How Trust is Essential to Workplace Resilience

Dear Springboard:

You’ve given me some good suggestions in the past on how to take care of myself – like your recent 13 Ways to be More Resilient. That was helpful at an individual level.

Now, I’m concerned about what I can do to support resilience in a larger context at work and specifically with my direct reports and especially the ones who are single and live alone.

Any suggestions?

Sign me,


Dear Perplexed:

Trust is a critical factor and it plays out from the individual level to one’s boss to senior management.

People need to feel a sense of control and self-worth; feel psychologically safe; and believe that people at the top are dependable and know where they’re going.

That’s just one headline from a recent study by the ADP Research Institute, led by Marcus Buckingham, the best-selling author on leadership and strategies to leverage our strengths.

The April 2020 study looked at three sources of support for resilience in the workplace – self, team leader and senior management.

This resilience model differs from most in that it looks beyond just the individual and takes into account the context of the working environment.

First, let’s clarify what we mean by workplace resilience – the researchers agreed on: “The capacity of an individual to withstand, bounce back from, and work through challenging circumstances or events at work.”

Before we get into the details, why does this matter.

When we feel worn out, depleted and lacking confidence, we’re obviously far from doing our best work.

Also, on the positive side, there is a strong connection between employee engagement and workplace resilience; in fact, about 50% of the variance in employee engagement is explained by resilience, according to another recent ADPRI study.

What’s more—only 19% of workers are highly resilient, which means that 4 out of 5 are not. This highlights both a significant need and a big opportunity.

Another compelling data point linking engagement and resilience – that loving one’s work matters; those who were positive and enthusiastic were 3.9 times more likely to be highly resilient.

The researchers honed their Workplace Resilience survey to 10 items as listed below.

1.   I have all the freedom I need to decide how to get my work done.
2.  No matter what else is going on around me, I can stay focused on getting my work done.
3.  In the last week, I have felt excited to work every day.
4.  I always believe that things are going to work out for the best.

The researchers note: To be able to bounce back, it is helpful to have a sense of control and autonomy and also to be free to get their work done their way, without being micromanaged.

They also note that work in itself can be invigorating if it feels meaningful and one gets to use their strengths.

I note that trust plays a role here – both being trusted to operate without close supervision and also an optimistic, personal trust in the future.

5.  My team leader tells me what I need to know before I need
to know it.
6.  I trust my team leader.
7.  I am encouraged to take risks.

The researchers note: Aside from one’s self, the team leader has the most potential to influence how one bounces back from disruptions at work.

To build the capacity for resilience, it is important to feel a sense of psychological safety.

Further, being current with critical information, avoiding surprises and having to play catch up (all of which the researchers call anticipatory communication), also contributes to one’s sense of stability and resilience.

Trust is inherent in the psychological safety and is a by product of predictability.

8.  Senior leaders are one step ahead of events.
9.  Senior leaders always do what they say they are going to do.
10. I completely trust my company’s senior leaders.

The researchers note the importance of being able to depend on senior leadership for consistency and they underline the key words “always” and “completely.”

Trust in senior leaders contributed significantly to resilience. Those who responded positively to question 10 about trusting their senior leaders also had higher scores in believing both that their senior leaders were one step ahead of events and that they were reliable.

The researchers point out that positive factors can be cumulative and reinforcing – the highest levels of self-resilience can be found when people fully trust both their team leader and senior leaders.

Another finding in the research is that those who had direct experience with Covid – themselves or someone close to them – actually exhibited greater resilience than those spared the experience, and the more intense the experience the greater the level of resilience. The takeaway is that when confronted with adversity, we rise to the occasion.

Another takeaway from this last data point is that it is better to be forthcoming with challenging news, rather than withholding to protect people, because our active imaginations will likely conjure a worse story than reality.

A few other notable outcomes: the research said that age, gender or being part of a team did not have impact on one’s capacity for resilience.

Interestingly, they found workers became progressively more resilient as they moved to higher levels of responsibility every step of the way from individual contributors to upper management.

So, what can you do to support your direct reports?
I would suggest thinking about what actions would positively influence answers to the 10 questions.

I see trust as a common thread.

Be honest and direct.

With a nod to encouraging engagement, remember that the more junior employees are less resilient, give clear direction, provide the tools they need, connect their work to a purpose larger than the task at hand, give them the autonomy to do it their way, show that you care about their career path, be transparent when you can and, above all, be consistent.

 From the Watercooler


It costs $0.00 to be a decent person.

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