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Organizational Dynamics (2018) 47, 124—134

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Building resilience in the workforce

Raphaelle Koerber, Michael Rouse, Kyle Stanyar,
Marie-Hélène Pelletier


Defining stress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

Defining resilience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Resources for resilience and associated organizational strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Social Support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
Recovery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
Employee Training Approaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
Relaxation Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
Physical Fitness and Exercise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Life Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Coping with work-related stressors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Coping with personal financial stressors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Cognitive Behavioral Training . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Traditional Cognitive-Behavioral Training. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Acceptance and Commitment Training . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Stressor-specific company protocols. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Critical Incident Stress Management Protocol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Downsizing Protocol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Selected bibliography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133

The impacts of workforce stress are well known. Yet, while executives would ignore her while shaking hands with the
stress can be harmful, our ability to persist in the pursuit of men who reported to her. When she tried to create a leader-
meaningful goals despite anxiety, worry and stress is part of ship forum for women within the company, she was taunted,
what makes us human. How then, can organizations excluded from company social events, and had her car
challenge employees to meet meaningful goals, while buf- keyed. Research suggests that minorities in the workforce
fering them against the negative impacts of stress? By study- (e.g. women) can experience additional stress. However,
ing resilient individuals, the field of positive psychology has burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and survivor
found some answers. syndrome, among other stress-related challenges impact a
As a female executive entering a consumer electronics variety of workers across a range of industries. In the face of
corporation traditionally led by men, Liz Shaw (named significant stressors, some workers lose motivation, become
changed to protect anonymity) faced challenges. Female cynical and demonstrate decreases in performance, while
colleagues warned that women just did not fit in and male others, like Liz Shaw, persevere, adapt and recover.
0090-2616/© 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Building resilience in the workforce 125

In the case of Shaw, her organization’s CEO helped make “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows”.
resilience possible. When Shaw approached him about devel- Here, we provide a brief refresher on the antecedents and
oping a leadership forum for women, he surprised her by nature of stress, as outlined by the Theory of Cognitive
providing the social support and decision latitude she needed Appraisal, the Yerkes-Dodson Law, and the General Adapta-
to get the forum running, and importantly, ignore the hec- tion Syndrome.
toring from coworkers. This act had consequences on According to Richard Lazarus’ Theory of Cognitive Apprai-
employees’ resilience across the organization. Her program sal, an event causes varying levels of stress depending on the
reduced female employees’ voluntary-turnover rates and experiencer’s appraisal of both how threatening the event is,
increased job-satisfaction scores. This saved the organiza- and his or her perceived ability to deal with that threat.
tion 5 million dollars in training and recruitment costs. Shaw Applied to the workplace, a worker who is given a new
eventually led initiatives that increased the company’s share assignment may either feel focused by the challenge or
of the 90 billion dollar purchasing power of women in the overwhelmed with stress depending on (1) whether the
consumer electronics market. individual sees the assignment as routine, or as a last chance
In 2013, the Canadian Standards Association, in associa- to demonstrate competence (threat appraisal) and (2) the
tion with its Quebecois sister organization the BNC (Bureau employee’s perception of having enough time and training to
de normalization du Quebec), released the ‘Psychological manage the assignment successfully (resource appraisal).
health and safety in the workplace standard’. The first of its The outcome of this appraisal is then experienced physio-
kind, this standard provides a comprehensive strategy for logically and psychologically.
building mentally healthy and resilient workforces. Physiologically, an individual under stress experiences
After describing and defining resilience, this article will autonomic arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. At
tie in selected recommendations from the standard with high levels, this leads to dilated pupils, dry mouth, and
current research to describe the foundations of workforce racing heart that we associate with fear. Over long periods
stress and resilience, as well as practical ways to build a of time, this suppresses the immune system. Psychologically,
workforce capable of recovering from and adapting to the depending on their level of stress, individuals can experience
demands of this new millennium. either anxiety, or a satisfying mid-level state of arousal
As evident in measures of social-health and wellbeing, the sometimes called ‘flow’. This relationship between stress
current workforce faces greater challenges than those or arousal level and performance creates an inverted U-
experienced by their parents. The American Institute for shaped curve first identified by Yerkes and Dodson in 1908,
Innovation in Social Policy tracks 15 indicators (e.g., homi- and now known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. Shown in Fig. 1,
cides, food insecurity, high-school dropouts) and reports this relationship holds that stressors can be positive when
them as a composite measure. It has tracked a 20% decline they fall within a person’s ability to cope with them. It is
in wellbeing since the 1970s. This decrease in wellbeing has important to note, however, that a person’s resources and
paralleled social changes. Research has associated growing ability to cope change with time. As described by Hans
inequality and the de-industrialization of developed econo- Selye’s ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’, and Theo Meijman
mies, to stagnating inflation-adjusted wages for the middle and Gijsbertus Mulder’s Effort-Recovery model, chronic
class, and lower wages for both the working class and new stressors and nonstop work depletes resources, eventually
college graduates. Moreover, companies have been forced to leading to exhaustion and negative affect if the stress is not
downsize and ‘rightsize’, causing employees to report more relieved.
worries about being laid off despite objectively lower unem- Based on these models, and an overview of the litera-
ployment rates. This distress impacts employers’ bottom ture’s definitions of stress (summarized in Table 1), we
line. Fears around layoffs are linked with higher levels of define the process of stress as follows:
employee illness and injuries. Studies have shown that large
layoffs are often followed by increased levels of employee
absenteeism. Importantly, factors that can buffer workers
against the impacts of stress, such as work-life balance,
physical fitness and a rainy-day savings account, are harder
to find. ‘Work extensification’, the blurring lines between
the office and home, has accompanied technological
advances. North Americans are now more than twice as
likely to be obese and in addition experience higher levels
of debt and lower levels of private savings than in the 1970s.
These personal challenges add to workplace stressors. Polls
from the Pew Research Center and Statistics Canada have
shown that 40% of American workers, and 27% of Canadians
have reported that their job is either very or extremely


