RUNNING ON EMPTY? – How to re-build your resilience in six easy steps

Resilience is an interesting word that’s being used a lot right now in the world of work – it comes originally from the latin word ‘resiliens’ which means ‘to rebound’ – and in modern usage it means ‘to bounce back after adversity or difficulties or challenges’. 

I like to think of resilience as like your emergency power source, it’s what keeps you going when everything is falling apart around you, it’s the back-up battery that allows you to come back after a knock back, or run that bit longer even though your actual internal fuel tank has run out.

We’ve all seen the scenario in your favourite medical drama. The operation is in full swing, the surgeon is about to complete a complicated procedure, and then ‘poof’ the lights go out. The room is plunged into darkness for a few seconds, you can sense the panic rising, but then the emergency generator kicks in with an audible ‘click and whirr’ of power and calm returns, the operation can continue.

It’s just the same with us, it’s our internal resilience battery that enables us to bounce back after the metaphorical energy blackout, it’s what allows us to deal with the unexpected, the unforeseen, the almost impossible task, and finish what needs to be done even though we’ve run out of energy. It’s also what allows us to bounce back time after time when we’re faced with another shortened deadline, another project to add to our already burgeoning portfolio of projects, the next round of budget cuts, or the next knock back in our career prospects.

Over the last 18 years of being in business, we’ve seen a change in the patterns of working that have led to most leaders in our extended network working longer hours, having greater responsibilities, and managing almost impossible workloads.

Then there is the constancy of change within organisations – change is important and necessary, but it’s non-stop in many workplaces, just as one change is implemented so the next one begins, as one structure is beginning to be imbedded so the next restructure is announced. Can you remember the last time there wasn’t a restructure or cost-saving exercise going on somewhere in your organisation?

It’s that CONSTANCY that is the issue – a constant pressure to perform and adapt as leaders to the next structure, the next process improvement, the new system implementation, the budget review, the reduction in headcount etc.

It’s never-ending. And that’s the problem.

Our resilience battery has run out, the constant draw on our resources over the last 10 years or so has has meant that we’ve never been able to plug in and properly re-charge our back-up battery. It means that no longer do we have that reserve energy that we can pull on when we need to. When we switch the power supply to ‘back-up’ the red light is on, and there’s not much left to use before we completely run out.

When the emergency back-up is gone… then what?

Well, that’s when the stress hormones kick in and take over, that’s when our body starts to rebel and shouts at us to stop. I have seen far too many leaders in my network have serious health problems in the last few years and that’s why I’m writing this article, it’s why I get up on stages around the world and talk about stress and resilience – it’s personal, and it’s time to put a stop to it.

It is essential for the modern-day leader and worker to focus on their resilience as a top priority, to make time to re-charge, and re-build their resilience.

I know, I know, all very well for me to say, but what does that mean in practice? Well, here are a few practical suggestions that should help you to get your resilience back, a few tools for your leadership resilience toolkit:


Our own empirical research at Meta has seen a marked change over the years in people’s relationship to breaks. When we first started 18 years ago, most leaders and workers we came across understood the value of breaks and took at least a 30-minute lunch break every single day. Now we find that in a group of 20 leaders and staff, maybe three or four might take a lunch break away from their desk every day. That’s a huge shift away from taking breaks and trying to work through so as to get more done.

Now what’s very interesting (and counter intuitive I’ll grant you) is that when you work through your breaks and are not re-fuelling, your brain hits its operational capacity point and that means that it cannot process or perform at a high level. This means that although you are working for longer, you may well get less done and the quality will most definitely suffer. The latest research on brain and working performance suggests that working 50-55 minutes and taking a five minute break each hour (along with a more substantial break at the middle of the day) is the most effective and efficient use of your brain’s processing power – it essentially is the secret to getting the most out of your working day.


How often do we truly stop to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it? We’re so busy trying to get everything done that we rarely analyse what is taking up our time or our capacity, and whether it’s at a level in keeping with our leadership role within the organisation.

