Case Study: Developing Emotional Resilience

Introducing Tom

Having worked at a senior level in an East Midlands FE college for a number of years Tom was struggling to maintain the motivation needed to lead his team.

Tom was overseeing an extended period of change and felt that senior colleagues were also struggling with stress and motivation levels. Whilst he could see the need for developing emotional resilience he questioned how effective any intervention might be. When pressed, he acknowledged that strategies may help him deal with the increasing pressures and demands.

His aim was to learn some practical tools and techniques that he and his Leadership Team could easily use when encountering difficulties. He did not want to be presented with information that was not relevant to the FE sector or strategies that would be difficult to implement.

Tom was very clear in what he thought were the attributes needed by the Leadership Team members. He felt that they needed to:

Give the appearance of being calm, professional and confident

Remain focused and determined no matter how hard things were

Understand, value and empathise with other people

Be responsive and deal with challenges

Make a positive contribution

Move on from problems

 Accept the situation and be open minded about change

The college was facing severe funding cuts and managers were being asked to make redundancies. The pressure was having a detrimental effect on their health, well-being and in some cases performance. Now Unlimited was asked to work with the College Leadership Team to develop emotional resilience. They believed this was needed to lead the organisation during a time that was personally and professionally challenging.

The Leadership Team were facing a number of difficulties that were impacting on staff:

Perceived lack of control over their workload

A high volume of work and completing priorities

A perception of lack of time and control

Feelings of uncertainty

A member of the management team said “my colleagues and I were feeling increased frustration, impatience, guilt, anxiety and anger”. He described some of the physical effects of this; tight chest, tension, digestive upsets, loss of sleep, exhaustion and behaviours such as abruptness and struggling to control his temper and emotions.

“my colleagues and I were feeling increased frustration, impatience, guilt, anxiety and anger”.

The Intervention

The College Leadership Team was introduced to the concept of Mindfulness as a way of building resilience. They were provided with information about mindfulness, how it works and the benefits the people who practice Mindfulness have experienced. Some simple practices were introduced before reflecting upon how they could best take care of themselves during this challenging time. To achieve this we explored how they currently spend their time; we suggested ways in which they might incorporate activities that gave them pleasure and a sense of achievement into their day and how they might adopt a more mindful approach to everyday tasks.


The College Leadership Team was able to identify and implement a number of mindfulness-based strategies to help them handle the pressures and challenges they faced:

Identifying and addressing own negative behaviours

Taking time out as individuals to reflect before acting

Incorporating time for reflection into team meetings

Separating fact from thoughts and emotions and acknowledging both the positives and the negatives

Focusing attention of key aspects of the situation; those that can be controlled

Gaining a greater sense of achievement by completing tasks

Acknowledging and understanding the resistance to change

They felt these techniques improved their ability to cope, demonstrating increased emotional resilience. Relationships within the team strengthened because there was less conflict at team meetings; which made them more effective. The Leadership Team was calmer, listened more, accepted different perspectives and thought before they spoke.

In a changing work environment it is natural for staff to have worries about the future. These can often be exacerbated by rumours. Mindfulness helped the College Leadership to see the situation more clearly and accurately. By focusing their energy on the elements they could influence staff were no longer frustrated and were able to see and feel the impact of their work.

After the intervention had been delivered Tom said; “People often recognise and acknowledge that change can be difficult. However taking the need to look after our mental and physical well being and learning to support each other better has made the college a happier and healthier place to work.”