Stress and discussions about stress are common in organiza- Figure 1 Yerkes-Dodson Inverted U-shaped Relationship Be-
tions, but what is stress? As Hans Selye once told a reporter, tween Stress and Performance (Yerkes and Dodson, 1908)
Table 1 Defining Stress

Domain Author How construct explained

External stressors Freses, 1985 Uncertainty in the job (such as ambiguities and conflicts), organizational problems (e.g., not getting
material) environmental stress (e.g. noise), danger of accidents, and intensity (i.e. speed of work).
Perception of demands Bascovich, Mendes, Hunter, “Challenge occurs when the individual experiences sufficient resources to meet situational demands.
overwhelming resources Salomon, 1999 Threat occurs when the individual experiences insufficient resources to meet demands.”
World Health Organization, 2016 “Work-related stress is the response people may have when presented with work demands and
pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to
Different from pressure, which is “unavoidable due to demands of the contemporary work
environment . . . ” and
“perceived as acceptable by an individual” and “may even keep workers alert, motivated, able to
work and learn.”
Stokes & Kite, 2001 “The result of a mismatch between individuals’ perception of the demands of the task or situation and
their perceptions of the resources for coping with them.”
Staal, 2004 “The interaction between three perceptions: a demand, an ability to cope with that demand, and the
importance of being able to cope (McGrath, 1976).”
Biological response Selye, 1973 “The nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.”
Shin & Liberzon, 2010 Activation of the limbic-hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis (LHPA) and secretion of stress hormones
such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormones, and cortisol.
Psychological experience Merriam Webster, 2016 “A worried or nervous feeling that stops you from relaxing, caused, for example, by pressure at work or
financial or personal problems/”
Diamond, 2005 “Nonlinear (inverted-U) shaped relationship between arousal and performance.”
Biological response and psychological APA, 2014 “The pattern of specific and nonspecific responses an organism makes to stimulus events that disturb
experience its equilibrium and tax or exceed its ability to cope.”

R. Koerber et al.
Building resilience in the workforce 127

External stressors — when perceived to be greater than

the resources needed to cope with them — create a
biological response and psychological experience that RESOURCES FOR RESILIENCE AND
at high levels, or over extended periods, can impair ASSOCIATED ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGIES
performance and reduce wellbeing.
This definition highlights the important role that The definitions of both stress and resilience indicate that
resources play in buffering an employee against stress and stressors do not directly harm individuals. Rather, the effects
building resilience. of stressors are mediated by levels of internal and external
resources. The Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model, devel-
oped by Evangelia Demerouti and her colleagues, is outlined
DEFINING RESILIENCE in Fig. 2 and illustrates this relationship within the work-
force. According to the model, job demands (or stressors)
exhaust an employee’s physical and emotional resources. On
Resilience, too, needs to be clearly defined. An overview of
their own, they can lead to burnout, poor health, and
resilience, as defined in the literature, is provided in
impaired performance. However, demands do not exist in
Table 2. This table shows that definitions of resilience always
a vacuum. Job resources (e.g., social support, decision
include a reference to some sort of stressor to which resi-
latitude, and opportunities for recovery) not only motivate
lience is the response. The act of resilience, in turn, is
employees and improve their performance, but buffer them
described as perseverance, that is, the ability to recover,
against the negative impact of job demands. The perfor-
adapt or both. We draw these definitions together to define
mance and well-being of employees who are facing severe
resilience as follows:
demands can be protected through access to sufficient
The capacity for perseverance that leads to recovering resources and training. Resources, both internal and exter-
from or adapting to major stressors. nal, create resilience.

