Building Resilience: Learning to minimize stress, manage change and maintain balance to achieve peak productivity

Marla Goddard
The Adecco Group

Giving your employees the resources they need to build resilience at work is more important than ever. The initial response to COVID-19 by workplaces across the country required that their employees make adjustments immediately. But as we look ahead, we know that many workplaces will again call on their employees to adjust to a “new normal.” Your employees’ ability to cope with their new reality will require strong professional resilience.

Here’s how you can help.

In the following article, Marla Goddard covers tips and best practices that you can implement and share with your teams to help them develop resilience in the workplace by minimizing stress, better managing your employees through change and maintaining balance to achieve peak productivity.

This article is based on a webinar presented by Marla Goddard that can be found here.

How Stress Affects Us

Let’s look at the World Health Organization’s definition of work-related stress: “Work-related stress is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.” It’s this inability to cope that can have lasting effects. Workplace stress is correlated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and burnout. Burnout specifically takes a heavy toll on the workplace both productively and economically. It is associated with increased rates of absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Our personal lives can add to our stress levels. Everyone has different family dynamics, health, and other personal situations they are managing. Then, add in a curveball like COVID-19 that compounds both workplace and personal stress levels, and it’s clear that we don’t always know what is going to change in our environment. How we respond to and manage what is happening in our environment, however, can make all the difference.

Building Resilience at Work

Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and pressure. Not only does a resilient employee “bounce back” from stressful situations, they are able to thrive in the face of a challenge. The ability to move forward after confronting a stressful event is one of the keys to success.

Resilience also has an impact on productivity. The experience of positive emotions (fostered by resilience) can expand activity, open an employee’s eyes to a range of possibilities, and increase the likelihood of more creative solutions for workplace behaviours.

Why care about workplace resilience?

Having employees with a broad set of skills that enable personal resilience is a good investment.

In a study published by PWC in 2014, initiatives and programs that fostered a resilient and mentally healthy workplace were found to return $2.30 for every dollar spent, with the return coming in the form of lower health care costs, higher productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased turnover. These are definitely key areas where positive changes are welcome.

Luckily, resilience can be developed. For the remainder of this article, we’ll look at a resilience at work toolkit that you can give your employees to help them better cope with stress and develop resilience.

Managing through change

Managing Through Change

Change can be one of the biggest causes of stress and reduced productivity for employees. That’s why understanding how to move your direct reports through each of the four phases of adapting to change — denial, resistance, exploration, commitment — is so important. We’ve seen big changes in the workplace in the past few months as organizations addressed the challenges of working during a pandemic, but we will also likely see more change as restrictions are loosened and companies figure out what returning to work will look like for their employees.

The goal when managing these changes will be to have your employees buy in to the changes by reaching the commitment phase. It’s normal for people to experience all four phases of the cycle. How quickly an employee passes through these phases, however, depends on the nature of the change, their past experiences and their personal view of change.

Work-related stress is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.

Here’s how you can help your employees reach the all-important final commitment phase.


The first phase begins when people become aware that change is coming. Denial is a defense (or self-protection) against change, taking the form of ignoring the change or attempting to preserve the success and comfort of the past. When in this phase, the negative impacts include delaying planning and blocking change.

Help your employees move through this phase by:

  1. Sharing as much information as possible about the change, especially the reasons why it’s happening. Knowledge helps people feel more in control.
  2. Communicating the message in different ways for different learning and working styles.
  3. Articulating what is changing and what is not.
  4. Engaging your employees in the change and giving them important tasks.
  5. Pairing employees with an advocate.
  6. Celebrating milestones as positive reinforcement.
  7. Spending 1:1 time with those who need it.

Resistance is a normal reaction to change. Most people want their situation to remain as it is because it’s comfortable. Change forces people to face unfamiliar territory, which in turn, threatens people’s sense of safety and security. Resistance begins when they can no longer deny what’s happening.

The negative impacts of this stage include:

  1. Loss of energy on current assignments and projects.
  2. Delays in starting projects that need to be done.
  3. Decreases in quality of work.

