Written by : Lucy English, Ph.D. 

When Resilience Meets Agility

We’ve all met people who we think of as resilient or those who have overcome tremendous adversity and gone on to achieve great things. We can also think about people who are agile, adaptable and always looking for the next big opportunity. Being resilient and being agile may seem like very different traits.  But it turns out they are “states” not traits, and together they provide a superpower against stress, burnout and anxiety.

High agility in combination with high resilience is a key factor in preventing employee burnout, depression and anxiety, which is one of the key findings from a national research study conducted by meQuilibrium. The study of 2,000 full-time employed adults found that 40 percent of those surveyed with high agility and low resilience show signs of moderate to severe anxiety and depression, while those with high agility and high resilience had very low anxiety and depression rates, with only 2 percent at risk of these mental health issues.

This study is the first to look at the implications of agility (the ability to quickly react and adapt to changes), and resilience (the ability to rebound productively in challenging situations), in the context of crucial burnout and work-related performance consequences.

Resilience combined with agility enhance and reinforce one another to such a degree that they multiply the effect of each.

The research investigated the interaction between resilience and agility and their impact on absenteeism, burnout, engagement and intent to quit, along with stress, anxiety and depression. The study revealed that resilience and agility have a dynamic relationship; resilience combined with agility enhance and reinforce one another to such a degree that they multiply the effect of each.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized burnout as a syndrome caused by workplace-related stress and one of the best ways to protect workers from experiencing burnout is for organizations to take steps to improve both resilience and agility among their employees.

Here’s what we learned:

Beware low resilience, especially with highly agile people. The study also discovered that building agility alone can produce unanticipated negative consequences. Findings revealed that highly agile employees who possessed low resilience had an increased risk of anxiety (+54 percent) and an increased risk of depression (+27percent). In addition, these agile, yet low resilience employees had an increased absenteeism rate of 5.7 days per year.

TIP: Build resilience, especially in people who are considered agile.

Low resilience plus low agility equals high burnout risk. For those with low agility and low resilience, burnout can be a common problem. meQuilibrium’s research found that 44 percent of those with low resilience and low agility are at risk of burnout, compared with 6 percent of highly resilient and highly agile employees.

TIP: Watch for burnout, and see if low resilience is to blame.

Resilience plus agility means employees are less likely to quit. The positive impact of resilience and agility extends beyond burnout prevention and high performance to turnover intent. The study revealed that resilience and agility work together to double work engagement. Employees who are both highly resilient and highly agile are about half as likely as those with low resilience and low agility to leave their job in the next six months.

TIP: If you’re experiencing a turnover problem, look to see if low resilience and low agility may be to blame.

Resilience and agility signals openness to learning. The study found that people with a combination of high resilience and high agility are 78 percent more likely to seek out a new skill and keep up with relevant innovations and upskilling, compared to only one percent of low resilient/low agility employees. In addition, highly resilient people are 28 percent more able to adapt to changing circumstances, possess 30 percent higher creativity and a greater capability to work well with different kinds of people, which is critical for optimal performance.

TIP: In today’s dynamic business environment, being open to new skills is critical for success. Foster opportunities for learning, and encourage employees who take the initiative to learn skills beyond their current roles.
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