Table 2 Defining Resilience

Domain Author How construct explained

Persevere Waite & Richardson, 2003 “A force within everyone that drives them to seek self-actualization,
altruism, and be in harmony with a spiritual source of strength.”
Abbott et al., 2009 “A person’s ability to persevere in the face of challenges, setbacks
and conflicts.”
Recover Luthans, 2002 p.702 “The developable capacity to rebound or bounce back from adversity,
conflict, and failure or even positive events, progress and increased
Macmillan Dictionary, 2012 “Someone’s ability to become healthy, happy, or strong again after an
illness, disappointment, or other problem.”
Alliger, Cerasoli, Tannenbaum & “Able to recover from severe stress relatively quickly and
Vessey, 2015 completely.”
Adapt Masten, 2001 “Good outcomes in spite of serious threats to adaptation or
Gardner and Schermoerhorn, 2004 “A dynamic process of positive adaptation that takes place despite
significant adversity.”
Wilson & Ferch, 2005 p. 42 “Resilience refers to the psychological ability to let go of old internal
structures of thinking and behaving to create and reintegrate new
structures that provide as a more mature sense of coherence.”
Cooke, Cooper, Bartram & Wang, “One’s ability to adapt effectively in the face of severe adversity in
Mei, 2016 which it allows for the restoration of equilibrium.”
Recover and adapt Burton et al., 2010 “The capacity of people to effectively cope with, adjust or recover
from stress and adversity.”
Sood et al., 2011 “The ability of an individual to withstand adversity.”
McCraty & Atkinson, 2012 “The capacity to prepare for, recover from, and adapt to stress,
adversity, trauma or tragedy.”
Merriam-Webster, 2012 “An ability to recover or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
Sherlock-Storey et al., 2013 “When beset by problems and adversity sustaining and bouncing back
and even beyond to attain success.”
Pidgeon et al., 2014 “Competence to cope and adapt in the face of adversity and to
bounce back when stressors become overwhelming.”
128 R. Koerber et al.

Figure 2 Job Demands and Resources Model of Work Engagement (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001)

Think of someone you respect for having managed severe Control

demands in the workforce. Did they have support from key
coworkers or managers? Did they have adequate control Since the 1970’s, an employee’s decision latitude, or level of
(both objectively and perceptually) over the job demands control over tasks and stressors, has been recognized as a
placed on them? These factors — social support and control — protective factor against stress. Both objective decision
are among the most important resources to support latitude and perceived control (i.e., an internal locus of
resilience. control) matter. The perception of control is expressed in
three forms of psychological capital that have been outlined
Social Support by Fred Luthans. The first is self-efficacy, one’s confidence in
his or her ability to persevere and succeed in performing a
It is intuitive that people who enjoy good relationships with task. The second is optimism, an expectation of good out-
coworkers and managers are better off, but why is this? The comes. The third is hope, expressed in the act of persevering
benefits of social support can be understood through four towards success and developing plans to overcome chal-
categories: emotional, instrumental, informational and lenges along the way. In each form, psychological capital
appraisal support. To illustrate, after experiencing a frigh- reflects an individual’s belief that he or she has enough
tening near miss with a workplace injury, an assembly line control over him or herself and his or her environment to
worker receives a variety of social resources. She receives attain important goals. The final element of psychological
emotional support over lunch when coworkers intentionally capital is resilience.
tell jokes to make her laugh. In the days following the event, A high sense of internal control builds resilience. For
she gains instrumental support when a coworker, noticing example, long work hours are associated with higher levels
that she flinches when coming in contact with the machine, of illness. Yet, a series of studies found that when workers
offers to switch tasks with her. Through informational sup- have control over where and when they perform these hours,
port from a manager, she learns what went wrong with the they show a range of mental and physical benefits
machinery and how it will be prevented from happening (i.e., lower blood pressure and heart rate, better mental
again. Appraisal support comes when, after discussing the health, sleep quality, energy levels, a stronger sense of
incident with her, her direct manager articulates a new goal: community). In a similar vein, creating a predictable envir-
to win the company’s “safest team” award. This allows her onment also improves employee health and wellbeing.
and her team to see the situation as a frightening event, yet For example, in 2009 Lawson, Noblet and Rodwell found
also a turning point. Through emotional, instrumental, infor- that perceptions of organizational justice among workers in
mational, and appraisal support, positive relationships pro- Australia were significantly linked with their job satisfac-
tect this worker against the negative effects of stressors. tion. Findings from other studies support the provision of
Research over the past 20 years confirms the importance both regular performance feedback, and clear explanations
of these kinds of support, with instrumental support being for the presence of stressors.
particularly key in buffering performance from the impact of
stress. However, there is an important caveat. Social sup-
port, particularly instrumental support, can increase stress Recovery
levels when unwelcomed. Our fictitious factory worker
appreciated a friend taking over her roles in the days follow- Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome contains three
ing the incident, but if this had continued, she may have stages of stress response: alarm, resistance, and recovery, or
experienced the help as intrusive. ‘Imposed’ support leads to if recovery is not possible, exhaustion. To demonstrate, one
employee stress because it takes away the worker’s ability to study showed that demands and stressors actually increase
control his or her own tasks. workers’ absorption and dedication (resistance) throughout
Building resilience in the workforce 129

