How Leaders Can Create a Culture of Resilience


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Amina recently graduated from college after spending her final year of school attending classes over Zoom, isolated in a tiny apartment. She lost her grandfather to COVID-19, and her mother was laid off. Now, she is stepping into her first job, carrying unseen scars and a need for resilience forged in unprecedented times. Amina’s story is not unique; it mirrors the experiences of countless young adults entering the workforce today.

Globally, the World Health Organization reports at least 14.9 million excess deaths due to COVID-19, with actual numbers likely much higher — a staggering loss that touched countless lives. Isolation exacerbated the crisis. In a 2021 Harvard survey, 61% of young adults reported feeling acute loneliness, increasing their risk of developing serious health conditions.

The following year, in an American Psychological Association survey, 50% of adults aged 18 to 24 reported mental health issues. Like many others, my mental health journey began long before the pandemic, a silent battle that spanned 20 years of infertility. Still, the vast isolation, anxiety, and loss felt on a global scale since the pandemic often leaves me speechless.

Now, we face significant long-term mental health challenges. The psychological impacts of loneliness can persist for up to nine years after the initial experience, with long-term effects like PTSD continuing to affect well-being and productivity. For children and adolescents who observed the unprecedented death, isolation, and mental anguish of adults during the pandemic while missing critical stages of social and cognitive development, we are only beginning to see the impact.

As these young people transition into our workplaces, their mental well-being demands our full attention and empathy. By empowering them with tools and an environment that understands and supports what they need for sustained well-being, leaders can champion the post-pandemic workforce and nurture a culture of resilience.

Related: Here’s What You Need to Create a Dynamic, Innovative and Resilient Work Environment

Foster a growth mindset

People with a growth mindset can seek pathways to advance their careers, even through challenging times, but inspiring such resilience on a team requires ongoing effort supported by sustained, targeted programs. It’s time to move beyond the idea that behavior changes after just a one-hour course. Instead, implement robust resilience programs and build new habits through repetition and consistency.

Our 30-day “Go Beyond” experience initiates discussions about diversity and inclusion while emphasizing mental health and resilience. Every day for one month, teams engage in simple, self-powered activities or watch short videos focused on developing both technical skills and mental fitness to reframe challenges into learning opportunities. Now in its third year, people are still responding positively to our 30-day dedication to this ritual, which nurtures a culture of belonging, trust, and safety as we move forward, even through adversity.

Related: Resilience in the New Normal: How to Bounce Back From Setbacks

Redefine language

The conversation around mental health in our workplaces needs to evolve. In Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial survey, researchers found many employees still felt uncomfortable speaking about mental health offerings at work or revealing they needed time off to use them. To create an environment where employees feel comfortable embracing mental well-being, leaders can start with the language they use to discuss it.

Our company integrates the concept of “mental fitness,” akin to physical fitness, into our organizational language. Transforming Mental Health Month into Mental Fitness Month and rebranding mental health benefits as mental fitness benefits emphasize our commitment to proactive care and resilience. Over time, these small efforts lay the groundwork for bigger change.

Related: 7 Keys to Developing Resilience

Lead by example

When leaders model resilience and share their challenges and mental fitness approaches without fear or judgment, their team members feel safe and seen enough to do the same. In 2022, we launched a mental fitness app so our team members could reach professional support at any hour of the day. After recently facing a personal challenge and using this new app to schedule a visit with a counselor, I shared that experience with my team to demonstrate the importance of seeking help when needed. Since then, several other team members have reported joining the app.

A leader’s example should include an organization ready to accommodate life’s most important moments. My four-year-old son was born on my husband’s 30th sobriety birthday. When my son turned four and my husband celebrated 34 years of sobriety this year, my company hosted a conference in Dallas on the same day. As a Senior Vice President of HR, I felt the necessity of being present for the organization and my team. Still, I was anguished over missing this significant event with my family.

So, I spoke to my leader and team, who arranged for me to join the conference via Teams. I shared openly why I didn’t get on that plane and asked my leaders to do the same. Organizations ready to accommodate their employees’ well-being are less likely to lose them or, worse, have them continue in anguish.

Now is the time to act

Considering the unprecedented death, isolation, and mental anguish that shaped their experiences, integrating the post-pandemic generation will depend on how well we support their mental well-being. Eight out of 10 employees consider well-being benefits when accepting a job, and workers unsatisfied with the mental health and well-being support are more likely to consider finding a new one. Still, in recent research, less than half of customer service agents surveyed believed their employer took their mental health seriously, and more than four out of 10 employees felt uncomfortable talking about mental health at work.

As Richard Branson said, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” An organizational commitment to championing employee well-being drives employee engagement, which can increase profitability. Whatever the initiative, it should start with leadership and permeate every level of the organization. Start with a mental fitness audit, implement regular mental fitness check-ins, and train leaders to support mental fitness journeys to nurture the well-being that inspires individuals to thrive. Humanity is at the heart of a company’s collective journey, and leaders who honor it can empower resilient teams that forge ahead through tomorrow’s new realities.

How will you lead transformative changes to cultivate a resilient workplace?

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