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Resilience at work : Internal v external locus of control & other terms unravelled

In this article we have posed 3 questions to help explain some resilience terms that can cause confusion but are all relevant to resilience at work.

At In Equilibrium, we are committed to creating awareness that we can all develop our resilience skills.  They help us gain the strength to deal with and surmount the difficulties we all face at times in both our working and personal lives.

This in no way transfers the responsibility to individuals of an unmanageable workload or an unhealthy working culture; but practising resilience skills can help us adjust to change and recover from challenging or stressful experiences.  Managers who use a resilient approach can help to generate a united, supportive working environment for their teams in times of change and adversity.


“A few people are born resilient.
The rest of us need to work consciously at developing our abilities.”
Al Siebert


Is it better to have an internal or external locus of control in the workplace?

Explanation - For those not familiar with the term, the translation of the Latin word ‘locus’ is place or location. So, a person’s locus of control relates to whether they consider their results at work, or in their personal lives, are influenced internally by their own thoughts and actions or are due to external factors.

Someone who believes that they are in control and their successes are down to their own effort and decision making, whilst taking personal responsibility for failure, would be described as having an internal locus of control.  Conversely, someone who believes that it is outside forces which influence their outcomes has developed an external locus of control.

Although it is generally considered that an internal locus of control is better in the workplace, those with a very strong internal locus can find it hard to delegate as they seek total control over everything they handle and their directness in this pursuit can leave others feeling like their input is neither valued nor welcome.

Those with an external locus of control can be good team members and may, on occasion, even be happier as they may find it easier to release themselves from stressful situations.  These advantages, of course, must be balanced with the disadvantages which can include blaming external issues when things don’t go well, feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness, and giving up quickly when presented with a challenge.

Answer - Being aware of these terms helps managers and individuals recognise them in both their workplace and within themselves.  Developing an internal locus of control is considered better in the workplace.  However, being at either end of the internal/external continuum is not recommended for the reasons outlined above.  Managers can support those in their team who may be displaying a strong external locus of control to overcome feelings of resistance and help instil a more internal locus to help develop their resilience at work.


What is the difference between Self-efficacy and Self-esteem?

Although the two terms are related and the difference may be subtle, it is significant, and both play a part in our resilience at work.

Self-efficacy relates to the belief we have in our ability to manage a situation or succeed with completing a task.  Our self-esteem concerns the feelings we have about our self-worth and how we value ourselves.

Our article “Where Does Your Self-Efficacy Come From” explains where certain attitudes may originate as regards our ability to take on challenging tasks and achieve successful results.  As with all resilience skills, our self-efficacy can be heightened over time.  It plays an important part in our motivation to take on challenging tasks and our persistence in sticking to and achieving goals despite the setbacks we will inevitably experience. Sharing successes and receiving encouragement can help us gain higher self-efficacy and increase our resilience at work.

Individuals with low self-efficacy also tend to have low self-esteem and can be prone to thinking negatively about their achievements and personal development.  Self-esteem is individual and what works to build one person’s is different to what works for another.  Indeed, the same thing may not continually work for the same person.  The charity Mind’s, “How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem” booklet includes tips to improve self-esteem.

Increasing our resilience skills can help to improve our self-esteem.  When we are resilient, we have the confidence to go outwith our comfort zone as we know that, should things not go entirely to plan, we will recover and be able to try again.


Realistic v Unrealistic Optimism, which type helps build resilience?

Many will tell you that the opposite of optimism is pessimism, and that optimistic people tend to be happier and healthier than their pessimistic counterparts.  What many don’t realise is that there are different types of optimist.  The unrealistic variety may, in fact, over time cause themselves more distress than someone who holds pessimistic expectations and is fairly impervious to disappointment.

Unrealistic optimists over-estimate the probability of good things happening and under-estimate the possibility of a bad outcome.  Rather than making their judgements based on facts, they base them on their expectations, and this can lead to poor decision making and ultimately have a negative effect on wellbeing and happiness.

Realistic optimists base their decisions on accurate and unbiased data and honest evaluation, not vague expectations.  They accept the journey may be tough but have belief in their ability.  This type of optimism can give us motivation and confidence to go after our goals and can result in increased positivity and wellbeing.  Our article “Did you know there are different types of optimism” includes an example of realistic optimism and highlights why it is such a valuable resilience at work skill.


Some further resilience at work resources

In addition to our resilience training courses, we have many free resilience resources on our website which include:



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