the day, but only for those employees who were fully recov-
Table 3 Strategies for Promoting Employees’ Social Sup-
ered at the start of their shifts. Adequate recovery starts
with not only encouraging workers to take paid time off
(vacations, evenings, weekends and lunch hours), but 1. Recognize and demonstrate appreciation for good work
encouraging them to use these breaks for recovery. Speci- 2. Intentionally build positive relationships with marginalized
fically, workers recover more successfully when time is spent employees (e.g. workers with disabilities) to increase their
on relaxing activities (e.g., reading), mastery experiences acceptance among coworkers
(e.g., learning new skills), socializing, and doing volunteer 3. Honor a psychological contract in which social support and
career development resources are given in exchange for
work. In other words, activities that allow them to psycho-
organizational commitment and positive socialization
logically detach from their work. Thinking about work- 4. Respond to employees who demonstrate a personality change
related projects over lunch and checking emails after hours and other symptoms of stress with a graded support protocol
can be counterproductive. 5. Take an uncompromising stand for employee’s right to be
We make a special note here on the importance of sleep respected at work
and its role in recovery and overall health. Across the
population, those with the highest levels of personal and
professional demands report fewer hours of sleep. A series of
empirical studies have that those who sleep for less than six
hours each night are at a greater risk of developing metabolic
problems (i.e., high waist circumference, high blood pres- Table 4 Strategies for Promoting Employees’ Control
sure, and diabetes). Given the sleep disruptions faced by
1. Assess job demands relative to decision latitude and under-
shift workers, special care should be taken to promote sleep takes job redesign after identifying situations in which
hygiene in this population. employees have not been given the authority they need to
To summarize, resilience is built on the basis of resources. do their jobs
These resources take the form of social support that meets 2. Encourage workers to talk to supervisors about how work is
workers’ emotional, instrumental, appraisal and informa- done; consider their opinions
tional needs, as well as the sense of control that comes from 3. Tell workers beforehand when changes are being made to how
both psychological capital and decision latitude, as well as, work is done (e.g., need for more overtime)
adequate opportunities for recovery. In Tables 3 and 4 we 4. When possible, give employees the option to work flex hours,
outline practical suggestions for using social support, and compressed work weeks, or from home
control to build employees’ resilience.


In the last decade, a greater emphasis has been placed on relaxation (see Fig. 3). A more involved relaxation training
managing employee stress through organization-level method termed biofeedback, involves measuring a person’s
changes that increase such resources as control and social symptoms of sympathetic arousal (i.e., heart rate, sweat on
support. However, workplaces have more traditionally aimed the skin, blood flow to the brain), and presenting these
resilience building programs targeted at employees directly metrics to the user in real time, as the participant learns
through training in stress management. These training semi- to control these physiological symptoms of stress. Through
nars and workshops have had some success. Thus in the next biofeedback, users learn to decrease their heart rate, blood
few pages we provide an overview of best practices in stress pressure and stress hormone levels, and, in the long run,
management training, and discuss the outcomes that can be learn how to lower levels of depression and negative emo-
anticipated from these interventions. Specifically, we dis- tions. However, relaxation techniques are more effective in
cuss training in relaxation techniques, life skills, and cogni- tandem with other interventions. In a relaxation-training
tive appraisals. guide manual for mental health professionals, Douglas Bern-
stein and colleagues warned that “relaxation training is not a
Relaxation Techniques panacea and should not be presented as such to clients”.
Empirical evaluations of the effectiveness of relaxation
Based on the premise that an anxious mind cannot exist training exercises have had mixed outcomes in the work-
in a relaxed body, traditional stress management training force. However, there is one ‘relaxation technique’ that is
has included breathing exercises and progressive-muscle- highly effective: exercise.