Resistance is greatest when change is unexpected or unexplained, when the change has a significant personal impact, or when new behaviours or responsibilities are imposed without adequate explanation.

To move through this phase, consider the following:

  1. Recognize that this type of reaction is normal and part of the change process. It’s often fear that causes resistance. Remember, do not take people’s reactions personally.
  2. Be open, acknowledge that they are struggling and don’t make them feel bad for it. Address perceived issues: ask what they would do differently and be supportive. Create temporary solutions or a phased implementation approach.
  3. Acknowledge what is in their control and what isn’t. Then, focus on what they can control.
  4. Show them a clear path to the end goal.
  5. Again, celebrate small milestones. For example, if an employee had to change a process and kept forgetting part of it, when they remember it — even if they do it wrong — celebrate it!
  6. You may need to gently remind an employee of the consequence of not adapting to this change.

The exploration phase begins when individuals have accepted the change, they see it as vital or necessary, and they take steps to make it work. As a result, this phase can leave people feeling more energetic and confident about the situation. While they still might be anxious about it, they can now see it as an opportunity for the organization.

Ways to move through this phase include:

  1. Having employees practice or try new skills.
  2. Brainstorming ideas, encouraging employees to work with others to solve problems and explore options.
  3. Providing more information and checking in.
  4. Having proper training available.
  5. Setting short term goals.

This phase is characterized by individuals seeing the change as the new norm. What seemed new and different is now comfortable and natural. It is a time for celebration and reflection as individuals have moved through the change process successfully and (hopefully) learned new skills along the way.

The positive impact of commitment includes:

  1. Productivity and quality increases.
  2. High morale.
  3. Work is viewed as more enjoyable.
  4. People feel good about themselves.
  5. People are more change-ready.

To sustain this phase, you should consider:

  1. Focusing energy on what’s necessary and important.
  2. Reflecting on new skills they have developed.
  3. Celebrating your successful journey through the change process.
  4. Refocusing on results.
  5. Challenging people to increase their productivity.
  6. Getting employees to take responsibility themselves.

How an employee reacts to change and moves through the phases can also be impacted by what influence they perceive they have on the environment.

Circle of Influence

A key piece of managing change and being in control of your own productivity and success is knowing what is within your circle of influence. Having employees who are accountable and empowered to take the actions necessary to complete their work is important. One way to do this is to encourage their understanding of the concept of the circle of influence, which can help them to determine what they CAN do and what is within their scope.

Work with your employees to identify the challenges they face when performing their daily tasks. They will likely find that many of the items are within their circle of influence. If they shift their focus and energy to those items that they control and influence while moving away from those things they can’t control, they will be able to focus their effort and be in control of their productivity and their day.

Minimize stress and increase productivity

Minimize Stress & Increase Productivity

Now that we are focused on items or tasks that we can control or influence, let’s talk about some tips and best practices that you can put into place today to help your teams organize their work, and prioritize and minimize stress so they can be at the top of their game.

Time Management

These time management best practices are popular for a reason! Things like knowing how to prioritize tasks, eliminating noise, using daily time blocks and putting technology to use are critical reminders for success.

Let’s look at these best practices in more depth.

Prioritize tasks

We’ll start with the Pareto Principle. It states that 20% of your effort accounts for 80% of your results. Use this concept to identify the 20% of your activities that will provide 80% of the reward for your efforts. The key is to ensure that you concentrate as much of your time and energy as possible on the tasks with higher payoff.

In Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership, the author maintains that time management is really about self-management. After all, we all have exactly the same amount of time in our day. The challenge, therefore, is managing our behaviour and what we focus on in the time we have. Shifting our focus away from “urgent” and towards “important” tasks, Covey’s theory of time management helps you identify where to spend your energy for the greatest effect.

Eliminate the noise

If prioritizing tasks is the first step, understanding how to focus on those tasks is the second. In Principle-Centered Leadership, Covey says that “unless something more important – not something more urgent – comes along, we must discipline ourselves to do as we planned.” And, indeed, discipline is a big part of eliminating distractions and minimizing the time spent on the less important tasks that are an inevitable part of our jobs.

