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Resilience at Work: So Much More Than Stress Management

Tags: resilience

workplace resilience

Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where we could view the bumps along the path of life through a measured and objective lens? Wouldn’t life be easier if we knew that our emotions and reactions to life’s many stressors were always logical, reasonable and in our best interest?

Sadly that is not the way we are wired.

Despite our best intentions, from time to time most of us find ourselves responding to negative situations in ways that are inappropriate or even harmful.

These are examples of times when we are lacking the Resilience to deal effectively with adversity.

The Many Ways we Lack Resilience at Work

In a work setting, a lack of resilience can manifest itself in many ways; the fear of presenting in front of an audience, the frustration after receiving criticism for one’s work, the guilt about not spending enough time with one’s family, the embarrassment one feels after a meeting that didn’t go well.

In the book The Resilience Factor: 7 essential skills for overcoming life’s inevitable obstacles Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté (2002) identify the five typical emotions that are associated with a lack of resilience. Namely anger, sadness/depression, guilt, anxiety/fear and embarrassment which are completely natural to experience from time to time.

The key to recognizing these emotions as indicators of a lack of resilience is whether they are disproportionate to the event (looking back you might catch yourself thinking “that was over the top!”), or if the same event triggers the same emotion repeatedly.

In such cases, an increase in resilience would be hugely beneficial.

In the workplace, a reaction which shows lack of resilience can really become an issue when it prevents you from developing your skills and interacting effectively with others.  For example, a fear of public speaking may lead you to remain silent even when you know you have something to contribute in a discussion. Another example is if you become defensive when receiving negative feedback, loosing the opportunity to learn and grow as a person.

In short, a lack of resilience can have an immediate impact on motivation, cognitive functioning and emotional well being. In the worst case scenario, it leads to helplessness and feeling you are a victim of circumstance. 

Conversely, we all know people who immediately pick themselves up and dust themselves off regardless of what stressors and tragedies life throws at them. In general, resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity and resilient people have this ability by assessing and exploring the variety of options before taking action making it unlikely they repeat unhelpful past experiences.

For us to flourish and thrive at work (and home for that matter) we need to ensure we recognize those emotions as they arise, assess whether they are appropriate, take responsibility for our lack of resilience if that is the case and apply the tools to reframe our experiences thus learning to act appropriately.

4 Reasons Why Organizations Should Pay Attention to Resilience

For organizations, it is extremely important to understand the indicators of a lack of resilience and teach leaders and employees how to respond to difficult situations in order to increase their resilience.

Here are just four reasons of the many reasons why organizations should understand the contributors of resilience and start introducing programs which build resilience:

  1. General well being – while organizations can work to address workload issues in parallel, resilience skills directly benefit employees’ psychological well being by helping them reframe their perception of stress.
  2. Career development – employees looking to grow and develop their skills will benefit from learning to cope with adverse work situations, such as negative feedback. Managers who understand the dynamics of resilience can coach their employees much more effectively as research has shown that people, women in particular, who tend to attribute their failures to personal shortcomings would greatly benefit from learning resilience skills or are at risk of losing confidence over time. 
  3. Innovation & learning curve – most companies these days need to innovate on an ongoing basis. This means that employees constantly need to upgrade their skills. Whilst learning most people experience the so-called learning curve – essentially experiencing a dip in skill and motivation as they learn to apply a new skill. This can be frustrating, and possibly lead to stagnation if the new skills are not applied successfully. Managers who recognize that their employees are displaying signs of “non-resilience” during this learning curve (rather than interpreting the same behavior as non-cooperation, for example) can jump right in and begin providing the appropriate support thus ensuring effective learning and thus successful innovation. 
  4. Teamwork – a lack of resilience often becomes apparent in our interpersonal situations. By understanding typical behaviors linked to “non-resilience” leaders can encourage employees to examine their thinking patterns and change their interpretation of the situation, thereby reducing negative feelings between team members and improving team dynamics. 

Building resilience at work and beyond

To quote Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2002, p.200):

“The ability to take misfortune and make something good come of it is a rare gift. Those who possess it (…) are said to have resilience or courage.”

However, lucky for us, some of the necessary skills of resilience can also be learned when practiced over time.

There are a number of useful models and tools that offer frames for understanding and building resilience. The following three models address the topic of resilience from various angles and can provide useful insights.

1.  The ABCDE model

Briefly described by Seligman (2011) and addressed in detail in Reivich and Shatté (2002), this model explains how the five key emotions mentioned earlier in this article are linked to specific experiences. Feeling angry is usually linked to the perceived violation of one’s rights. Feeling embarrassed is usually the result of unfavorable social comparison, whilst sadness and depression are linked to the loss of self-worth. 

The 5 specific steps introduced in this ABCDE model namely Adversity, Beliefs, Consequences, Disputation and Energization offer the keys to building resilience which involves recognizing any unfavorable thought patterns, finding the true reason behind the emotions, recognising the negative impact of these emotions, learning to challenge them with varied ideas and thus begin choosing new more effective courses of action. 

2. 7 Pillars of Resilience

This model by German psychotherapist Micheline Rampe (2010) is useful for understanding the key steps that need to be taken by an individual on their journey to resilience. Many of the strategies described by Rampe (2010) are compatible with approaches recommended in positive psychology literature.

These 7 pillars are:

  1. Developing optimism– leads to positive expectations which in turn enables a person to take positive action.
  2. Acceptance of the situation
  3. Focusing on potential solutions
  4. Taking responsibility for one’s own life
  5. Escaping from the role as a victim of circumstance
  6. Building a support network
  7. Planning a flexible strategy for dealing with future challenges

These pillars offer key steps that give an individual the tools for dealing with adversity in a positive and constructive way.

3. The Three Musketeers of Resilience

The book “Restore Yourself” by Edy Greenblatt (2009) presents strategies for combating professional exhaustion, through focusing on regular restoration of personal resources.

The “three musketeers” described by Greenblatt are namely; gaining an understanding of what restores or depletes a person’s energy (what may be perceived as stress by one person may be seen as relaxing for another), questioning social tags such as “work” or “vacation” to identify their true restoration and depletion triggers (essentially getting more specific about situations that give or deplete energy both at work and in our private life) and finally becoming aware that over time a person’s sources of depletion and restoration will change and adapt accordingly.

Closing point

Resilience is becoming recognised as a topic worth exploring. Various schools have even started teaching their students skills to deal with difficult situations they face in their lives and slowly the corporate world is following suit. Hopefully if more organizations start paying attention to the indicators of lack of resilience and begin to focus on building resilience at every level they will realize that to improve resilience is to do away with stress and burn out and is the key to a thriving organization and flourishing individuals. 


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002) Flow: The Psychology of Happiness.  London: Random House

Greenblatt, E. (2009) Restore Yourself. Los Angeles: Execu-Care Press

Rampe, M. (2010). Der R-Faktor. Hamburg & Norderstedt: Books on Demand GmbH

Reivich, K. and Shatté, A. (2002) The Resilience Factor: 7 essential skills for overcoming life’s inevitable obstacles. New York: Three Rivers Press

Seligmann, M. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press

The post Resilience at Work: So Much More Than Stress Management appeared first on Positive Psychology Program.

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Resilience at Work: So Much More Than Stress Management


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