Can Understanding Employee Personalities Help Build HR Resilience?

HR Voice
HR Voice
13 Min Read

Employees can thrive in their roles despite adverse market conditions or tight deadlines, if their demeanor and performance don’t flinch. But, what is the defining trait that enables your employees personalities to overcome a situation that could essentially put their peers into a frenzy? The answer is resilience.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is defined as the ability to recover or adapt to change efficiently. In workplace settings, resilience refers to an employee’s ability to manage stress, adapt to challenging situations, and effectively deal with work pressure.

Over the past few months, organizations have had to restructure their workforce in response to economic pressures, this in turn has led to employees shouldering more responsibilities as headcounts decreased. This means employees now are under more stress than ever before.  

Unlike the old notion, resilience doesn’t mean being unaffected by stress. It is about being aware of the stressors and using appropriate coping mechanisms to manage them.

For example, working on a tight deadline might cause one employee to feel stressed to a degree where they can’t focus, whereas the other employee becomes mindful of the stress, understands the situation, and takes small but necessary steps to complete the task.

The Impact of Stress

Before we look at the impact of stress, let’s first understand how stress works. Stress is a physical and psychological state of an individual where they can’t cope with a situation. The situation can be temporary (the internet stops working when you are working on an urgent deliverable) or prolonged (difficult projects or clients).

Stress affects employees’ cognitions (thoughts), behaviors, and feelings and they deal with it in a way that is individual to them. Some get anxious and panic, some withdraw from the situation, but employees with the right coping skills and mechanisms navigate through it.

Chronic stress can lead to burnout and other serious physical and mental health conditions. Here is how a typical stress cycle could look like:

In the early stages of stress at work, some days are more stressful than others, but they’re still manageable. Despite the stressor(s), individuals are still productive.

As the stressor(s) gets more frequent or prominent, there is a marked slump in productivity. On a personal level, individuals feel more groggy, exhausted and tend to procrastinate.

As the stress becomes chronic, these behaviors worsen to the extent where they have crippling self-doubt, feel lost, have no motivation to work. Their strengths don’t serve them anymore and can lead to more severe mental health issues such as clinical depression or burnout.

How Different Personalities Perceive Stress

There is plenty of research on the association between the five key personality traits and how each reacts to stress differently, but for the ease of comprehension, we will look at five dimensions that determine how an individual copes with stress:

Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to use their emotions constructively to cope with stress and other negative emotions. The higher the emotional quotient (EQ), the better the person is equipped to deal positively with work-related stress.

A recent study that polled hiring managers revealed that nearly 75% of hiring managers value an employee’s EQ over their IQ. Employees with higher EQ are more likely to make better decisions and solve problems, keep cool under pressure, resolve conflicts more easily, and have greater empathy.

Self-Care: A person who invests in emotional, physical, and mental wellness will have the right mindset to tackle workplace challenges more effectively. The cost of mental illness on the workplace is alarming. Studies suggest that mental illness has a negative financial impact on team morale and productivity.

Data from different countries indicate that mental health problems are also one of the leading reasons for employee burnout and reduced participation in the workforce. In the U.S., the cost of productivity losses and human capital costs are estimated to be a whopping $2 billion per month.  

Work Responsibilities: Work responsibilities, including day-to-day tasks, team management, resolving conflicts, reporting to the higher-ups, etc., can influence the stress levels. An overwhelming workload contributes to a sense of frustration and panic among employees. In the book, Performance Under Pressure: Managing Stress in the Workplace,” authors Bruce Tulgan and Heidi Wenk Sormaz suggest that employees dealing with high workloads regularly are more likely to take work home that negatively influence their commitment and loyalty.   

Beliefs: The perceptions and assumptions a person makes about themselves, work, and their peers impact stress. Someone who innately sees their work as being stressful will have a more acute response to even slight discomfort. According to Lazarus’ cognitive theory of stress and the Effort-Recovery Model (ERM), employees believing that they put in higher levels of work effort leads to chronic fatigue and sleep deprivation.

