Life is full of stressful situations, be they personal or professional. Stress of some kind is often unavoidable, or, at least, a common experience for nearly everyone in the workplace.

Learning how to be resilient is a life approach that helps those who’ve developed it handle stress more effectively. For some, resilience is a way of living, but for all it’s something to learn and incorporate as they develop.

What exactly is resilience? Resilience refers to the ability to adapt, recover and grow stronger from adverse situations. Robert Brooks of Harvard Medical School calls resilience “ordinary magic” because everyone has the capacity to be more resilient.

“Managers and leaders may not realize that what they do contributes to having a more resilient work force. Their job is to create a work environment that makes it possible for each individual to contribute their competencies, to be creative,” says Annette Kolski-Andreaco, manager of Account Services for LifeSolutions, an employee assistance program and an affiliate of UPMC WorkPartners.

“It isn’t that resilient people are extraordinary people,” she says. “It’s that they’ve been tested and learned that they are adaptable.”

Smart Business spoke with Kolski-Andreaco about resilience in the workplace and why it matters to employers.

Why should the resilience of the work force matter to an employer? 

The workplace can be a challenging environment for employees for a variety of reasons. They need to navigate complex networks of relationships and continuously adapt to changing work processes to keep up with the relentless competition in the marketplace.

Many employees today can easily feel overwhelmed, fatigued and disengaged due to their work environment. They may come to question whether what they do really matters, and if they can find professional fulfillment and meaning in their work.

To succeed on the job, employees need to acquire cognitive skills through training and education. But equally important for success is the establishment of a solid work/life balance with families, social networks and leisure pursuits. It is that support that enables employees to have a solid foundation from which to better handle stress in the workplace and expand their capacity for change and resilience.

Recent surveys from Gallup polls show that less than 30 percent of employees are actively engaged in their work, while 56 percent are disengaged and 15 percent are actively disengaged. When people are able to change their mindset toward being more hopeful and optimistic, the result is healthier, happier and more productive employees.

Research also supports the idea that when employees and employers actively cultivate a positive attitude, the work environment becomes more optimistic and creative.

How can an employer create an environment that encourages resilience?

The capacity for resilience is there in all people, but there are things that can be done to nurture or reward resilience.

What that means for employers and managers is that they need to realize that their employees respond far more flexibly and readily when they have supervisors who connect with them in an authentic and personal way. When managers are able to see their employees as whole persons with a desire to contribute their talents, if given an opportunity, then both parties will benefit.

Employers need to identify their employees’ positive traits and then work with them to improve and strengthen those positives. Engaged employees who believe their contributions have value are able to be more resilient and are less vulnerable to workplace stress.

Most employees want an opportunity to shine. They also want their employer to be fair, and to give them some control over what happens to them. They want their employers to be respectful and they want to connect with their manager on a human-to-human, personal level.

What are the advantages of having a resilient work force?

A more confident, challenged and interested work force is what every employer wants. The simple truth is that for this objective to be realized, managers need to spend the time and make the effort to know each of their employees as an individual contributor to the overall mission and vision of the organization.

Employees are far more motivated by flexibility, fairness, opportunities to learn and develop themselves, and acknowledgement of their accomplishments, than we realize. Stressful work environments are a fact of life, but a more resilient response by employees and their managers makes all the difference in whether they’ll be overwhelmed and burned out.

Creating an atmosphere for resilience to emerge is something that comes from leadership at all levels. An employer can turn to an employee assistance program to learn different ways to develop resilience in their managers and for their staff.

Annette Kolski-Andreaco is manager of Account Services for LifeSolutions, an affiliate of UPMC WorkPartners. Reach her at (412) 647-8728 or kolskiandreacoa@upmc.edu.

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Published in National

Workplace retaliation claims are an ever-increasing litigation concern for employers. In 2010 there were more charges of retaliation filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) than any other type of charge.

