an organisation has been associated with individuals having either a positive or negative experience in times of change (Hughes and Half 2009) and, therefore, the level of individual resilience in their reactions will influence the strength of this feeling.

Job satisfaction is a key driver for career decisions, and being able to draw on a variety of resilience techniques to assist coping with the demands of the work environment is more likely to increase an individual’s commitment to an organisation. Individual and organisational resilience are reliant on each other and should be approached as such.

Linking back to my first article in this series which, to recap, explored the psychology behind resilience, Kobasa (1982) reports that an individual’s hardiness level is correlated with their wellbeing.

She proposes that individuals with increased hardiness characteristics display a clearer sense of direction, a dynamic approach to addressing demanding situations and a stronger sense of self-belief and control, all of which can effectively moderate the responses to perceived threats and demands.

If this matches the underlying values and culture of an organisation, with the individual working within a discipline that complements these attributes, both organisational and individual resilience continue to grow and develop.

Difficulties arise in times of uncertainty and unexpected demand, when there is incongruence and imbalance between these factors, such as where there is a requirement for high organisational resilience but low individual resilience.

Research has shown that individuals flourish and report higher satisfaction in working environments that offer opportunities for participation, autonomy and personal development (Sparks et al 2001), where the employee has clear working boundaries and is aware of how they need to execute their role to maximum effectiveness.

The reactions of organisations to changing external demands outside of the business’ control and the organisational expectations of employees to be flexible in such periods of uncertainty by working and behaving differently is stressful for individuals (Rousseau 1989, Sparks et al 2001).

The literature discusses the advantages of being a high-reliability organisation (HRO). This is an organisation where “catastrophes are avoided despite high levels of complexity and risk” (Jacobson 2019) and the main factors in achieving this is are fostering resilient leaders and employees through effective resources, training and encouraging collaboration throughout the organisation.

The role of occupational health

Occupational health practitioners are in a unique position within a business. OH has access to higher layers of management within an organisation and an underpinning of policies and procedures. This allows for an understanding of the core resilience measures within a business, including the expectations, targets and demands placed from senior managerial level to front line worker.

Conversely, however, the OH practitioner also has exposure to the impact of these organisational measures on the employees and is able to correlate the outcome of management practices on an individual’s health.

The OH practitioner needs to maintain impartiality in conveying guidance. At an organisational level, the OH practitioner may be advising regarding risk assessment, as advised in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Or they might be conducting a review of policies or holding discussions with health and safety for collaborative working.

At an individual level, the OH practitioner may be signposting to both reactive and proactive measures to increase an employee’s resilience both within the workplace and outside of work. This focus on the more practical guidance OH practitioners can offer individuals will be the basis for the final forthcoming article in this series, which is due to be published in the November edition.

The responses of business and employees to Covid-19 has put unprecedented strain on both organisations and individuals. Much depends on pre-existing measures in place to ensure the safety of the business in times of uncertainty and the security of both health and finances for individuals.

The depth, length and intensity of the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted how many organisations are ill prepared for such a situation. Where such measures within businesses are not available or where there is a shortfall in the support organisations can offer, the government has stepped in to provide support, at least temporarily, for example through its furlough scheme and business loans support.

But this is dependent on whether criteria are met for the various options and is not going to be there forever. This has put the resilience of organisations and individuals to weather this crisis to the test, and a number of company casualties are likely to be seen when the economy begins to move again. Indeed, the signs were already there at the time of writing (over the summer) in terms of rising levels of redundancies, unemployment and business failure.

The world around us is changing and evolving, impacting on the foundations of business, the economy and consequently at an individual level.

Pressures for adapting can be seen through slower moving processes such as Brexit through to short, sharp responses, such as the Covid-19 crisis. What we know is the importance of learning and adapting at an organisational and individual level as we manage ourselves out of the fallouts of these economic and global situations. Adopting effective resilience at an organisational and individual level is key to survival. The important role that occupational health practitioners can play in this will the focus of the next, and final, article in this series.

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