I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not a fan of the focus that many organizations have on helping their people become more ‘resilient’. Why? Because when leaders focus on helping team members become more ‘resilient’, I worry that they miss out on opportunities to reduce and eliminate the things that are causing people to need to be more resilient.
Many years ago I worked in front line customer service. Every few months I was given more customers to care for. The job was detail-oriented and when something went wrong, as it often did, customers were extremely unhappy. The more customers I was asked to care for, the more I had to rush to do my work, and the more I rushed, the more errors I made…causing more and more unhappy customers to call with complaints. Some of them screamed profanities and berated not only my work, but me, as a person. The other front line service reps in my organization had similar experiences.
Stressed and unhappy, we asked management for help. And the help we were given? Resiliency training! The Oxford Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. During the training, we were given strategies that we could use, like meditation and journaling, to use to reduce our own stress. We practiced not taking angry clients comments personally, and learned how to lean back in our chairs with open body posture to minimize the stress we felt when clients were screaming at us.
But here’s the problem. Learning how to be more resilient didn’t alleviate the problems that were causing the need for resiliency training. Leadership didn’t create ways to reduce the number of clients we needed to care for. In fact, they added more. Leadership didn’t confront customers who treated us in unkind ways about their behavior. In fact, we were told that we had to serve the customer no matter how unkindly they treated us. And our leaders didn’t listen to the suggestions we had for ways that they could improve their leadership to help us feel more supported and valued. Instead, they simply looked the other way and asked us to focus on becoming more resilient.
We can see many of these same conditions and problems occurring today as we navigate the difficult conditions of the COVID-19 environment. Healthcare workers who are stressed, burnt out and broken from wave after wave of patients to care for. And from people who refuse to get vaccinated, wear masks and who treat them unkindly. I’ve passed signs and protests saying “Last year’s heroes…this year’s zeroes.” Servers working in understaffed restaurants are berated and belittled by demanding, impatient and unkind customers. The front line workers in my local grocery store are afraid to ask customers to wear masks, even though they are mandated in my state. And flight attendants are dealing with more unruly customers than ever.
And, one thing I am sure of is that ‘resiliency’ training is not the answer to these problems. Asking people who are doing to the work to care for others to become tougher is not going to fix the problems we are seeing and that they are experiencing. In fact, people who serve others don’t need to be tougher; what they need to be is empathetic, and compassionate.
So, if resiliency…and resiliency training isn’t the answer, what is?
Treating the people who serve you on a day-to-day basis, whether in person at the bank, in the grocery story, in a restaurant or in a healthcare setting or virtually, in an online call center (like the one I worked in many years ago), with kindness. Saying please and thank you. Being patient. Waiting your turn in line. Wearing masks and showing proof of vaccine where required without complaint. Remembering that the person in front of you is a human being and that they aren’t perfect, and that they probably have a lot going on in their life, just as you do.
And kind leadership.
The ‘kind’ of leadership (pun intended) that works to actively alleviate the causes of stress at work and treat people as the valued and valuable human being that each one is. Leaders who work to create better work processes so that people aren’t overworked and burnt out. Leaders who value people and their efforts over the bottom line dollars.
Instead of resilience, we need to focus on kindness.
Kindness to those within your organization, and kindness to others. Every day, in every situation. At work, at home and in the community. When we do that, there won’t be a need for people to ‘toughen up’ or to be more resilient. Instead of putting a band-aid on the problem with resiliency training, we’ll actually solve the problem!