Resilience: The art of overcoming and learning from setbacks

Many of us now work in a high demand, constantly connected working culture, where ‘switching off’ or ‘working a 9-5’ is a distant memory. Our lives are jam packed with work, families, friends, commitments, socialising, exercising, getting an education… and we want to be so damn perfect at all of it. Do we need to give ourselves a break, or do we need to build our resilience to be able to have it all?

The answer probably lies somewhere in between. The constant pressure to be perfect in today’s culture creates a pressure that often has the opposite effect – it impacts on our resilience to be effective at everything, therefore, resulting in a self-imposed failure in some areas. We become less effective at dealing with small setbacks due to the amount of STUFF we have going on.

In this struggle to be perfect, we are losing our ability to be resilient in many aspects our lives.

It’s probably safe to say that this high demand culture we see in our working lives is unlikely to change, therefore it's more important than ever to build resilience into your toolbox of management skills. 

Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions (EQ), and the ability to see failures as a form of helpful feedback.

Resilience at work is now recognised as a defining characteristic of employees who deal well with the stresses and strains of the modern workplace.

Before we move into strategies to help us work on those resilient behaviours, it’s probably important to understand and manage some of the factors that cause us to feel so overwhelmed and stressed at work.

Our current work culture is a direct reflection of the increasing complexity and demands faced by businesses globally. In a study conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value in late 2015, a survey of 5,247 business executives from 21 industries in over 70 countries reported that the “scope, scale and speed” of their businesses were increasing at an accelerated rate, especially as the competitive landscape becomes increasingly disrupted by technology and radically different business models.

The result is at times a frenetic way of working. Being hyperconnected and responsive to work anytime, anywhere, can be extremely taxing. In a 2014 global survey of Human Capital Trends conducted by Deloitte, 57% of respondents said that their organisations are “weak” when it comes to helping leaders manage difficult schedules and helping employees manage information flow and that there is an urgent need to address this challenge.

So is resilience a skill, and can it be learned? It seems so. More than five decades of research point to the fact that resilience is built by attitudes, behaviours and social supports that can be adopted and cultivated by anyone.

Workplace Resilience 

What does the research tell us?

Multiple interviews with senior leaders highlight resilience as one of the top characteristics required to succeed. However being resilient is not the same as being just ‘optimistic’. Having a realistic approach and using building blocks prior to undertaking projects or more workload can actually help to build your resilience. Try using these building blocks next time you’re faced with that overwhelming feeling…


  • What is the current situation that I want to change?
  • What do I hope to gain?
  • What is the measurable end result?
  • What are the outcomes should this be successful?
  • What are the potential benefits (to the business)?
  • What are the risks?
  • Am I in a competitive situation to get this done?
  • What support do I need (at each stage)?
  • What groups will I need support from and interface with?
  • Is there any anticipated resistance?


By taking the time initially to assess the situation properly, we can take a more strategic viewpoint, more than likely resulting in a less stressful outcome. These building blocks to resilience can be learned, but organisations need to support and promote the approach. You and your organisation have to accept and learn from mistakes in order to grow a stronger resilience.

There are no quick wins to building your resilience, it’s a long-term behaviour that can be learned and nurtured throughout your career. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time manager or a senior leader, including skills and behaviours to build your resilience on your PDP will no doubt help you develop those characteristics, and master the art of overcoming and learning from setbacks that life will continue to throw at us.

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