How can HR people build personal resilience?

Working in HR can be a tough call. In a typical day you could be mediating between warring colleagues, trying to overcome resistance to new policies or processes, battling for board approval for your latest project, or even being the bearer of bad news.

As anyone who works in HR will tell you, you need to develop a tough exterior to cope with the ups, downs and challenges of daily working life.

Some people are naturally more resilient and better able to cope during difficult times – but the good news is that anyone can strengthen their ‘mental toughness’ and improve their ability to deal with challenging situations.

Indeed, research has shown that making positive efforts to boost your resilience can be good for your career. Resilience is one of the top three success factors for senior managers and 78% of people at Board level rate it as a vital quality.

So, what attitudes and behaviours will help you improve your ability to roll with the punches and shore yourself up for success in today’s fast-moving, volatile world of HR?

1. Know your stress triggers

Stress is now the biggest cause of workplace absence. And as an HR person, you will already be mindful of the need to help managers recognise the signs of stress in their teams. HR people, however, are just as prone to succumbing to stress as anyone else – so it’s important to understand your own stress ‘pattern’ and to have strategies in place to deal with it.

Everyone will have different ‘triggers’ that push them over the edge. For some it is an unmanageable workload or pressing deadlines, while for others it may be equipment that constantly breaks down or uncooperative colleagues. We all react differently too – some people become quiet and withdrawn when stressed, while others may become angry and aggressive. Learn how to monitor your own stress levels so that you know when things are getting too much and you need to take action.

2. Learn how to manage your emotions

Negative emotions affect not just how we feel about ourselves but also how we perform at work. It’s hard to do a good job if inside you’re simmering with rage and resentment, are finding it hard to ‘move on’ from a difficult interaction with a colleague or are feeling upset because you’ve had to make someone redundant.

Learning how to manage your emotions effectively can help you to become more resilient and to bounce back from difficult situations. Try to identify situations you know are going to have an emotional impact on you in advance so that you can prepare to manage them. Be realistic about what is likely to happen and what you are able to achieve, and avoid comparing yourself negatively with others (differentiate, don’t compete). When the heat is on, try and control your response by keeping calm and taking deep breaths.

3. Nurture a growth mindset

Fascinating research from psychologist Carol Dweck looks at the advantages, for both our overall happiness and ability to perform, of developing a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset”. People with fixed mindsets believe that their intelligence, character and abilities are ‘set’ and that nothing they can do will change that. As a result, they often avoid challenges, give up easily, and ignore feedback. People with a growth mindset, however, see challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow and develop their abilities. They are more likely to persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as the route to success and learn from criticism.

Dweck believes that the meaning of “effort and difficulty” can be transformed. If we concentrate more on improvement and progress rather than pass/fail, we can further equip ourselves for new challenges.

Watch Dweck’s TED talk here

4. Accept input from others

We can often feel embarrassment or failure when asking for help, but research shows that the most resilient people are those who are prepared to reach out to others. Don’t be afraid to use your professional or social network when you need help, advice or just a listening ear. Willingness to seek help is a strength, not a weakness.

Colleagues can often add a valuable perspective or help you see things in a new light. As an HR person, it can sometimes be difficult to find people to confide in or approach in-house – often for reasons of confidentiality or conflicting interests. If this is the case, seek peers from outside the organisation who can share their experiences of dealing with difficult situations and help you find a way through challenging times.

5. Take time to refresh

Your day is packed with wall-to-wall meetings, your inbox is overflowing and there’s a queue of people outside the door waiting to see you. Sound familiar? HR people are typically being expected to achieve more and more with less time and resources – and it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted.

Taking time to refresh is a vital part of building your personal resilience to cope with a challenging role. It’s the small things that make the biggest difference. So, take a proper break for lunch rather than grabbing food on the go and whenever possible, step outside and get a breath of fresh air. Factor time in outside of work to do the things that sustain and refresh yourself – whether that’s going for a run or chilling on the sofa. Take holidays, make sure you get plenty of sleep and avoid being ‘always on ’by turning that phone off so you get adequate time to wind down and relax.

To read more on resilience in business, check out this article from Harvard Business Review, “What Resilience Means, and Why It Matters.”

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