How effective is your resilience training?

For those who have never experienced it firsthand, or witnessed it from nearby, scientific research has shown that work can be a considerable source of stress. 

This stress can manifest itself in the form of emotions (e.g. anxiety and depression), cognitive performance (e.g. in decision-making), negative behaviors (e.g. unhealthy eating habits, alcohol and drug abuse, aggression), and physical symptoms (e.g. high blood pressure, neck-, head- and shoulder pain).

Not only does stress have a negative impact on individual employees, absenteeism and low engagement for instance can seriously impact the performance of their organizations as well.

Resilience training

The popularity of resilience training in the workplace has dramatically increased in the last couple of years (particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), and there is evidence that, if done in the right format, this training can help individuals in certain target groups to deal with stress.


The problem is that resilience training is almost always only a part of the solution, and that is almost meaningless if offered in isolation to mitigate work-related stress. 

If you would be cynical, you could argue that organizations that offer resilience training in isolation, can be compared to someone who physically abuses their partner, and attempts to address this by sending them to a self-defense course…‘ We know that working in this organization can be pretty stressful, therefore we recommend you to follow a resilience course’.

Root causes

Identifying and addressing the root causes of these stress symptoms is much more meaningful. 

Stress in the workplace can be caused by a number of different factors: the amount of work, lack of control over one’s own work (micro-management), a mismatch between effort and reward (compensation), as well as unclear or conflicting roles.

Data analysis required

Therefore, organizations should look for the data underpinning the demand for resilience training. Are there certain groups (teams, departments, BU’s) where demand is higher than others? Within these groups, are there particular demographics (e.g. gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation) that experience more stress than others? 

Once these groups have been identified, it makes sense to look at the root causes of the stress these specific groups experience. 

If it is mainly young parents that send out ‘stress signals’ for instance, it might be time to review the parental leave policies. If no particular demographic can be identified but employees across the board complain about workload in a particular part of the organization, a review of the staffing level or the efficiency of work processes might be in order. If the climate in a unit is characterized as ‘toxic’ by the staff who work there, should the behavior of the leader of this unit be examined?

Unless the root causes of work-related stress are addressed, the lasting impact of resilience training is minimal

A healthy dialogue

Reviewing and addressing the root causes is not always easy. It can be hard to determine them, and addressing them almost always requires a healthy dialogue between the part of the organization which signals the problem (usually HR) and the part of the organization where the problem is reported (usually ‘the’ business). Implementing the solution quite often requires difficult decisions by top leaders (e.g. in the form of making additional resources available or making leadership changes).

Unfortunately, this does not always happen. A very recent, and sad case in point, is Dutch talkshow host Matthijs van Nieuwkerk who, for many years, created a toxic and abusive working atmosphere around the production of his daily talk shows, resulting in a high employee turnover, as well as stress and burn-out.

Although his superiors and the responsible HR person were aware, they did not dare to confront him. The HR person admitted afterward that she focused too much on the individuals (e.g. by transferring them or offering them coaches), and too little on the causes. The reason for their behavior was because they considered the work of the presenter as ‘top sport’, and thought the behavior of the presenter was acceptable if seen in this context, however finally, and, not surprisingly, his behavior was tolerated because he achieved great results in terms of viewer ratings… 

Picture credit: BNNVara

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author

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