What we suggest is that you analyse your next two weeks of work. Be honest with yourself and get everything down. How much time does it take and how much of your internal capacity does it use up? Remember some things disproportionately drain us and some things we really shouldn’t be doing at our level at all! Look carefully into what you should and shouldn’t be doing, in some instances it’s a case of delegation, in some cases training others to do the tasks, and sometimes it’s just a case of saying no. Also look at what you don’t currently have time and capacity for, and make sure you make time for the things that are really important to you as a leader.


As the tide of work has come in, one of the important parts of our day that has got squeezed out is our ‘unwind time’ – the time AFTER work when we get home, where we can download our day, re-set and switch off. For many of us now we come home and we’re immediately into doing our home chores, cooking, cleaning, taxi-ing the kids around. Recent research by the University of Surrey has shown that by re-introducing that 30-mins to one hour unwind time the body (and mind) can get back to normal after the stresses of the working day and, as a result, we have improved physical and mental health along with improved sleep.


Put simply, sleep is the most important thing you can do to build your own resilience. I’ve talked a lot about sleep in my LinkedIn articles. In a nutshell sleep is when your mind downloads the content from your day and frees up its internal capacity, it’s when your body rebuilds, regenerates and repairs at a cellular level. and it’s when we have a DEEP recharge of our batteries. Aim to get seven-to-eight hours a night. And for more info on how to improve your sleep, see my LinkedIn article on the nine principles for getting a good night’s sleep –

And if sleep is a particularly illusive thing for you, then please do get in touch we have a wealth of information that can help you.


When we are under stress we tend to isolate ourselves and try and get everything done ourselves. Whilst it’s admirable to be like superman or superwoman, even superman and superwoman eventually run out of juice. It’s important to build our social and support networks. Research has shown that the more social network connections someone has, the more likely they are to be positive, happier in life, more productive, less stressed and more resilient. It’s also important to build our support networks so that we’re not just relying on our partners or closest friends. At Meta we talk about your ‘allies’ network’, because with allies you don’t necessarily have to be best buddies, you just need to be able to ally and support one another in a particular area or for a specific thing. It might be that you have an ally at work who is someone you can go to for advice, or perhaps it’s an ally at home who takes you out for a drink and a good rant! So, who is in your allies’ network? And whom would you like to bring into your allies’ network that perhaps isn’t in there now?


Work and life can feel like it’s non-stop. As soon as one ends the next one takes the baton and it’s off rushing to the next appointment, to pick up the kids, to go do the shopping, to make that morning meeting. Every week it’s important that you either make time to stop, OR do something special. I say either/or because sometimes we just need to STOP, relax and recharge that way. And sometimes we need to do something special, something that will give us a real turbo-charge, a really deep re-fuelling. What’s important is that we create time in our diaries to do this – find a time slot in your week and stick to it, make it ‘your time’ and, by the way, it’s kind of fun to make a list in advance of all the ‘special things’ that you’d like to do, that way you’ll have a menu of turbo-charges to choose from that are guaranteed to fill your fuel tanks.


At Meta we believe it’s important to be talking about our resilience and talking about the stresses we face, day-to-day, in work and in life. Right now, more than ever we need to be re-building our resilience and looking after ourselves and our staff.

We believe it’s time to work smarter not harder, and that’s why we have developed a programme we’ve called ‘your resilience toolkit’.

In this programme (suitable for anyone in your organisation from senior leaders to frontline staff) we explore the three key topics that affect our ability to be resilient and perform at our very best:

The Bio-Chemistry of Stress

The Science Behind Working Smarter Not Harder


We combine latest research with practical, easily applied tools that will help you, your leaders and your staff to re-build your resilience, and improve your organisational well-being, mental health and performance.

If you’d like to talk to us more about how Meta can help you, your team or your organisation build a ‘resilience toolkit’ that really works (even on the most challenging work-days) then please do get in touch.

We’re passionate about helping leaders and their organisations to perform at their best and that’s why this year we’re focussing on helping organisations to build resilience and look after their greatest resource – their people!

We hope this blog has been useful to you and we have so much more to share, so do drop us a line to find out more.

Enjoy filling your fuel tank this month!

In peace,

Jo xxx

Jo Clarkson, CEO of Meta

About Jo Clarkson

Jo Clarkson is the CEO of Meta and a frequent writer of the blog.
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