Figure 3 Progressive Muscle Relaxation (Bernstein, 1979) Instructions: (1) Tense Hands and Arms, (2) Hold for 5—7 s before
Releasing, (3) Take 3—5 Deep Breaths, (4) Repeat for Additional Muscle groups
130 R. Koerber et al.

Physical Fitness and Exercise quadrants, based on task urgency and importance, and learn
to delegate and dump unimportant tasks while managing and
Participants in workplace physical fitness programs demon- focusing on important ones. In a similar vein, helping
strate greater resilience against mental and physical fatigue, employees clarify and focus on their goals through training
and increased performance. For example, employees who in goal-setting has been linked with increases in both
use their companies’ fitness centre are more likely to work employee self-efficacy and effectiveness. To address stress
the required number of hours and begin work as soon as they related to a second major stressor, namely interpersonal
arrive. The mechanism by which physical fitness contributes issues, a negotiation and conflict training program, based on
to resilience is not fully understood, but a number of factors books by widely recognized negotiators, has also been linked
contribute. First, physical resources deplete more quickly in to improvements in conflict management.
individuals with lower levels of physical fitness, pushing Given that many of these interventions are book-based,
them into the exhaustion phase of the stress response. employees may benefit from access to an employee library
Second, our bodies control our physiological stress response that includes these resources. Research shows that self-
through vagal tone. Vagal tone is the nervous system’s ability study (termed bibliotherapy) can lead to benefits that while
to return the body to a resting state, allowing for a faster not as pronounced as those found in face-to-face training
recovery from the physiological stress response. Exercise can and therapy, are more cost-effective.
also strengthen vagal tone, highlighting the link between An additional tool deserves mention: emotional intelli-
exercise and stress-response recovery. Finally, the benefits gence training. In 1997, Reuven Bar-On defined emotional
of exercise appear to be mediated by long term changes in intelligence (EI) as “an array of non-cognitive capabilities,
the opioid system of the brain that suppresses the stress competencies and skills that influence one’s ability to suc-
response and improves mood. Employers can nudge employ- ceed in coping with environmental demands and pressures”.
ees towards increasing their physical activity level through EI not only directly predicts one’s ability to manage stress,
various strategies. Suggestions from the Harvard School of but for emotionally intelligent managers, predicts the
Public Health Obesity Prevention Source website are pro- improved wellbeing and performance of their subordinates.
vided in Table 5. EI tends to improve with age and can be taught, as supported
by more than a decade of research linking organizational EI
Life Skills training with not only higher scores on measures of social and
emotional competence, but with such secondary benefits as
higher morale, workplace civility, and decreased distress.
Coping with work-related stressors
While training in emotion-focused coping (i.e., relaxation
techniques) can give participants control over their phy- Coping with personal financial stressors
siological responses to stress, it does not give them control Employees may also benefit from building resilience against
over the actual stressors. A series of studies have shown personal challenges. Over the past generation, the ratio of
that behaviorally oriented stress-management programs personal debt to savings has bulged. Workers with high levels
are more effective than those that teach traditional relaxa- of debt are vulnerable to personal financial crises, poorer
tion techniques (physical exercise not included). Workload self-rated physical and mental health, as well as higher rates
and interpersonal issues have been identified as the two of drug abuse, obesity and suicide.
largest job stressors. This finding led to the development Given the potential for protecting employees against
of interventions that target an employee’s skills in time financial hardship, companies and communities have pro-
management, goal setting, delegation, negotiation and vided financial training programs. Research shows that these
confrontation. programs are more effective when they focus on specific
The results of this style of training, while inherently outcomes (e.g., managing a mortgage or increasing contri-
difficult to measure, have shown promise. A large longitu- butions to a savings account). Table 6 outlines ways that
dinal study of time management training across different
workforces was associated with improvements in the parti-
cipants’ ability to plan and prioritize, and importantly, lower Table 6 Strategies for Increasing Employee Financial
levels of stress. This successful intervention was based on Health
Steven Covey’s ‘First Things First’ approach to time manage-
1. Default employee savings plans
ment, wherein employees sort their daily activities into four
2. Specific and goal oriented financial training and counselling at
key milestones: hiring, promotion, birth of a child, developing
a disability, job loss, retirement
Table 5 Strategies for Promoting Physical Activity
3. Employee assistance programs for employees facing financial
1. Make physical activities facilities available on the work site (e. crises
g. a gym or walking paths) 4. Financial literacy training (lunch and learns, gamification,
2. Facilitate participation in physical activity through flexible individual counselling)
work times or fitness breaks 5. Drawing on national financial literacy websites as resources
3. Encourage employees to take the stairs by making them safe, a. Canada:
easy to find and attractive Pages/FLRDSAT-OAEBDRLF.aspx
4. Provide facilities that make it easier for employees to walk or b. United Kingdom:
cycle to work (e.g. bicycle storage and showers) c. USA:
Building resilience in the workforce 131

