Three ways CFOs can lead in uncertain times: Resilience is the key to reducing workforce risks

Three ways CFOs can lead in uncertain times: Resilience is the key to reducing workforce risksBy Tom Brennan, CFO/COO, meQuilibrium

After three years of disruption to every part of work and life, it’s now clear that calm is not returning to the world, or to the workplace. We’ve entered an age where new risks lurk around every corner; economic uncertainty and volatility, changes in attitudes about flexible work, rising burnout, and a tight labor market. It’s a time of paradox, where some may be navigating planned workforce reductions, while others may be struggling to hire in key markets or for critical roles.

This means that today’s CFOs must play offense and defense at the same time. You have to right-size and stay agile while retaining and hiring the critical talent needed to take advantage of change. Businesses have concerns about productivity due to an evolving remote/hybrid digital workplace, while organizations and their people are leveraging the transformative potential and the flexibility it provides.

One of the things we’ve done here at meQ to help our people adapt and recognize opportunity in disruption is to build a culture of transparency. We publish goals and KPIs at the beginning of each year and share them company-wide. They have a prominent place on our company intranet, and departmental and individual objectives tie back to the goals and KPIs. On a quarterly basis, we review our performance with the entire company using a simple-to-understand “stoplight” chart which shows which goals we’re on track for in green, which goals are potentially at risk in yellow, and goals in red require us to go on the offensive.

Strategic CFOs understand that in times of disruption, the difference between companies that adapt and grow and those who stagnate is the ability to understand the resilience of their workforce, and analyzing the data that can predict workforce risks. This is critical data that can assist in driving better staffing decisions, improving retention, and reducing the costs of attrition. The question is no longer how well a workforce can perform in a structured, familiar, situation, but how people across a diverse workforce can adapt to new challenges and circumstances. A resilient workforce is a key strategic advantage in today’s volatile business environment.

Resilience is more than determination and grit. According to The World Economic Forum, resilience is “the ability to deal with adversity, withstand shocks, and continuously adapt and accelerate as disruptions and crises arise over time.” Fortunately, resilience can be measured, learned, and trained at scale using digital tools such as interactive lessons, activities, and readings which are designed to create new habits and ways of thinking.

CFO’s can lead during uncertainty by predicting with data, prioritizing employee well-being, and preparing the workforce for change by building a growth mindset.

1. Predict with Data

Prediction is the first element of setting the foundation for resilient growth. Prediction detects disruptions, quickly discovers the extent of the disruption and its implications, then identifies an appropriate response. Predictive data is transformative for the organization and transformative for the CFO.

Data is critical to drive awareness across the C Suite and to drive action in building a more resilient workforce. Predictive power helps you establish sensory mechanisms – through both Active and Passive listening – to detect disruptions in population resilience and wellbeing. According to Mercer, more than half (54%) of executives understand that deteriorating mental health will impact their businesses, and 43% realize that the impact could be catastrophic. While executives may acknowledge the scope of the problem, many struggle to understand mental wellness within their organizations. Predictive People Analytics (PPA), which uses data, algorithms, and analysis to predict future events based on past events, can help organizations predict burnout, stress, performance, and well-being.

2. Prioritize Resilience Training and Mental Well-being

According to research by meQuilibrium, it’s likely that 1 in 2 employees lack the important resilience skills to succeed in a volatile environment. The data makes it clear that people with low resilience have higher risk for burnout, depression and anxiety, are more likely to quit, and are less productive. Specifically, highly resilient people are:

  • 60% less likely to experience burnout
  • 31% more engaged
  • 80% less likely to exhibit signs of depression
  • 88% better at stress management

Resilient people possess seven key qualities, defined through more than 25 years of research:

  • Emotion Regulation: the ability to control their feelings under adversity
  • Impulse Control: the ability to control their behavior under adversity
  • Self-Efficacy: the belief in own abilities
  • Reaching Out: the willingness and ability to take on challenges and opportunities
  • Empathy: the ability to understand the emotions and behaviors of others
  • Realistic Optimism: the ability to maintain a positive outlook without denying reality
  • Causal Analysis: the ability to unpack a problem and solve what can be solved

Whether you are working to improve KPIs, manage risk or navigate planned workforce reductions, personalized digital resilience training can address many well-being issues before they have an adverse impact. Initiatives like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), resources for employees struggling with a range of mental health concerns, and virtual care options are essential to protecting employee well-being.

3. Prepare the Workforce for Growth

Preparation means laying the foundation for growth. Designing and developing the skills—and orientation—of your people for growth. Preparing includes empowering people to rise, build their capacity for change, and ultimately having the willingness and ability to take on challenges.

To prepare people we need to do more than just teach them the basics of wellbeing such as broccoli and breathing, sleep and treadmills. These are necessary, yet not sufficient basics. We need to get to the psychological basics, most importantly growth orientation—also known as growth mindset—and psychological safety.

Resilient workers can identify and correct unproductive thinking patterns to face problems, while remaining optimistic. Resilience is a solution for building a flourishing workforce in a volatile and disruptive climate.

In times of uncertainty, the difference between organizations that adapt and grow, and those which stagnate, is resilience. To succeed in an environment of rapid change and disruption, organizations and their employees need to become more resilient. Navigating the short and the long term at the same time is at the heart of the CFO’s role and building a resilient workforce is the key to achieving those goals.


About the author

Tom Brennan is the CFO/COO of meQuilibrium, the leading employee resilience solution. He joined the company in January 2017 as CFO and expanded his role to CFO/COO in June 2021. In this combined role, Tom is responsible for managing the finance, analytics, HR, compliance, and other operational aspects of the company. Tom graduated from College of the Holy Cross and earned his MBA in Finance at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.