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How to Foster Resilience for Your Workforce in Times of Crisis

woman working In times of adversity, there will be companies that emerge stronger than they were before the crisis arrived. So, what differentiates companies that successfully weather the storm from others?]

One answer may be people, and organizations with leaders who can empathize, engage, foster resilience, and leverage the talents and knowledge of their teams.

Merriam Webster defines resilience as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Resilient people are aware of situations, the behavior of those around them and their own emotional reactions. By staying aware, resilient people can maintain control of a situation and come up with new ways to resolve issues and problems. Resilient individuals also understand that life is full of challenges. They realize that while we can’t avoid many of these problems and changes, we can manage their response to them. A mindset of openness, flexibility and willingness to adapt are the hallmarks of a resilient individual.

Why is it important?

Resilience has always been a critical competency for anyone who works in a contact center – customers typically are reaching out because they have a problem, a question, a need to be filled. Customers want answers, solutions, explanations and expect the contact center to have them and deliver them in an empathetic, professional manner even when they themselves may openly express anger, frustration, fear, anxiety or confusion. Clearly this is challenging work - now add to this a worldwide crisis, one that has created uncertainty for everyone, and it is easy to see how important it is to provide an additional level of support for even the most resilient individuals.

So what can contact center leaders to help their teams build or sustain the resilience required to successfully cope with the stress of the job AND these unprecedented times?

The following are the 4 elements that form the foundation of resilience. After each are some actions contact center leaders can take to support or build this foundation and ultimately foster resilience among their teams.

A sense of purpose and shared values

One of the first elements of resilience is having a strong set of values and sense of purpose. If we know what we are doing is important and is aligned with our values, it creates stability, structure, and meaning that can strengthen our resilience.

Actions leaders can take to foster this in their teams:

Reinforce and remind your team why they are here and connect it to the bigger picture. Most agents are in customer service because they want to serve. Now is the time to remind them of how important they are and the impact each customer contact they handle has on the customer and the company.

Share stories that keep them connected to the larger purpose. Encourage your team to share positive stories about their work which will ensure that all team members share a sense of commitment, values and collaboration.

Ability to build on one’s strengths

Resilience requires the strength to be able to successfully handle change and challenges, and to act and solve problems. Everyone has some areas where they feel things are effortless and controllable. At the same time, we all have areas where we struggle, feel insecure and ineffective. The key to becoming resilient is to focus on our strengths and leverage them.

Actions leaders can take to foster this in their teams:

Provide frequent informal and formal feedback. Be intentional about providing feedback to everyone and do it often, especially during a time of crisis. We are all on unfamiliar ground right now. Agents may be handling completely different contact types, questions, customers, and working environments. When faced with the unfamiliar, even the most tenured, confident representative may become shaken and unsure. Remind the team and individuals of their strengths, give them grace if they falter, and let them know you in it with them.

Set clear, specific, measurable, fair expectations. At the same time, while we may need to alter expectations because the way we work has changed, it is critical that we communicate expectations, hold people accountable and let them know we will provide the tools and resources they need to be successful. This communicates confidence that we know the team can do it and that we understand they may need more resources and support to the desired results.

Capacity to maintain focus

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed in a contact center, especially in times of crisis and change. A real-time environment, a queue that never empties, anxious customers, and an inbox full of emails all equal a recipe for exhaustion and a depletion of our resilience.

Actions leaders can take to foster this in their teams:

Prioritize what is important for your team. Especially during times of change, focus is what keeps us moving forward. Despite the fear and doubt that often accompany change and uncertainty, focusing on the actions and steps one needs to take each day keeps one “grounded.” This may mean reminding our agents their priority is the customer they are currently interacting with, even with the long queues. They can and should be focused on handling one customer at a time, in an efficient and quality manner.

Be a role model. Eliminate distractions and be fully present during one-to-ones and team meetings. Be on time to coaching sessions, keep meetings on time and keep your commitments and promises. This sends the message that you are as committed to what is important as they are/should be.

Understands importance of wellness

Resilience can’t be built or sustained without paying attention to both physical and mental health. Practicing healthy habits and coping techniques are fundamental to resilience. And remember that mental and physical well-being includes having a sense of connection and social contact. Human beings are social creatures, and we need other people for us to stay healthy and resilient.

Actions leaders can take to foster this in their teams:

Incorporate resilience-enhancing activities into your scheduled activities. As an example, consider starting team meetings by going around the room and asking people to highlight what they are grateful for. Perhaps have a fun trivia game so employees can rest their “work” brains for a few minutes for a quick resilience boost. Consider doing a virtual lunch and learn with a video together, increasing social connectivity.

Model good personal resilience. Engage in resilience enhancing activities (i.e. exercise, have family movie nights etc.) and share what you are doing with your team, letting them know why these activities are a priority for you in terms of building and maintaining your own resilience.

Make sure the team knows what the company offers in terms of health and wellness opportunities. Don’t assume everyone knows. Emphasize the benefits of taking advantage of these tools and resources and perhaps have a quick tour of what is available at a team meeting.

I will close by acknowledging that while I know as a leader your focus is your team and how you can help them, a wise mentor once reminded me that we are all human. Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean you are immune to difficult customers, changes in processes, and the challenges current world events present. We all need support and guidance especially in times of change, and my hope is that this article and tips provided assist you as you help your teams navigate through these unchartered waters.