Why Workplaces Should Start Offering “Resilience Perks”

Treating the symptoms of workplace stress isn't enough. It's time for us as leaders to go beyond wellness perks to cultivate something more important: resilience.

Dean Drobot / Shutterstock
Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

Honest question: Is another app-based guided meditation enough to get your employees through the difficult winter months ahead? 

From wellness subscriptions to lunchtime Zoom yoga sessions to personal finance seminars, new and creative wellness perks are being embraced by companies during the crisis — my business included. To be clear, I think all of these efforts are important (and I’m a firm believer in meditation, myself). 

But part of me can’t help wondering. How many of my own employees have opened a meditation app since this all started … and how much has it really helped? 

The limits of “wellness” at work 

Even before the global crisis, employers offered a smorgasbord of perks under the banner of wellness. But a growing body of research shows that they’re not entirely effective in the long run. Access to wellness programs has no significant impact on absenteeism, healthcare spending or job performance. In fact, wellness perks can sometimes alienate workers whose health is suffering.

Why? While “wellness benefits” often address immediate and surface level challenges, on their own, they rarely get at the foundation of well-being: resilience. The reality is we aren’t always well, and don’t always feel well. How quickly we’re able to get back to a place of groundedness and strength is a key factor that shapes our happiness and success in life. And that’s where resilience comes in. 

As leaders, if we really want to support our workers through adversity, we also need to focus on building resilience policies. Here are some ways to foster your team’s resilience so they have a strong foundation to bounce back from. 

Think like a scientist or engineer and normalize failure

My background in biotech and genetics taught me that failure is not only inevitable, it’s the clearest path to success. When the results of your experiment don’t align with your hypothesis, you come up with a new hypothesis. Failure isn’t the end; it’s a more-informed beginning. 

How do you integrate that philosophy into the workplace? We build natural feedback loops into our operations, framing experimentation and failure as key steps in the problem-solving process. For example, once a week, we host hour-long demo days to share experiments, results and new ideas with the team. This might be a technical update from the engineers about a project, or a sustainability idea for the organization, or even a concept for a new book club.  

Importantly, it’s a judgement-free atmosphere, with chances for questions and open dialogue about what worked and what didn’t. Not every experiment yields the desired results –– and that’s OK. The process itself is valuable and helps cultivate a deeper sense of resilience.

Reward perseverance with recognition

When you’re knee-deep in the muck, you’re so focused on plodding your way out that it’s easy to lose track of progress. But by calling out resilience when you see it, you can transform someone’s perspective. 

This year, for example, we held our very own in-house awards ceremony. We nominated teammates for categories that ranged from best embodiment of our organizational values to  themes related to the crisis. It was a good sign that there were 23 nominees for kindness champion, and the winner was a four-way tie.

Knowing our teammates appreciate the qualities we bring to our work, even in a socially distanced year, and being recognized in front of the entire company does a lot to bolster resolve. Studies have linked recognition to better work outcomes like productivity and purpose, but it also impacts our positive psychological functioning and, in turn, protects our physical health.

Conversely, the absence of recognition can erode employee performance and psychological well-being. So, don’t discount giving kudos where they’re due. 

Institutionalize transparency

We do something unconventional: we share our board meeting materials with the entire company. Everyone sees the unfiltered results from the preceding quarter — the wins and losses, the triumphs and the decisions that proved wrong.  

Why? Transparency and resilience go hand in hand. It’s hard to build resilience muscles if you can’t see and learn from the challenges of those around you.  

At too many companies, employees are kept largely in the dark; the real story — the let downs, the near misses, the bold gambits that did or didn’t pay off — is reserved for senior leaders.  

But this does little to instill confidence among the team at large, and the gap between narrative and reality can create anxiety in workers and become toxic. Visibility into challenges is critical to generating buy-in and building the resilience to overcome inevitable setbacks.

Put some slack in the line

When a rope is pulled taut, over time it gets weaker, frays and eventually snaps. A rope that’s given some slack can withstand the elements. Your team is the same. 

Give your workers the flexibility to take extra time when it’s necessary. This year we introduced self-care days for the entire company to make it clear that taking time to take care of ourselves is encouraged. 

We also offer unlimited vacation days –– and while it isn’t a perfect solution –– the goal is to give people choice around how they use their time.  

This kind of flexibility goes hand in hand with autonomy. At the individual level, employees with more autonomy are happier, healthier and more productive. Meanwhile, during the pandemic, companies that had clear core objectives but gave workers autonomy in the details of how they delivered were more resilient than those bogged down by proscriptive red tape.

Resilience is innate in all of us. But like a muscle, we need to use it to make it stronger. Too much external stress can be detrimental, but over time, learning what we’re capable of overcoming is fortifying.

Simply treating the symptoms of stress and burnout with wellness perks isn’t enough to support your team in the long run. Redouble your focus on building resilience and you set yourself up to face the challenges ahead and — more importantly — to thrive while doing so. 

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