I started to think more and more about the term resilience after listening to a fascinating podcast with Bruce Daisley, former VP of Twitter EMEA, and Steven Bartlett, founder of Social Chain. They discussed what makes individuals resilient and how personal connections, or a lack of, can make us susceptible to burnout or loneliness – two words which have gained major traction since the start of the pandemic.
When lockdown was put in motion for the majority of us last March, we all shifted to working remotely overnight. For many of us, including me, this was something that felt like it could be quite alien or obstructive if you had always worked and enjoyed being in an office.
Surprisingly, this dramatic shift in our working lives to working from home actually felt quite exciting and refreshing. We all had a new working environment, there was a sense of togetherness across businesses and even the Zoom calls felt novel. The way I describe this would be similar to surviving on energy bars that allowed us to channel high-intensity, short bursts of energy that would fill a gap for what we thought would be a temporary situation.
When you look up the definition of resilience, it’s described as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness’. Arguably, many of us were able to bounce back quickly with the day-to-day functionality of our roles. However, as we spend longer in isolation, our ability to fight off burnout and loneliness begins to erode.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, renowned psychologist at Brigham Young University, described loneliness ‘as the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day’. We all know, smoking one cigarette isn’t going to kill you but smoking consistently over a long period of time is going to have a negative impact on your health. This is no different to loneliness, hence why I believe there is a strong correlation between burnout and loneliness and our ability to be resilient.
If we look at what is nourishing and enriching about out our professional lives, for me it’s the human connection and the relationships we build with each other. As someone who’s probably more of an extrovert in the workplace, I struggle to channel other people’s energy to motivate me in my virtual space.
In the same podcast, Steven Bartlett talks of remote working as having redefined our working priorities. This new way of working has meant we’re getting paid X to perform task Y and that the working day has become a lot more linear. It’s no surprise then that since the lockdown began, 1 in 4 want to quit their jobs because of poor business processes. This isn’t because we work for bad companies, this is because when we feel an absence of control we struggle to focus on something bigger than what’s in front of us – which is why I will always be an advocate for physical workspaces, and will be rushing back to the KISS offices as soon as I can!
One of my favourite quotes from Edward de Bono is that ‘we need creativity in order to break free from the temporary structures that have been set up to be a particular sequence of experience’. We need different experiences to stimulate creativity. It’s not a cliché that people say their best ideas occur in the shower or in the gym. Plugged into your desk for eight hours per day in isolation doesn’t foster an environment that allows creativity to flourish. Which is why at KISS we are making a conscious effort to ensure we connect with each other in different ways. From 121 socially distanced ‘walking’ meetings, to gamifying staff get togethers, monthly inspiration and Lego workshops
– also, the meme culture is really taking-off now. We’re all doing it in our own way and I’m sure probably all exhausted with the weekly Zoom bingo, however the incremental additions we can make to improve our solitary confinement helps to ensure we build that resilience and don’t stagnate.
Professor Koenon studies how genes shape our risk of post-traumatic stress. What she found was that it just isn’t true that some people are born more resilient. The most significant determination of resilience – cited in nearly every review or study of resilience in the last 50 years – is the quality of our close personal relationships.
So where am I going with this? Be kinder to yourself for a start. I’m not suggesting doing your Monday morning meeting in the shower is going to solve your problems, but if you’re finding your resilience to the circumstances around you is slipping away, don’t put huge pressure on yourself to have all the answers. Another definition of resilience is ‘the ability to spring back into shape’. I prefer this version as it’s a lot more flexible. It doesn’t imply that being resilient is an immediate and achievable task –it’s more of a journey that moulds us and can help us make better informed decisions.