Firm as a Rock: Assessing, Harnessing, and Building Resilience in an Organization
One of the current “trends” in the science of management is examining employees’ resilience. Like “emotional intelligence” and “grit” before it, “resilience” has become a desirable and much-discussed quality that hiring managers seek and leaders work to increase (Leadbeater, Dodgen, & Solarz, 2005). This is not without reason – resilience has been found to predict long-term success in a variety of fields (Klohen, 1996).
A resilient employee can withstand criticism, rise to new challenges, and adjust during periods of dynamism and uncertainty. Resilient leaders can learn from negative feedback, remain confident in the face of failure, and model determination in a manner that inspires others to succeed. Individuals differ in their innate level of resilience; however, some research suggests that resilience can be practiced and strengthened over time. This blog post will review the scientific literature defining resilience, discuss how resilience can be harnessed by an evidence-based manager, and will provide some research-supported tips for increasing people’s resilience within an organization.
Defining & Assessing Resilience
Resilience, sometimes referred to as adaptability, tenacity, refers to an individual’s ability to respond to setbacks. A resilient individual is inclined to see failures and disappointments as opportunities from growth and learning. Resilient people may experience sadness, grief, or anger when things do not go their way, as most people do; however, they are quick to process those emotions and emerge feeling more motivated than before (Sojo & Guarino, 2011).
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Psychological research has demonstrated numerous benefits of resilience, many of which are desirable in professional settings. Resilience employees are less likely to suffer from burnout or empathy fatigue, even in emotionally exhausting fields. High levels of resilience also predict emotional stability and strong coping in general; a resilient individual is likely to remain motivated and positive at work even while coping with personal difficulties (Peres, Moreira-Almeida, Nasello, & Koenig, 2007). Because resilient people are less affected by setbacks than other people, they are adept at accepting and benefiting from critical feedback.
Resilience can be Measured
There are several ways to assess the resilience of an employee, prospective hire, or team member: the Resilience Scale (Wagnild & Young, 1993) consists of 25 questions, and has been studied as a predictor of workplace performance and adaptability for decades. A more recent measure, the Connor-Davidson resilience scale (or CD-RISC), is also 25 questions in length, and is useful in predicting emotional resilience and long-term mental health outcomes (Connor & Davidson, 2003). For a shorter and even newer assessment of the trait, managers can use the Brief Resilience Scale by Smith et al (2008), which consists of only 6 items.
Harnessing Resilience in the Workplace
The relationship between resilience and job performance is quite linear: in a variety of fields and work settings, greater levels of resilience are associated with more positive outcomes. Resilient employees display a more positive outlook and can work in a variety of settings; they can adapt when job tasks change or organizations are restructured, and they learn from feedback rather than feeling threatened by it (Youssef & Luthans, 2007). When making hiring decisions, looking at a prospective employee’s resilience can be even more useful than examining their emotional or intellectual intelligence (Schneider, Lyons, & Khazon, 2013).
Consider Resilience in your Hiring, Team Formation and Promotion Decisions
The takeaways for evidence-based managers are fairly straightforward: when possible, assess the resilience of prospective and current employees, and when deciding between two otherwise-equivalent candidates, choose the person with the more resilient outlook. When developing teams or implementing new strategies, front-load people who have proven to be resilient and adaptable, as they will adjust to new circumstances and thrive. When giving employees feedback about their work, take their resilience level into account – resilient employees can tolerate more frank, respectfully critical comments. Finally, when making decisions about promotions and leadership roles, remember that resilient people can often rise to the challenges that they are given. If an employee or prospect lacks some of the requisite experience for a job, but they have proven to be highly resilient, consider that they may be perfectly equipped for new levels of responsibility.
Building Resilience: Social Support, Positive Framing and Embracing a Growth Mindset
In the research literature, resilience is often considered an individual difference variable – that is, a trait that varies from person to person. Some individuals are innately higher in resilience than others, it’s true; however, as a manager you can utilize strategies to boost the resilience of all your employees. For example, research suggests that when a person has a high level of social and emotional support, they are more adaptable and emotionally stable (American Psychological Association, 2014); thus, you can foster your employees’ resilience by creating a warm, supportive organizational culture. Make sure your organization takes care of its employees physical and mental wellbeing; a bedrock of wellbeing is essential to the development of resilience (AbuAlRub, 2004).
You can also increase team resilience by framing setbacks in a positive way: when disappointment strikes, talk about it in a manner that highlights the lessons learned, and the steps that will be taken in the future (Judge, Erez, & Bono, 1998). Do not dwell on negative emotions, but permit people to mourn and process their hard feelings. Craft an organizational culture that embraces change and acknowledges that nothing is permanent; as a leader, model a dynamic, pivoting approach. If employees are accustomed to adjustment and change, they will be better positioned to adapt on their own.
Finally, you can help your organization be resilient by embracing a growth mindset (Mallak, 1998). Resilient individuals must be open to learning new information, developing new skills, and even changing their opinions and admitting fault. Facilitate these abilities by giving your employees many opportunities to grow –by providing educational support, promoting internally to give employees new challenges, and trusting individuals with tasks that you believe they can excel at. These strategies can help employees feel empowered and valued in their workplace – both of which are major boons to the development of resilience.
AbuAlRub, R. F. (2004). Job stress, job performance, and social support among hospital nurses. Journal of nursing scholarship, 36(1), 73-78.
The American Psychological Association, (2014). The Road to Resilience Retrieved January 12, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx Connor, K. M., & Davidson, J. R. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor‐Davidson resilience scale (CD‐RISC). Depression and anxiety, 18(2), 76-82.
Judge, T. A., Erez, A., & Bono, J. E. (1998). The power of being positive: The relation between positive self-concept and job performance. Human performance, 11(2-3), 167-187.
Klohnen, E. C. (1996). "Conceptual analysis and measurement of the construct of ego-resiliency". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 70 (5): 1067–79. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247
Leadbeater, B., Dodgen, D. & Solarz, A. (2005)."The resilience revolution: A paradigm shift for research and policy", pp. 47–63 in R.D. Peters, B. Leadbeater & R.J. McMahon (eds.), Resilience in children, families, and communities: Linking context to practice and policy. New York: Kluwer. ISBN 0306486555.
Mallak, L. (1998). Putting organizational resilience to work. Industrial Management, 8-13.
Peres, J., Moreira-Almeida, A., Nasello, A., & Koenig, H. (2007). "Spirituality and resilience in trauma victims". Journal of Religion & Health. 46 (3): 343–350. doi:10.1007/s10943-006-9103-0
Schneider, T. R., Lyons, J. B., & Khazon, S. (2013). "Emotional intelligence and resilience". Personality and Individual Differences. 55 (8): 909–914. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2013.07.460
Sojo, V., & Guarino, L. (2011). Mediated moderation or moderated mediation: relationship between length of unemployment, resilience, coping and health. The Spanish journal of psychology, 14(1), 272-281.
Smith, B. W., Dalen, J., Wiggins, K., Tooley, E., Christopher, P., & Bernard, J. (2008). The brief resilience scale: assessing the ability to bounce back. International journal of behavioral medicine, 15(3), 194-200.
Wagnild, G. M., & Young, H. M. (1993). Development and psychometric evaluation of the Resilience Scale. Journal of nursing measurement.
Youssef, C. M., & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of management, 33(5), 774-800.
Erika Price is a social psychologist, writer, and statistical and methodological consultant based in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Erika's research has focused on the psychology of political tolerance and open-mindedness. In addition to conducting experimental and survey-based research on these topics, Erika helps clients use methodological and data analytic tools to answer pressing questions that challenge their organization.
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