“We are certainly seeing an uptick in retaliation claims filed by current and former employees,” says Nicole Gray, an attorney in the Labor and Employment Practice Group at McDonald Hopkins. “Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that have expanded the rights of employees who complain about retaliation, energetic enforcement by federal agencies, and increased public awareness are all factors that could explain why retaliation claims are becoming more frequent.”

In addition, almost every worker can relate to a story of disagreeing with a boss and falling into disfavor as a result.

“Courts and juries are more willing to accept an employee’s claim that he or she was treated differently after voicing complaints,” Gray adds.

Smart Business asked Gray how companies can proactively manage their work forces to defend against retaliation claims.

What does it mean that an employer ‘retaliated’ against an employee?

Put simply, retaliation law prohibits employers from ‘getting even’ with an employee who 1) engages in ‘protected conduct’ (e.g., files a lawsuit or administrative charge, testifies or participates in an investigation or hearing, promotes better working conditions), and/or 2) opposes an unlawful practice. This protection is not codified in any one statute, but is found in varying forms in laws that create workplace rights, such as employment discrimination laws, wage and hour laws, and leave and benefits laws — even the bankruptcy code and state wage garnishment laws include anti-retaliation provisions.

How does an employee establish a claim of retaliation?

There are three essential elements of a retaliation case: the employee engaged in protected activity of which the employer had knowledge; the employer took an adverse action against the employee; and a causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse action. An employee must only have a reasonable, good faith belief that the employer’s conduct is unlawful.

For example, an employee who believes in good faith that her employer was paying women less than their male counterparts may file a charge with an administrative agency. If the agency investigates and determines that discrimination did not occur, that employee still has the right to be free from reprisal for raising her complaint.

What types of ‘adverse actions’ give rise to a claim of retaliation?

While many claims are based on an employee termination, less severe actions against an employee may also give rise to a claim (e.g., a demotion, a disciplinary suspension, or denial of a promotion). Although trivial annoyances are not actionable, more significant retaliatory treatment that is reasonably likely to deter protected activity is unlawful.

Are only current employees able to allege workplace retaliation?

No. Adverse actions undertaken after the employee’s employment has ended, such as negative job references, can form the basis of a retaliation claim. In addition, third parties within the workplace, such as relatives or close associates, who did not complain of unlawful activity may be able to establish a retaliation claim if they suffered harm based on their association with the person who did complain.

If an employee engaged in protected conduct, does that mean he or she cannot be fired?

Employees who engage in protected conduct are not untouchable, nor excused from complying with work rules and/or achieving performance standards. It simply means that their employers cannot fire them (or take other tangible, adverse action against them) for engaging in that protected conduct. A court or investigative agency will review the facts to determine whether there is evidence that retaliation was a motive for the adverse action.

Temporal proximity is also a determinative factor in retaliation claims. Close temporal proximity between the employer’s knowledge of the protected activity and the adverse employment action alone may be significant enough to constitute evidence of a causal connection. While there is no magic time period that necessarily insulates an employer from a retaliation claim, a recent decision out of Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals did hold that a one-year time period between the protected activity and the adverse action, without further evidence of retaliatory treatment, was too remote in time to establish a retaliation claim.

How can employers limit their exposure to a claim of workplace retaliation?

Be aware of employee rights and recognize that employer retaliation against protected employee conduct is unlawful. Likewise, consider whether an employee has engaged in protected activity prior to taking any adverse actions. Seek the assistance of legal counsel to identify potential retaliation issues, provide training to supervisors regarding prohibited activities, and update policies to include anti-retaliation language. Employers can rebut a retaliation claim if they are able to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for taking the adverse action. Therefore, employers should take care to ensure that they can establish an objective reason for the adverse action taken and, whenever possible, have effective documentation that supports that reason.

Nicole Gray is an attorney in the Labor and Employment Practice Group at McDonald Hopkins. Reach her at (216) 348-5418 or ngray@mcdonaldhopkins.com.

Published in Cleveland