The true meaning of resilience
3rd May 2022
Hannah Ridgley, Director of Culture & Kindness

The true meaning of resilience

What do you think the definition of ‘resilience’ is? The ability to keep going, day in, day out, to not be phased by stress or challenges, to carry on regardless? The Oxford English Dictionary definition is ‘the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc.’

But how do we, in the corporate world, make sure that we are recovering after stressful periods, or long periods of no annual leave? The unfortunate default setting seems to be to carry on, to battle through such periods and we’re taught that if we keep going, this makes us stronger and more productive. But the detrimental effect of doing this on employee’s health, mental health and productivity is profound. Resilience involves working hard but also recovering, taking time out to unwind, to mentally and physically repair and prepare ourselves for what is to come. There is a stigma that those that take regular annual leave or their full annual leave quota each year are somehow weak, or less dedicated to the cause, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s scientifically proven.

The norm these days is to achieve as many things as possible in a day or week, constantly adding more and more as time goes on, and many employees believe that this is how to be the most productive. But taking time out, whether it’s a 10-minute walk in the fresh air to break up your morning, or your lunch hour, or a week off, has a profound effect on productivity. In the UK we are lucky to have a legal minimum of 28 days (5.6 weeks) paid annual leave a year, but some countries like the USA, have as little as 10 days – just 2 weeks per annum.

For the last 15 years I have had my pet dog Mungo and having him has forced me to make sure that I take a lunch break, because he needs a walk and some love. Throughout my career, this has become ingrained in me, and on days where I don’t manage a lunch break, (don’t worry, Mungo is always looked after) if I have a client meeting or pressing deadlines, I can really feel the effect of not having that break, not turning my eyes away from my laptop. I feel more stressed and panic about my to-do list, which in turn makes me less productive as I can’t focus on the task at hand.

The research shows that far from being a brake on performance, that time away from work actually increases productivity. Humans are simply more productive when rested. Researcher Mark Rosekind of Alertness Solutions found that the respite effect of a vacation, can increase performance by 80%. Reaction times of returning vacationers increased 40% in his study. But looking deeper, just because work stops, it doesn’t mean we are unwinding. For example, we “stop” work at 5pm, but we then spend the evening thinking about solutions to work problems, talking about our work over dinner, and falling asleep thinking about how much work we need to do the next day. In a study released in 2016, researchers from Norway found that 7.8% of Norwegians have become workaholics. Scientists cite a definition of “workaholism” as “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and investing so much time and effort into work that it impairs other important life areas.”

Therefore, it’s imperative that employers do their bit to make sure that employees are taking their annual leave each year, and more should be done to ensure this is spread across the year, rather than the end of year realisation that half the team have weeks of leave to take in December – these are often the most stressed and anxious people who need it the most.

Resilience also translates to the world of health and fitness. When working out and training for a specific goal, rest and recuperation is a key part of your fitness journey. Your body and your muscles need time to recover and repair, ready to go again next time with more energy and strength, building up fitness, and resilience, over time.

We’re all very good at being busy, but we all need to be better at practicing resilience and true rest.

Now go and book some annual leave, you won’t regret it!