Firms must embrace ‘safe to fail’ culture to help employees build resilience

The Mind Your Own Business event hosted by Norfolk Network. (L-R) Compere Lee Carnihan, marketing ma

The Mind Your Own Business event hosted by Norfolk Network. (L-R) Compere Lee Carnihan, marketing manager at Curveball Media; Daphne Metland, founder of Content Consultants; Dom Davis, co-founder of Tech Marionette; Emily West, business development manager at Made; Dr Ieva Martinaityte, lecturer in business management at UEA; Marie Oakes, founder of The Trend Academy; Dr Nick Walsh, lecturer in developmental psychology at UEA. Picture: Bethany Whymark - Credit: Archant

Creating workplace cultures which accept and embrace failure is key to encouraging resilience and creativity among employees, according to business leaders and academics.

The Mind Your Own Business event, organised by the Norfolk Network, saw panellists including entrepreneurs and academics give their thoughts on the meaning and pursuit of resilience.

Conversations around mental health in the workplace have opened up in recent years, but the panellists - many of whom have had their own mental health struggles - said more needed to be done to help employees build resilience and that employers should work to create a culture where it was "safe to fail".

Dom Davis, co-founder of software development firm Tech Marionette - which won a UEA award for most supportive employer - said good businesses required an acceptance of failure.

"In a space where it is safe to fail you need less resilience to withstand the failure," he said.

"We see that people need tools, they need things to help them. Once you have dealt with one failure the next one is not so bad."

Marie Oakes, founder of The Trend Academy, which offers careers advice for the fashion industry, said a lack of exposure to failure in her life before university meant she was ill-equipped for it and the accompanying stress.

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She said: "Fashion is a culture where you are going to work 24/7 and there are expectations on you to deliver. When I was working in it you were not able to put your hand up to say that you were struggling. I didn't have the mental ability to cope so I have gone away and learned how to do that."

Dr Ieva Martinaityte, lecturer in business management at UEA, said resilience was necessary for people to be more creative - something which will become increasingly important as more jobs become automated.

"Once it was enough to be good at something at work. It is not anymore," she said.

"All recent reports signal that we have to develop original thinking skills but it is not possible if we don't allow failure to happen. Saying it is possible to think creatively without experiencing failure is a myth."

Emily West is business development manager at Norwich creative marketing agency Made, which abides by the Scandinavian principle of "lagom", meaning the right amount.

She agreed that building resilience could aid creativity, performance and productivity.

"If your people are not resilient then your business is not going to be resilient. You have to think about how you give them the framework to explore things and excel," she said.

Daphne Metland, founder of health communications company Content Consultants, said this framework would look different for every business.

"As employers we have to work out what people need and when they need it. We can interpret that in our companies," she said.