Table 7 Automatic Negative Thoughts

Type of thought pattern Example

Overgeneralizing - ‘I lost a sale, I never do things right’

Filtering - ‘The principal said she liked how I interact with students, but isn’t happy with my lesson plans, she must
think I’m a bad teacher’

All-or-nothing thinking - ‘I’m not going to get this report in without at least some mistakes, so I might as well give up’

Personalizing - ‘The patient died during my shift, it’s completely my fault’

Catastrophizing - ‘If I mess up this presentation, I’m going to get fired’

Emotional reasoning - ‘I feel angry with my assistant, so she deserves to be yelled at’

Mind reading - ‘I can tell she doesn’t want me working on her team’

Fortune telling - ‘I’m making so many mistakes, I’ll always be a bad lab tech’

Should statements - ‘I should never ask questions, it will make me look stupid’

Magnification/minimization- ‘John wasn’t wearing his earplugs properly. He clearly doesn’t respect the safety rules!’

organizations can help their employees become more finan- Traditional Cognitive-Behavioral Training
cially stable. Traditional Cognitive-Behavioral training, developed in the
second half of the 20th century by Aaron Beck and Albert
Cognitive Behavioral Training Ellis, addresses the way that workers perceive potential
stressors in their environment. This is done by teaching them
In a study comparing the effectiveness of training in relaxa- to identify automatic negative thoughts and then challenge
tion techniques, important life skills, and cognitive apprai- them. Examples are identified in Tables 7 and 8.
sals, the cognitive appraisal approach was shown to be the
most effective. Organizations looking to invest in stress- Acceptance and Commitment Training
management training workshops should look for programs Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, pioneered by
based in either Cognitive-Behavioral approaches or Accep- Steven Hayes, is considered a next generation of Cognitive
tance and Commitment Training. Behavioral Therapy. In the workforce, where it is termed

Table 8 Strategies for Challenging Negative Thoughts

Strategy Challenging questions

Reality testing - What evidence supports my thinking? What evidence counters it?
- Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?

Looking for alternative explanations- Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
- What else could this mean?
- If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?

Putting it in perspective - What is the best thing that could happen?

- Is there anything good about this situation?
- Will this matter in five years?

Using goal-directed thinking - Is this way of thinking helping me to achieve my goals?

- How can I start solving this problem?
- Is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do better next time?
132 R. Koerber et al.