Strategies might include:

  • Streamlining priorities to focus on fewer tasks.
  • Having a concrete plan for what you will be prioritizing.
  • Having a concrete plan for what you will be prioritizing.

Compartmentalize your time

Switching from one task to another makes it hard to tune out distractions and reduces productivity by as much as 40%, according to recent research published by the American Psychological Association. To help counteract this tendency, be deliberate about compartmentalizing different types of work. Create dedicated times in the day to do specific work-related activities. This creates the optimal set of conditions for us to effectively process information and make quality decisions while decreasing cognitive load and strain.


Lastly, know what technology is available and how to use it to your advantage. In my opinion, one of the most universally time-consuming technologies is email.

Here are some quick reminders on managing your email effectively:

  • Set reasonable expectations for response times.
  • Use subject lines to your advantage.
  • Know when to pick up the phone instead.
  • Use shortcuts and templates for responses.
  • Know when to shut off desktop notifications.
  • Share calendars with your team for increased visibility.
  • Designate a specific time in your day to read and respond to emails, if you can.

Managing what you do when you’re at work can help you be more productive throughout the day. But the growing popularity of work from home arrangements during the pandemic has put into even starker relief the impact that balancing your work life with your home life has on your ability to manage stress and be more productive and resilient.

Remote work

Working from home has quickly become a hot topic of conversation in response to the pandemic. If you’ve had to make this adjustment, make sure that your employees have the resources they need to set up a work environment that works for them while respecting the needs of your organization. For example, outline communication expectations and security requirements for your employees, while ensuring that your employees have the equipment and institutional support to successfully continue their work.

Keep a routine

Keeping a routine is an important part of balance. Even more so when you’re working at home and the lines between work and life can become blurred. Consider the following reminders when building a routine:

  • Get proper rest, go to bed and get up at same time.
  • Start work at the same time each day.
  • Eat healthy and have a dedicated time for snacks and lunch.
  • Take scheduled breaks.
  • Stay active.
Stay active
Stay active

Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve our mood, productivity and overall health. There are many online videos for home workouts you can do while social distancing measures are in place. Or simply get outside and go for a walk. I don’t know about you but with no commute or people to meet with at work, I do way more sitting now than ever so it’s important to set aside time to get moving.

Seek support

Physical distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Stay in touch with family and friends. That may mean teaching a family member how to FaceTime or even having a video call with all of your friends on a Friday night when you would normally be out together.

And don’t forget about self-care. Whether it’s a call with a friend, doing something you love, or meditating, ensure that you are taking care of you. Anxiety levels can be multiplied by our current state. Remember to put things into perspective, focus on the facts, try to rethink those anxious thoughts and talk to someone you trust (including professional help) to work through how you are feeling.

If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, take advantage of it. The resources provided by these vendors are immense. There is generally a multitude of information available there to help you in all aspects of your life.

And remember: be kind to yourself. Things won’t change overnight. Give yourself permission to grow and work through things.

The growing popularity of work from home arrangements during the pandemic has put into even starker relief the impact that balancing your work life with your home life has on your ability to manage stress and be more productive and resilient.


These practical tips and best practices can help you and your employees minimize stress while prioritizing balance to maximize your productivity. I hope I’ve challenged you to reflect on how you and your teams adapt to change and manage your circle of influence. The return on investment is clear on why resilience in the workplace is so important. Building resilience in your employees will not only help them through challenging times like we are in today, but every day.

Marla Goddard

Marla Goddard

Director, Talent & Employee Relations, The Adecco Group

Marla Goddard has a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a concentration in Human Resources Management. She leads Adecco Canada’s internal HR strategy and jointly supports over 300 Colleagues and 10,000 temporary Associates, in all aspects of Human Resources Management.

She has over 15 years of experience in the staffing industry in progressive positions all of which have been employee focused. Marla’s passion for people shows in the work she has done in the areas of employee relations, recruitment, and talent development, helping Adecco Canada to be recognized as a great place to work.

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