It was hardly surprising to read last week that levels of self-confidence and emotional resilience among HR professionals have dropped in recent years.

HR people not only have to bear the brunt of much criticism from business colleagues, but are also in the front line when it comes to dealing with the fall-out from unpopular change initiatives or difficult restructurings.

The low morale and disengagement in the profession, reported in an article in HR magazine, has been highlighted in a study on ‘The Emotional Intelligence of the HR Sector’, conducted by business psychologists JCA Global. Their research suggests that challenging economic times, shrinking HR departments and ongoing structural changes in the workplace have all contributed to the ‘slump’ in the way HR feels about itself. The findings, says JCA Global Director Jo Maddocks, suggest that HR is “good at relationships, but less strong at dealing with set-backs and coping when times get tough.”

The good news is that research from Ashridge Business School (among others) shows that resilience can be developed. Our ability to cope with or adapt to stressful situations is not an innate quality that is present in some and missing in others. Anyone can learn the behaviours that allow them to negotiate difficult situations and come out the other side stronger and wiser.

So what can HR people do to improve their personal resilience and get their mojo back?

Have a clear purpose

Research on resilience shows that people who have a strong purpose in life are generally more resilient. This doesn’t have to be work-related, although of course having clear career and job-related goals can help. Being clear about your values and the things that are important to you will give you a framework against which to deal with set-backs, and having a broader perspective will make you more capable of dealing with any curve-balls life throws at you either at work or in your personal life.

Be optimistic

Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty person? People who are optimistic and can see the positives as well as the negatives are better able to cope with difficult situations. It’s not just about being able to visualise a brighter future. It’s also about nurturing a positive view of yourself. Talk yourself up – not down – and focus on what you are good at rather than worrying about your flaws.

Build a strong network

In times of trouble, including challenging times at work, some people’s natural tendency is to hunker down, hide themselves away, and suffer in silence. This generally isn’t helpful – and in fact social support is a vital part of building resilience. Take the time to build formal and informal networks that you can draw on for support when you need it, keep up with people who energise you and make you feel good and don’t be afraid to off-load with family and friends – it’s what they are there for.

Know your strengths

There is a clear link between high self-awareness and high levels of resilience. Understanding how you operate, what makes you tick, and what impact you have on others will all help you deal with stressful situations at work and in life. Knowing your strengths – and how you can make best use of these to get you over life’s hurdles – is also important. There are a number of psychometric tests that can help you build awareness of your strengths. The VIA Strengths Inventory is available on-line, free of charge.

Manage your resources

Take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health. When the pressure is on, it’s all too easy to feel that you don’t have time or energy to exercise or pay attention to your diet – but it is these things which will help to sustain you. Work on managing your thoughts and emotions. Be aware, for example, of falling into ‘thinking traps’ about what you can’t or shouldn’t do. Be aware of your stress levels, know when enough is enough and you need to relax or take action to ease the pressure.

You can’t develop resilience overnight, but with effort and practice it is possible to improve your ability to bounce back and beyond. The key is to recognise what triggers stress for you, when your natural way of responding will serve you well and when you may need to adapt your approach to suit whatever challenge you are facing at the time.

One action to take this week: Complete the VIA Strengths Inventory to find out your character and personality strengths.

Some information courtesy of Ashridge Business School

You may be interested in reading: how to keep the lid on stress in your HR team

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.