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Data & Behavioural Insights

The science of resilience could boost job seeker success

Resilience has become a buzzword used to describe someone’s ability to bounce back in the face of adversity, thrive in the face of challenge or even have the capacity to seize on new opportunities.


Like a lighthouse on a headland weathering the incoming storms and waves, it’s a conception of resilience that appeals to our egos but does not reflect the full dynamic complexity of psychology.


Esher House General Manager Adrian King says real resilience is less about strength and more about flexibility.


“There’s a photo of the devastation caused by the Boxing Day Tsunami. You can see it destroyed concrete buildings and townships, but in the middle of it all there is this palm tree still standing.


“Resilience is like that. It’s about being able to bend and flex and have a strong root system that can enable us to deal with the day-to-day challenges that we are all likely to come across,” he says.


Charles Darwin captured the essence of this in his quote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.”


Psychological flexibility and resilience


This is termed psychological flexibility. For job seekers, having psychological flexibility can help with all sorts of challenges, from attending a job interview or first day to dealing with repeated rejections.


Research breaks resilience down into seven core components. A person’s psychological flexibility is based on a combination of these components at any one moment in time. In brief, these are:


  • Emotional regulation

The ability to identify what you are feeling and the ability to control your feelings when necessary.


  • Impulse control

Highly resilient people are able to think before acting rather than giving into ‘knee-jerk’ reactions.


  • Causal analysis

Correctly identifying the true causes of good or bad things that happen to you (not fooling yourself).


  • Self-efficacy

The belief you can change your own future. Having the confidence in your ability to solve problems.


  • Realistic optimism

Rather than ‘blind’ or ‘pie in the sky’ positivity, optimism needs to be linked to the realm of reality.


  • Empathy

Reading and understanding the emotions of others helps build relationships and social support.


  • Reaching out

Being prepared to try new things and ask for help from people around you when necessary.


While we all have different abilities and tendencies in each area (and they will fluctuate day to day or even hour to hour) it is the combination of these factors that adds up to our resilience.


“It’s important to go beyond the buzzword. Resilience is about having understanding, having empathy, asking for help, being flexible – all these help us with the challenges we face,” Adrian says.


What can employment services providers do?


While an apparent lack of resilience could reflect deeper social problems (that include everything from overprotecting our children to the influence of smartphone technology) there are things that employment services providers can do to support the resilience of their job seeker cohorts.


“Under the New Employment Services Model, caseloads are going to be made up of harder to place, more vulnerable job seekers who are not job ready. Employment services providers will need to support frontline case managers with tools that can enable effective psycho-social conversations.”


  • Segmentation

Providers can ensure caseloads are segmented (using available assessment technology and predictive analytics) so job seekers are getting tailored psycho-social support, whether that is in the form of an evidence-backed case manager conversation or an in-depth resilience workshop.


  • Case managers

Case managers can be supported with information and tools contextualised to the behavioural stage of each individual. This can allow the opening of conversations grounded in academic validity to support the improvement of the psychological capital a job seeker can draw on as they enter work.


  • Interventions

Digital and face-to-face interventions can be inserted into the job seeker journey at appropriate stages. From three-minute digital activation module videos that can prompt reflection or action, to in-depth two-day workshops, job seekers can cultivate resources in different areas of resilience.



Frontline case managers often sit down with people focused on the barriers hitting them in life, Adrian says. “They need to work around these negatives – they need tools to help them build solution-focused conversations that will enlighten and encourage every one of their caseload.”


This can nurture greater levels of psychological flexibility. With more familiarity and experience across the seven core areas of resilience, job seekers can expand areas such as their ability analyse or manage difficult situations, leading to more sustainable work outcomes – and better lives.