The Watercooler: What is mental resilience and how do you harness it?

·2-min read

What does mental resilience mean to you? When research by the Mental Health Foundation shows that a quarter of workers consider resigning due to stress, and one in four are affected by mental health issues at some point, we know that psychological wellbeing is important — and yet it’s become such a bandied-about buzzword that it’s in danger of meaning not much at all.

So is it simply being “strong”? Is it innate, or can you build it? And if you’ve got it, what chips away at it?

“Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back from difficult events, challenges, disappointments or adversity. It’s not about being strong or having a ‘stiff upper lip’,” explains Dr Wolfgang Seidl, Workplace Health Consulting Leader for Mercer Marsh Benefits. “Your resilience level isn’t set in stone. It’s dynamic, and you can increase it.”

We are four days into International Stress Awareness week so in this second instalment of The Watercooler, we are going to investigate what resilience is — and you can find out more at The Watercooler event on February 23 and 24: the largest expert-led celebration of workplace wellbeing in the UK with over 120 speakers.

The key to resilience is helping people move from feeling powerless to feeling powerful. “The emotions we feel are ultimately a choice,” says freelance Happiness Officer Danielle Woods. “However, it shouldn’t all fall to the individual, and it’s important for employers to take responsibility for the environment they’re creating.”

That means no more managers eating lunch al-desko, encouraging presenteeism and then blaming a struggling employee for lacking resilience when in fact their working environment doesn’t foster it. When research has shown that less than half of employees would feel able to speak to their line manager about suffering from stress, this sort of victim-blaming is a very real danger.

So how can you up your resilience — and how can your company cultivate it?

Work on the four Cs, says Dr Seidl: Commitment, Control, Challenge and Community. Commitment means setting goals and sticking to them, and your employer having specific and inspiring company values, and putting them into action. Control is when you feel trusted to manage your own workflow, rather than remote-controlled or micro-managed. Then comes approaching challenges as opportunities: embracing flexible thinking and throwing out the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.

Finally, comes community — being part of a well-functioning team means no employee feels alone in dealing with a problem.

Of course, that all-important sense of community has been strained by the new demands of remote working. Which is why next time I’ll be looking at how to recreate those “watercooler” moments of social wellbeing in an increasingly digital workplace.

The Watercooler will include 5,000 workplace wellbeing professionals, 120+ speakers and 120 hours of free learning. Contact francis@ for commercial opportunities or register for free at

 (The Watercooler)
(The Watercooler)

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Introducing The Watercooler, our workplace wellbeing series

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