“Acceptance and Commitment Training”, it has successfully is that job instability decreases employees’ performance and
increased psychological flexibility, a key trait in resilience. organizational citizenship behavior, it increases absenteeism
People with psychological flexibility do three things well. and voluntary turnover intentions. These effects can often
First, they are more mindful, in that they are aware of their linger in the form of survivor syndrome long after the layoffs
present environment. Second, they are capable of observing have been made. How then can employees become resilient
their mind work rather than becoming ‘lost in their to the realities of downsizing?
thoughts’. This allows them to select and act on thoughts Appelbaum and Donia suggest the ‘Realistic Downsizing
that are helpful, and avoid being swept away by those that Preview’. This downsizing protocol is based on the impor-
are not. Third, psychologically flexible workers focus on tance of predictability and the assumption that accurate
their values. Hence, they choose actions and thoughts that information provided beforehand can “inoculate” workers
move them towards these values. Consequently, they are in against impending stressors. The Realistic Downsizing Pre-
control of their minds rather than the other way around. view model includes 16 recommendations. To summarize
Evaluations of Acceptance and Commitment Training pro- them: (1) downsize over a short period of time using con-
grams have demonstrated that this intervention increases sistent rules to identify excess positions, (2) provide tools for
psychological flexibility. Participants demonstrate an career self-management, articulating a new psychological
improved ability to learn and implement new skills, greater construct where careers are self-managed, with support
psychological health, a greater propensity to suggest stress- from the current employer, (3) over communicate informa-
reducing strategies for the worksite, as well as lower levels tion about the downsizing, beginning as soon as possible and
of general stress and emotional exhaustion. giving terminated employees as much advance notice as
possible, and (4) removing redundant tasks from remaining
STRESSOR-SPECIFIC COMPANY PROTOCOLS employees’ workloads. A full outline of this model is avail-
able in Appelbaum and Donai’s paper, listed in the suggested
readings below.
By providing employees with personal and environmental
resources, the strategies outlined thus far improve employ-
ees’ baseline resilience. More targeted strategies can be SUMMARY
used to support resilience in the face of even more acute
stressors. High performance organizations create a psychological
environment that buffers stress while increasing employee
Critical Incident Stress Management Protocol resilience. Resilience is the capacity for perseverance that
leads to recovering from or adapting to major stressors.
Lim, Childs and Gonsalves defined a critical incident as “a Stress cannot be entirely avoided but it can be managed,
situation faced by an employee causing the individual to and even have a positive impact. Resilience can be built
experience unusually strong emotional reactions”. Research through the recommendations in Canada’s ‘Psychological
has suggested that critical incident stress management pro- health and safety in the workplace’ standard, a number of
tocols increase recovery rates. These protocols are multi- which are touched on in this article. At an organizational
step processes implemented both before and after traumatic level, policies can promote social support, bolster employ-
events. The protocol is facilitated by a trained individual. ees’ decision latitude, and protect opportunities for recov-
Members from within an organization can be trained through ery. At an employee level, training programs on relaxation,
the International Critical Incident Stress Management Foun- coping with life’s personal and professional challenges, and
dation. In organizations where this is not practical, trained emotional regulation, can provide employees with the per-
facilitators can be identified beforehand by contacting local sonal resources they need to manage stress. Finally, stressor-
first responder units (e.g. police stations). specific protocols can maintain workforce resilience through
major challenges such as downsizing and critical incidents.
Ann Masten described resilience as an ‘ordinary magic’; by
Downsizing Protocol
providing employees with sufficient resources in the face of
stress, organizations can watch it work.
Downsizing is a typical critical event. In an increasingly
dynamic market, downsizing may improve organizational
competitiveness. Unfortunately, it can also impact employ- FUNDING
ees’ sense of control, particularly if they had expected
employers to honor a psychological contract, where an This work was supported by a grant from the Ivey Interna-
employees’ commitment to the job is reciprocated with tional Centre for Health Innovation, Ivey Business School,
job security. The dangers of downsizing for organizations Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.
Building resilience in the workforce 133

