A picture of resilience; people who adapt, adopt and improve
I was asked the question recently, “Is resilience something you are born with?”
Resilience seems like a fixed attribute. Put someone under stress – they bounce back or they don’t. To many it may it may seem like it is something you are born with.
Resilience is a learned attribute and is highly dependent on the subject’s context.
And resilience changes dramatically according to a person’s motivations, environment and appetite for risk. And it changes dramatically under the influence of perceived confidence in a given situation. And it changes upon the situation.
Ask a person to show resilience in the chaos of an A&E ward, and watch them bounce back admirably because they have the training and experiences to do so. Put the same person on a stage and ask them to talk in public, and watch them quiver with nerves that stop them from speaking properly and then ruminate on the experience for days/months/weeks after.
As recruiters of graduates and apprentices we see this all the time. Those who can or cannot cope with the transition from the world of academia to the world of work. From the outside looking in it is the difference between performing and not performing. The difference between a candidate who has the potential to grow and one that does not. The difference between a person who ‘seems’ resilient, and one who does not.
These are all very black and white stances – and therein lies the problem. I actually agree that resilience is malleable. It can be developed.
Those who haven’t ‘got it’ will take a long time to develop it. And by ‘long time’, I mean a couple of years. To learn the coping strategies that work for them (because they are different for everyone and for every situation!), to understand how they engage with their support network to get through difficult times, to learn the lesson and let go of the emotions.
Why is this a problem?
I think we expect too much of our graduates today. To be ready-made, set-them-to-any-task-and-watch-them-succeed kind of approach. My experience shows that resilience is made up of an accumulated set of experiences, skills and attitudes. How someone interprets and responds to a situation is the key. Nine times out of 10, the average graduate hasn’t got a whole bunch of stored-up resilience to draw upon leaving University. So the answer is that we (the employers) have to give them the time and space to develop it. Building resilience takes a lot of time, practice and help to master.
To some employers, perhaps there isn’t a problem. Perhaps it is as simple as a continuum where people are “employable versus less employable”, “to hire or to not hire”.
But I think there is a bigger issue at play here. The system is broken. The educational, governmental, technological and society systems have all contributed significantly to a problem that isn’t going to go away.
The perception is amongst recruiters of young people is that they are becoming less resilient. And we, the employers, should be helping them learn how to be resilient within the context of our businesses, not expecting them to perform from day one.