Learning to Thrive: Can you Train to be Resilient?


Working under pressure is not uncommon in the workplace. In fact, CIPD’s recent survey findings reveal that 38% of employees report that they experience excessive pressure every day or once or twice a week. What’s more, 87% of workers report that at some point they face excessive pressure at work. Unsurprisingly, CIPD figures highlight stress as the most common cause of absenteeism. Thus, it seems obvious that the ability of employees to cope, or even thrive, under pressure is more important than ever.


This might lead some organisations to search for resilient employees, looking for individuals who they believe will best cope with pressure. However, it may not be easy to assess the ongoing resilience to pressure of candidates. This strategy also assumes that resilience is a fixed trait; you either have it or you don’t.


A recent study 1 looked to test this assumption directly through reviewing the effects of resilience training in the workplace. Crucially, there was evidence that resilience training had particular benefits on subjective well-being, such as stress, anxiety and mood. This seems to be an especially important outcome given the effects of stress on absenteeism levels. Equally, happier employees tend to be more creative and innovative, an unintended yet possible beneficial by-product of resilience training 2.


This is not to say that all resilience training is equally effective. Indeed, research has even found that the resilience and morale of US Army personnel declined across some resilience training 3. The researchers noted that in this case, there was a low priority of commitment from the commanders, compromising the benefits of the training. Therefore, although resilience training may have positive effects, it’s vital that people engage with the programme beforehand, with their managers and leaders being instrumental in this process.


In addition to engaging in the process, it is important that the training allows employees to understand their own personal response to pressure. Research from elite sport has found that adversity in moderation can help individuals to develop resilience in the face of future pressure 4. It is therefore important for resilience training to be experiential – it’s not enough just to talk about resilience. How can an exercise really test and get people to think about how they respond to pressure? Systematic exposure to pressurised simulations are an effective way of doing this.


In conclusion, it’s vital for people to be engaged in an experiential training session in order to maximise the benefits of resilience training. However, when conducted in an effective way, resilience training can truly have a measurable impact on business performance.


1 Robertson, I., Cooper, C., Sarkar, M. & Curran, T. (in press). Resilience Training in the Workplace from 2003 to 2014: A Systematic Review. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology.
2 Davis, M. (2009). Understanding the Relationship between Mood and Creativity: A Meta-analysis. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 108(1), 25-38.
3 Carr, W., Bradley, D., Ogle, A., Eonta, S., Pyle, B. & Santiago, P. (2013). Resilience Training in a Population of Deployed Personnel. Military Psychology, 25, 148-155.
4 Howells, K. & Fletcher, D. (2015). Sink or Swim: Adversity- and Growth-related Experiences in Olympic Swimming Champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, 37-48.

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