Resilience 3.0: Guidance Toward a Next Generation of Work-Centric Initiatives

Resilience 3.0: Guidance Toward a Next Generation of Work-Centric Initiatives
May 13, 2021 Susan Diepen

Resilience 3.0: Guidance Toward a Next Generation of Work-Centric Initiatives

Dr. Joel Bennett

Joel Bennett, PhD, MA, CWP

President, Organizational Wellness and Learning Systems (OWLS)

Over the past 20 years, my colleagues and I have implemented resilience and healthy culture interventions in dozens of settings. You can see some of our research here. Our programs have been acknowledged as effective by the U.S. Surgeon General and others. This includes training, and learning from, dozens of trainers who deliver our programs into work settings. Building resilience is an ongoing process. It requires sensitivity to the level of organizational readiness.

Various stress management approaches can be helpful. At the same time, let’s take things up a level. Let’s strengthen the process of resiliency within the workplace as a whole functioning system.

Defining Resilience: Beyond the Bounce

Scientific reviews suggest that the biggest problem in workplace resilience research is the lack of a clear and common definition. Resilience is a personal, messy, and open-ended concept; it means different things at different times to different people. Workplace resilience is even more complex.

However, almost all definitions include the “ability to bounce back or adequately recover from adversity or stress.” Our programs always add “the ability to learn and grow from the stress.” Resilient employees and organizations not only adapt and overcome, they also learn to lean in, take on stress, and thrive.

Otherwise, who really wants to only keep bouncing back?

Levels of Resilience Initiatives

As we learn from earlier challenges, we develop new skills and resources that allow us to embrace future challenges. Hence, we can upgrade resilience to different levels.

Resilience initiatives occur at three levels (1.0, 2.0, 3.0), as described below. Each can be effective. A more advanced level will be needed when chronic risks outweigh internal strengths. Still, even a solid “nudge” with a 1.0 program can move things along. Knowing these levels can help you select the right solution. Very often, the first step is a stress or resilient culture audit. We provide two assessments in Raw Coping Power.

There is great power in the resilience of entire groups of people—a power significantly overlooked by businesses.

Resilience 1.0 (Individual Level & Programs)

These time-limited programs only address individual skills. However, multi-session programs can be very effective if they include self-guided and self-tailoring aspects, multimedia, and cognitive-behavioral training. If level 1.0 is continually used in an otherwise unhealthy work environment, employees may become disengaged. Sometimes, if expectations are not set right, the token message employees receive is “Learn resilience skills so you can push through the toxicity and put up with our work environment.” This is why trust and psychological safety has to be the number one focus of Level 1.0 programs.

Resilience 2.0 (Organizational Level & Initiatives)

Building upon Level 1.0, employers use a dual strategy and emphasize the environment. Here, skills training aligns with efforts to reduce or buffer actual stress exposure. This can include restricting layoffs, implementing fatigue risk management, building participatory management, offering on-site health care, and creating a supportive and psychologically safe team environment. Employers genuinely communicate “I care about you and I want you to care for yourself.” Employees respond to this message with increased engagement.

Resilience 3.0 (Systems Level & Integral Approach)

An integral approach incorporates individual-level, social, and systemic initiatives, while drawing from group-level strengths. Employees get the message that the organization is strong, can bounce back from adversities (economic or otherwise), and that doing so requires a team effort. A 3.0 approach includes programs (training and development), policies (e.g., adequate stress leave, constraints on overtime), and environmental (e.g., breaks, access to attractive space) components. And, in all of this, the work group and social connections are emphasized.
This approach also requires sensitivity to the past. By its nature, resilience is more historical than episodic; how we respond to current stress depends on exposure and response to previous adversity. I have had the privilege of working with Native Americans who have suffered generations of oppression; military service members returning from deployment; ex-offenders reintegrating into society; and emerging adults entering the world of work for the first time in their lives. These experiences have taught me that there is great power in the resilience of entire groups of people, a power significantly overlooked by businesses.

Resilience is an ongoing part of a process of transforming human potential. The secret of this work requires tapping into the process and holding stress as a potential for thriving. Resilience is an empowering step along the way.

Some Guidelines

To “guide” means to move forward. Resilience is always about moving forward… with aspirations, real meaning, and intention… especially as an inclusive team.
The key to any real change lies in what you do AFTER any workplace stress assessment. Unfortunately, despite a proliferation in culture assessments, most organizations lack the skills to interpret results. They don’t know how to apply the adaptive solutions required for a resilience strategy to take hold and remain sustainable. Accordingly, here are five guidelines to help you both prepare for and implement a resilience initiative at any level. The more of these you use, the more likely your approach will work.
(To see additional guidelines, refer to this article.)

1. Treat resilience as a way-station between stress and thriving.

The best-kept secret about resilience is that it holds the seeds of transformation. Resilience means more than merely NOT succumbing. Instead, it means we have an innate ability to tap into an inner strength that not only drives us to return to a state of health but, because it is an innate drive, we can aspire to even higher states of wellbeing.

2. Appreciate context, childhood, and trauma.

The workplace itself can be a significant stressor, AND a “trigger” for employees who have unresolved trauma from past or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). We need to appreciate the broad context of human development across the lifespan. For most of us, the workplace can be a key arena where we work out, work through, and overcome our own internal psychological risks. In this regard, resilience programmers can better utilize Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in two ways: (i) assist through individual counseling; and (ii) provide managerial consulting when “triggers” are themselves due to cultural toxicity.

3. Attune to the Real Meaning of Resilience.

Having worked with hundreds of employees in our training programs, I know that resilience takes on profound meaning within one’s life journey (including in business). It can mean redemption for those previously involved in immoral, illegal, or abusive acts; recovery for those who have suffered from addiction, depression, loss, divorce, etc.; reconciliation for those estranged from loved ones (or even coworkers!); and revival for those who’ve been hiding, down-trodden, or forgotten (… by coworkers!). A robust initiative embraces the very personal ‘meaning-making’ aspects of resilience.

4. Consider NUDGE training.

There are two types of “nudges” – environmental and interpersonal. There has been debate over whether environmental nudges (behavioral economics) can change health behavior. Our experience suggests that training coworkers on compassion and encouragement help promote mental wellbeing within the culture as a whole. Our programs – Team Awareness, Team Resilience, Team Readiness – help workers to N.U.D.G.E. their family members and coworkers: Notice someone with problems; Understand if you have a role to play; Decide if and how you should approach them; if you do, utilize specific Guidelines (we train them in); and then Encourage. Research suggests that this approach leads to greater help-seeking for mental wellbeing and substance abuse concerns.

5. Encourage multicultural sensitivity and inclusiveness.

As noted above, different groups (e.g., military, Native American, young adults) experience resilience in different ways. As groups, they also benefit from the shared experience of drawing on strengths together. This extends to all types of racial, ethnic, and “minority” groups across all spectrums of society, especially whose experience of trauma or adversity is linked to their culture or race. The concept of multicultural wellness, developed through the National Wellness Institute, provides a working model for how to appreciate and promote the strengths of different groups. For example, in one of our training programs, we explore questions like: “How has your cultural background, upbringing, or gender/ethnic orientation influenced your strength and resilience (as a person, as an employee)?”

The guidelines listed could benefit wellness, safety, or human resource staff.  They may be best implemented by a dedicated workplace resilience coordinator, especially for a 2.0 or 3.0 approach. Currently, the “resilience coordinator” title tends to be used in disaster recovery, community resilience, and city planning.  Workplace cultures can learn from these neighboring fields. Contact us for training options in building your resilience competency approach (