Building a Resilient Workforce

Date: 05 Aug 2015

As featured in the NMT July 2015 edition

Picture the scene: You are a nursery manager travelling to nursery in the morning, and you receive a call from one of your team, who let you know that your regulatory body have arrived to conduct their routine inspection. How do you react? For many early years’ professionals, this scenario triggers a series of dramatic changes in the individual’s body: our breathing quickens; our pupils dilate; and the blood rushes to our core muscles and limbs, leaving our stomachs churning. We feel fear and begin to prepare physically and mentally for a fight-or-flight response. Similar situations can also cause us to put others in a ‘fearful’ state too.

Picture the scene: a colleague has just completed an activity with the children and you give feedback on their practice. You are surprised when their initial reaction is to lock their jaw and become defensive, angry and upset - completely out of character for a normally composed colleague. As individuals, once we sense danger - or criticism - we can react quickly with little time to process, ready to fight for our survival.

‘The fight-or-flight response is one of our body’s most primitive responses. In today’s world, however, our perceived survival threats take a different form’

The threat

The fight-or-flight response is one of our body’s most primitive responses. In today’s world, however, and particularly for those in early years, our perceived survival threats take a different form -inspections, auditors or individuals and colleagues providing feedback on our practice.

Our body still attempts to implement this fight-or-flight process: we are thrown into a state of fear, our rationality hijacked, and we are left anxious, unable to concentrate and often acting irrationally.

So while this fast, defensive reaction once provided us with a survival advantage, it now often produces unhelpful, even risky behaviours, which impact on our overall wellbeing. 

The red zone

The reality is that we all face stress at times in both our professional and personal lives, and it is important to understand that this is completely normal. A small amount of stress is good, as it helps us strive for excellence, create goals and reach our potential as individuals and teams. The foundation of resilience is not avoiding the red zone, but how we deal with it – a key performance indicator. Resilience is that ineffable quality which enables certain people to adapt to stressful situations and bounce back stronger. Rather than letting failure overcome them, resilient individuals adjust, rise from the ashes and quickly recover.

Bright Horizons’ approach

Building a resilient workforce is, therefore, very much a business issue. As organisations in the childcare sector, it is our mission and purpose to care for children – and their parents by supporting their families. And we do it best when we also care for ourselves and our colleagues. This is borne out by recent research by Horizons Workforce Consulting, who surveyed more than 1000 Bright Horizons employees. The study revealed that organisations that supported their employees’ wellbeing benefited from a healthier, more committed, engaged and productive workforce. It also found that resilience underpins and impacts on all other aspects of wellbeing, from job satisfaction and financial matters, to health and wellness. And this extends beyond ourselves to our communities. As a result, we have brought building resilience into the heart of our strategic agenda.

The solution

Consequently, we launched our Building Resilient Thinking programme for our own people.

Developed in partnership with The Positive® Group, it has a strengths based approach, providing a comprehensive tool kit of proven strategies to promote wellbeing and build psychological resilience amongst our workforce. It successfully combines understanding of human performance with important interpersonal skills that can help motivate and inspire others.

The programme is delivered through a blended learning approach, combining face-to-face training, e-learning and reflective practice. We took the decision to deliver modules one and four face to face and two and three online. This allowed participants to meet the facilitators and colleagues at the beginning of the programme and ask questions at the end, while still enabling our teams to engage at a time which suits them. Investing in resilience training is for the long-term benefit of staff and those entrusted to our care. In addition, an engaged workforce means better customer service, which, in turn, will have a positive impact on the business. To date, 350 staff members, leaders from all levels at Bright Horizons, have taken part in this training. They have told us it has made a real difference to how they manage their own energy and challenges, and also how they encourage their colleagues to do the same. Our nursery teams now react very differently to challenges at work: they manage their emotions. Whether you’re working together in a team or as an individual, there are a few simple techniques you can implement quickly and easily, transforming your thoughts and building your resilience.


Whether you’re working together in a team or as an individual, there are a few simple techniques you can implement quickly and easily, transforming your thoughts and building your resilience.

Triple positive

Each day, write down three positive experiences and a strength that you have used, particularly in a different context from where you would expect to use it. Try to practise this for 21 days, which will train and strengthen your mind’s positive circuit. Apply this to your working day, and you will notice the impact on your performance and how you manage day-to-day stress.

Helpful and helpless worry

If you or your team are finding themselves worrying about something, simply ask yourself: can I control or influence this worry? If the answer is yes, transform this worry into an action for you or your team. If the answer is no, try to drop the worry and focus your energy elsewhere. Resilience is something you can learn and it can make a huge difference to how you feel, both in your professional and personal lives. Taking ten minutes each day to practise these exercises will have a great impact for you and your colleagues.


“Shortly after attending Building Resilient Thinking, I had to deal with a challenging incident. The training enabled me to approach the situation differently. I looked at the issue objectively, identifying the aspects I could affect and channelled my energy into this rather than stressing about what I could not change. I found the mobile app useful too, for reflection and recording my emotions. ”

“I shared some of the processes with my senior team and looked at how, instead of viewing the situation as hopeless, we could break it down into manageable pieces. This enabled us to re-establish positive thinking and positive practice; we met monthly for discussion, and, undoubtedly, the training modules enabled us to resolve the situation.”

“I still focus heavily on self-reflection and encourage my staff to articulate what they want to do, how they can support themselves and where they need me. As a team we all use the technique of stop, take five minutes away from stress or negativity and then respond or go back to it. It is so simple but really makes a difference.”