What is resilience and how do we develop it? - Henley Business School
05 July 2018
Posted in by Dr Caroline Rook

What is resilience and how do we develop it?

Henley Business School is working with Heads Together and Row on a research project looking at individual and team resilience. The research project is led by Dr Caroline Rook, and she and her team will be keeping you up to date on their progress with regular blog posts. For her first post, she explains the meaning of resilience in this context, and how we develop it.

Levels of individual resilience are likely to determine who succeeds and who fails in the current dynamic and competitive world of work. Even though individual resilience is recognised as a crucial issue in the workplace and many organisations now invest in stress and well-being programmes, stress remains a key issue; the rates of new cases of work-related stress and depression have remained broadly flat for more than 10 years.

It appears that creating a resilient workforce is highly challenging! This is likely to be owing to limitations in our current knowledge on and thinking around why some people bounce back and learn from increasing challenges, adversity, and constant change, while for others their healthy functioning is significantly impaired.

Current resilience trainings in the workplace mainly focus on the psychological resilience domain. However, cases of sudden collapse due to extreme fatigue (e.g., Lloyds Bank CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio in 2011) support the notion that physical health (as well as psychological health) of people at work plays a crucial role in workplace health and performance. Indeed, in health psychology, researchers highlight that health should be considered holistically as different functions of the human body and mind influence, and interact with each other. They define resilience as “an outcome of successful adaptation to adversity”, and that more resilient individuals demonstrate a “greater capacity to quickly regain equilibrium physiologically, psychologically, and in social relations following stressful events”. However, workplace resilience is unlikely to be so ‘linear’, with stressful events occurring randomly, sporadically, and over prolonged periods.

In many respects this could be likened to the stress imposed with physical training. In fact, we can also learn from Sports Sciences how to possibly develop greater resilience, mentally and physically. For athletes, adaptive functionality is a central component to build their resilience. They ‘stress’ their body through various types of training that provokes transient fatigue. This results in physiological adaptations in the body systems in a gradual manner as a means to compensate for provoked physical challenge. A ‘new threshold of tolerance’ is reached and they have an improved capacity to tolerate higher levels of demand, leading to improved performance. There are many exciting research avenues in exploring resilience through an inter-disciplinary approach.

To lay the groundwork for further research on this topic at Henley Business School, we are very happy to be able to work with Heads Together and Row to explore different elements of resilience. In the research project that will run into 2019, we will explore how different psychological and physiological resilience markers are linked together, what role sleep plays in maintaining resilience, and how the overall team develops and sustains resilience building up to and during their big challenge.

Over the next few months we will share with you our latest research insights. Stay tuned!

Dr Caroline Rook

Caroline is a Lecturer at Henley Business School. Her research relates to creating healthy and productive workplaces through exploring the links between leadership and well-being in organisations. Caroline investigates in particular how to manage executive stress, how to maintain authentic functioning at work and the role of coaching for creating resilience for positive leadership.
c.rook@henley.ac.uk

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