“Remember that performance under pressure - the ability to stay calm, learn, adapt, and keep on going - separates winners from losers.” - Rosabeth Moss Kanter".
In recent months, an abundance of sport stars have been required to employ mental processes and behaviours that protect them against the potentially negative effects of stressors. Most recently, Mo Farah’s performances at the World Championships in Beijing saw him run in an international competition for the first time since doping allegations were made against his coach Alberto Salazar. But how can employers learn from these athletes and help their people and teams develop the necessary skills to deal with pressure and excel at work?
The answer may lie in resilience training. For over a decade now, researchers have been attempting to determine the significance of resilience and its impact upon human performance, health and well-being. Despite this research, psychological pressure continues to adversely affect performance on a daily basis – in both the sporting and business arenas – suggesting that awareness alone is not enough to enhance performance. As such, research into the effectiveness of resilience training has suggested that work-based interventions can not only improve personal resilience, but also develop mental health and subjective well-being. Furthermore, psychosocial functioning (e.g., stress and depression) and performance (e.g. productivity and goal attainment) are believed to be enhanced as a result of training 2.
A crucial aspect of resilience training is the introduction to ‘adversity-related experiences’3. It is said that decision making and performance under pressure can be enhanced through having individuals practice whilst experiencing ‘discomfort’ (for example working towards a deadline or in challenging circumstances). These experiences see performers begin to:
a) Accept that pressure related discomfort is normal and not something to be banished completely.
b) Welcome and embrace pressure related discomfort as something that can actually be enjoyed.
c) Practice under pressure conditions, as to become acclimated to these scenarios.
d) Practice under imperfect conditions where distractions, annoyances and interruptions become neutralised or even facilitative of performance.
e) Develop the ‘discomfort muscle’, allowing performers to feel at ease in conditions that were previously disabling.
Nowhere is this need to manage ‘discomfort’ more obvious than within the world of sport, where a recent analysis of the PGA tour dataset suggested that less experienced players are more likely to be effected by pressure than their more experienced counterparts4. Considering this (that each person will be affected by different sources of stress in different ways)5, facilitative learning environments such as those developed as part of resilience training, allow employees to safely explore resilience strategies, before adopting those that enable them to work to their full potential.
In an era where employers are expecting more from less, and employees are having to deal with heavier workloads and increased pressure, this seems to suggest that there is value in employers investing in resilience training; particularly if individual and organisational performance are to improve and develop further.
1 Cultivate a Culture Of Confidence. Rosabeth Moss Kanter
2 Resilience Training In The Workplace From 2003 to 2014: A Systematic Review. Ivan T. Robertson, Cary L. Cooper, Mustafa Sarkar & Thomas Curran. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (2015), 88, 533–562
3 Boosting Decision Making and Performance Under Pressure: How to excel under pressure conditions. Marc Schoen
4 The Impact Of Pressure On Performance: Evidence From The PGA Tour. Daniel C. Hickman & Neil E. Metz. February 2015.