It goes by many names: toughness, grit, gumption, chutzpah. Whatever you call it, resilience in the workplace is taking its place as an important indicator of future employee performance – more so than traditional factors such as IQ or test scores.
“Grit is a person’s capacity to bounce back after failure,” says Dr Olivia Sackett, GCC Insights’ data scientist. “It’s a passion for long-term goals. If you’re going to be passionate about something, you need to be able to get up again.”
In the past, the benefits of grit relied heavily on anecdotal evidence. However, there’s a growing body of research that’s taking this trait out of the realm of pseudoscience. Dr Sackett and her colleague Dr David Batman, GCC’s Chief Medical Officer, have been contributing to this by conducting surveys looking at the connection between resilience and employee performance.
Participants were asked a series of questions designed to score their grit and resilience. The questionnaire, developed in tandem with Professor Paul Fombelle from Northeastern University in the US, asked respondents to rate themselves on a five-point scale based on their discipline, resilience and perseverance.
What the study found was that employees with high levels of grit are more productive, happier and have lower levels of stress. In addition, grit has what Dr Sackett calls ‘emotional contagion’: When grit is developed in the workplace, it contributes to an individual’s overall health and wellbeing. “We do see in some traits that people develop at work that there are spillover effects,” she says. “Developing grit and resilience can improve a person’s work performance, but also their life outside the office.”
Grit is important for anyone to achieve anything, says Dr Sackett, but it’s particularly relevant when timelines are tight and big achievements are tied with big risks. Low levels of grit also correspond to increased employee absences, a reduced ability to concentrate and even increased OHS incidents, including near misses and accidents.
The good news for businesses is that grit is not always an innate characteristic – it can be developed.
“It’s a very active field of research at the moment, and a fairly new one as well,” Dr Sackett says. Although researchers are still testing the best ways to develop and improve grit and resilience in the workplace, she points to some easy and practical ways to build this important trait.
There is a strong correlation between health, wellbeing (a composite of sleep quality, happiness and stress), productivity, and grit and resilience, says Dr Sackett. She suggests workplaces focus on employee mental and physical health as ways to build resilience. She also found that improving this creates a self-sustaining cycle – grit boosts health and wellbeing, which builds grit, which improves health and wellbeing, and so on.
Building relationships between employees is also an important step to creating grit and resilience in the workplace. This doesn’t mean everyone has to be best friends, but it does mean creating networks whereby employees can help each other set and work towards goals. “When workplaces focus on team building and support, there is an uptick in employee resilience,” Dr Sackett says. She also recommends rewarding and encouraging people to build confidence, which then contributes in a positive way towards grit and resilience.