For a concise review of stress in the workplace, including the analysis of RDP model: results of data collected and pro-
General Adaptation Syndrome and symptoms of stress, see posed new model”. Career Development International, 6(4),
Von Onciul, J. (1996). ABCs of work related disorders. Stress 193—211.
at work. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 313(7059), 745—748. Luthans and Youssef provide a review of resilience, along
The Canadian Mental Health Commission (2013) Psycho- with the other forms of psychological capital we have
logical health and safety in the workplace-Prevention, pro- described in their 2004 “Human, social, and now positive
motion, and guidance to staged implementation. Toronto: psychological capital management: Investing in people for
Canadian Standards Association, is an excellent resource for competitive advantage.” Organizational Dynamics, 33(2),
organizations seeking to evaluate and implement policies 143—160. While a description of the Job Demands and
that contribute to resilience. For academic reviews of work- Resources model and the evidence that supports it is avail-
place stress management protocols see Giga, S. I., Cooper, C. able in Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The Job
L., & Faragher, B. (2003). The development of a framework Demands-Resources Model: State of the art. Journal of
for a comprehensive approach to stress management inter- Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309—328.
ventions at work. International Journal of Stress Manage- To learn about the nature of team resilience and strate-
ment, 10(4), 280. gies for developing it, see Alliger, G. M., Cerasoli, C. P.,
Organizations wishing to learn more about specific stress- Tannenbaum, S. I., & Vessey, W. B. (2015). “Team resili-
management strategies may find the following readings to be ence”. Organizational Dynamics, 3(44), 176—184. To learn
helpful. For a review of the role of psychological detachment more about employee control in the workplace, its ante-
in employee recovery see Sonnentag, S. (2012). Psychological cedents, performance outcomes, and role in buffering
detachment from work during leisure time: the benefits of stress, see Ganster, D.C., & Fusilier, M.R. (1989) Control in
mentally disengaging from work. Current Directions in Psy- the workplace. In Cooper, C.L., & Robertson, I. T.(Eds.),
chological Science, 21(2), 114—118. See W. N., McCalister, K. Internal Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology,
T., Chen, C. Y., & Edington, D. W. (2005). The association of 4(35—280). For a similar treatment of the role of social
health status, worksite fitness center participation, and two support, see Langford, C. P. H., Bowsher, J., Maloney, J.
measures of productivity. Journal of Occupational and Envir- P., & Lillis, P. P. (1997). Social support: a conceptual analysis.
onmental Medicine, 47(4), 343—351, for a study identifying Journal of advanced nursing, 25(1), 95—100. For a compre-
job-performance benefits associated with physical fitness. hensive review on Emotional Intelligence, see R.E. Bar-On
See Bernstein, D. A., Borkovec, T. D., & Hazlett-Stevens, H. and J.D.A Parker’s (2000) The handbook of emotional intel-
(2000). New directions in progressive relaxation training: A ligence: Theory, development, assessment, and applications
guidebook for helping professionals. Greenwood Publishing at home, school and in the workplace. Jossey-Bass, parti-
Group, for a manual on how to teach relaxation strategies. In cularly chapter 20, which relates to emotional intelligence in
addition, as described in the article, employees may benefit the workplace.
from reading Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. Finally, tools for building resilience based on the Cogni-
(1995). First things first. Simon and Schuster, and Fisher, R., tive-Behavioural approach can be found in Neenan, M.
Ury, W. L., & Patton, B. (2011). Getting to yes: Negotiating (2009). Developing resilience: A cognitive-behavioural
agreement without giving in. Penguin. approach. Routledge. For a review of Acceptance and Com-
For organizations wishing to prepare for specific stres- mitment Therapy’s theoretical and clinical foundations see
sors, Lim, J. J., Childs, J., & Gonsalves, K. (2000). “Critical Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2011). Accep-
incident stress management”. Journal of the American tance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of
Association of Occupational Health Nurses, 48(10), 487— mindful change. Guilford Press., and to read about the
497 provides a helpful overview of the elements of the importance and application of this approach within the
Critical Incident Stress Management program, while Appel- workplace, see Bond, F. W., Hayes, S. C., & Barnes-Holmes,
baum and Donia (2001) set out a methodology for building D. (2006). Psychological flexibility, ACT, and organizational
resilience against survivor syndrome after layoffs in “The behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management,
realistic downsizing preview: a multiple case study, part II: 26(1—2), 25—54.

Raphaelle Koerber Ph.D. candidate in Hearing Sciences, University of Western Ontario Raphaelle Koerber is a
PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario. With a background in emotional intelligence research, she
studies the intersection between disability and employee performance. Specifically, Raphaelle looks at how the
aging workforce copes with the onset of hearing challenges, and how interventions can support their resilience. In
partnership with Sun Life Financial, Raphaelle is implementing an online aural rehabilitation program for
nurses. (Western University, Elborn College, Room 2236, 1201 Western Rd., London, Ontario N6G 1H1, Canada.
134 R. Koerber et al.

Michael Rouse Ph.D., associate professor, Ivey Business School at Western University Dr. Michael Rouse is the
principal investigator of the Sun Life-Ivey Canadian Wellness study. Michael’s research is published in prestigious
journals such as: Strategic Management Journal, Management Learning, Journal of Occupational and Environ-
mental Medicine and the Journal of Public Health Policy. (Western University, 1201 Western Rd., London, Ontario
N6G 1H1, Canada; Ivey Business School, Western University, 1255 Western Rd., London, Ontario N6G 0N1,

Kyle Stanyar Ph.D., Senior Organizational Consultant, Mental Health, Integrated Health Solutions, Sun Life
Financial Kyle holds a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and a Certificate in Occupational Health
Psychology from Clemson University. He is well-versed in the development, design, implementation and
evaluation of occupational health and wellness programs. As a Senior Organizational Consultant in Mental
Health, Kyle contributes to the mental health consulting model and Sun Life’s Workplace Mental Health Risk
Assessment and consulting services, providing an integrated perspective. (Sun Life Financial, 225 King Street
West, 6th Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5V 3M2, Canada).

Marie-Hélène Pelletier Ph.D., Assistant Vice-President, Workplace Mental Health, Sun Life Financial As Assistant
Vice-President Workplace Mental Health at Sun Life Financial, Marie-Hélène oversees the organization’s mental
health strategy for its Canadian group clients. She also oversees the financial health pillar of the company’s
Integrated Health Solutions mandate. She holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from UBC and an MBA from the
UBC Sauder School of Business. With her unique background in both psychology and business, she continues to
evolve business and human resources strategies to critical new areas — most recently to the integration of
financial, physical and mental health. (Sun Life Financial, 225 King Street West, 6th Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5V
3M2, Canada).