Examining public sector resilience

The often-changing public service can be a challenging place for workers—Human Resources PhD candidate Esme Franken looks at how to create resilience.

Human Resources PhD candidate Esme Franken

My research examines employee resilience in public organisations and how it can be enabled through leadership. Like all organisations, public sector agencies need resilient workforces for a number of reasons, but most notably so they can operate effectively under the constant conditions of uncertainty and change.

This study views resilience as a behavioural capacity that is not just important in challenging or crisis situations, but also in stable contexts where gradual adaptation and learning is key.

Managers are important

To be resilient, employees need to be supported to engage in resilient behaviours. Much of this support is likely to come from managers.

I am particularly interested in how a paradoxical approach from managers can aid resilience. In other words, resilient behaviours in employees may be enabled when managers can balance paradoxes that are inherent in much government work, such as maintaining control for clarity and accountability but also allowing flexibility and innovation where possible.

Identifying behaviours

In my research so far, I have identified behaviours by managers that both enhance and weaken resilience. The ability to provide both support and autonomy to staff is one example of a managerial behaviour that can develop resilience. This is because it balances support in challenging times when guidance is needed with autonomy for growing, experiencing and learning in times of low adversity. On the other hand, micromanaging is an example of an unbalanced behaviour that can hinder growth, self-esteem and subsequently resilience.

Towards better leadership

My study has the wider aim of informing a competency framework for public sector leadership. The competencies identified in my research can help public organisations understand and initiate the development of employee resilience in their workplaces.

The right connections

Victoria University of Wellington is a great university for my research because of its close connection with public organisations particularly the government departments situated in Wellington, and its strong academic expertise in human resources and public management. I have a great supervision team in the School of Management whose research interests are similar to mine, which helps keep the research process engaging and opens up opportunities to work on other research projects in my area.

I’ve also found the University provides other opportunities outside of my specific thesis work, which have  helped enrich my overall research experience by broadening my interests and skills. These experiences will naturally feed back into my thesis in a positive way.