Culture: Different cultures have varied beliefs and norms. People belonging to individualistic and collectivistic cultures perceive and deal with stress differently. In a paper titled “A Multicultural Perspective on Work Related Stress: Development of a Collective Coping Scale,” the authors found that cultural values influence employee’s perceptions of stress and coping behaviors.

The authors examined two cultural dimensions that have been posited as having a strong influence on work behaviors – individualism and collectivism. They found that people who hold individualistic values are more likely to attach importance to individual achievement, whereas people who hold collectivistic values are more likely to find being different from one’s in-group distressing. In general, the dominant cultures in the United States, Canada, and Australia are individualistic; in contrast, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures have been recognized as collectivistic.

Greater ethnic diversity in the workplace highlights the importance of understanding how employees cope with workplace stress in cross-cultural settings. In addition to experiencing work stressors common to all employees (e.g., work overload, lack of control, time pressure), attempts to adapt to a different cultural environment bring additional stressors.

5 Traits of Resilient Employees

Realistically, everyone is resilient. It’s the degrees that differ from people to people. To understand what makes people highly-resilient, let’s look at the five defining traits of resilience:

Self-Compassion: Resilient employees know that they are not perfect, and things might not always go the way they wanted. Rather than being a harsh critic, resilient individuals practice self-compassion and view the situation rationally, acknowledge it, and learn from it.

Grit: Grit is a person’s ability to stay on the right path when the going gets tough. Resilient people find meaning in adversity and find ways to navigate through it to reach their goals.

Emotional Hygiene: Resilient individuals know that a bad day at work or an occasional slump doesn’t define their worth as a person. When the inner critic tries to rear its stern head, resilient people use healthy thinking patterns to dismiss unhelpful thoughts.

Maintain Work-Life Balance: Resilient people recognize the importance of rest and recharge. Apart from their profession, they also work toward striking a balance between their personal life and hobbies.

Seek Help: Whether it’s about performing a task efficiently or realizing they’re not doing too well mentally and emotionally; resilient people don’t hesitate to ask for help. They understand that expert help and insights can help them perform better at work and in life.

How Can HR Help Employees Become More Resilient?

Resilience is an antidote to stress. Thankfully, resilience is not an innate trait and can be cultivated through new habits and behaviors. Here are five tips and practices HR can include in their work culture to help employees become more resilient:

1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a mental state where an individual observes their thoughts, feelings, and emotions non-judgmentally. It’s like seeing yourself from a third-person perspective.

Acknowledging that you are feeling stressed can enable you to respond to the stress rather than reacting to it.

Renowned psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel has termed the phrase – Name it to tame it, which means you can choose your response to the stress just by naming your state of mind non-judgmentally.

2. Exercise Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a scientific method of changing how you think about negative emotions and situations. How you phrase your sentences matters. For example, instead of saying, “I’m stressed,” saying, “I’m feeling stressed” means you’re not making stress a part of your identity.

Making slight changes in how you state your thoughts, feelings, and emotions can improve your response to the situation.

3. Cultivate Survivor Mentality

Chronically stressed employees may fall into the trap of seeing themselves as victims. Giving power to the outside situations can make one feel much worse.

Instead, practicing survivor mentality gives you the avenues to explore possible alternative solutions to the challenge. Although you may not always be able to resolve the situation, being aware that it wasn’t in your control is empowering.

4. Build Social Connections

Build strong relationships with your friends, teammates, and peers. A healthy social life helps keep stress at bay. Having empathetic people in your social circle can provide you with a compassionate support system during stressful times.

Externalizing, i.e., communicating your problems and concerns to a trustworthy person allows you to let off steam and also come up with possible solutions.

5. Celebrate Small Wins

It’s important to recognize achievements frequently. Celebrating wins even over a minute stress-inducing task instills self-confidence. Following this as a practice, equips a person to deal with higher levels of stress.

Over time, for every stressful aspect of the job, there could be multiple small wins already present to help you balance the stress you feel.  

Building a Resilient Workforce

To take this a step ahead, HR teams could start by observing how different employees cope with stress. This data could be essential to maintain and improve employee wellbeing, productivity, and avoid impending burnout.

Categorizing employees on how they respond to stressful situations can also help HR teams design training programs tailored to each personality type and help employees become more resilient in the face of adversity.

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