Is your organization’s resiliency grounded in employee resiliency?

Human resilience to adversity is about 200 million years ahead of organizational resilience where the term was first used around 2003 (The Quest for Resilience by Hamel & Valikangas). And yet the condition of humans in an organization is rarely acknowledged in the many detailed plans and thoughts about organizational resiliency.

We know a lot about human resiliency. For example it often depends on: having a close connection to friends and family, a strong faith, a positive self-image and self-confidence, the ability and know-how resilientto reach out for help, and having good communication skills.

Organizational resiliency is often associated with the ability to survive corporate adversity such as a downturn in markets, financial calamity, the impacts of climate change, shifting demographics, changes to politics and policy, swift advances in technology, and very rapidly changing public expectations of organizational behavior related to ethics and social responsibility.

Almost all detailed plans to create organizational resiliency focus on business continuity in the face of chaos. Books and binders and zillions of hours of thoughtful work go into “business continuity.” In most cases business continuity means keeping systems and processes running whether you are producing widgets or warfare.

Missing from many metrics and measures of organizational resiliency is the insidious impact of slow but invariably debilitating employee emotional meltdown. Sure, corporations like IBM and many others include grief and crisis counselling for employees facing a traumatic impact from severe adversity and crises. But it’s the simmering threat that poses more a danger than the fast shock.

Very few approaches to organizational resilience consider the impact of ongoing employee demoralization, a sense of devaluation, and lingering disrespect. A psychologically unhealthy workplace is today a far greater threat to the resiliency of an organization than a market crash. Buzzwords like “employee engagement,” “morale,” “job satisfaction,” “respectful workplace” and other trendy labels are chiefly used as check-the-box measures of a vague notion that happy employees are also healthy and productive employees. The connection between human resiliency and organizational resiliency is absent.

But here’s the thing: A workplace with continually poor ratings of employee morale and related factors, where emotional health is dangerously at risk, where feeling valued and respected is non-existent, and communication is top-down, is also an organization with low levels of resiliency to the threats of the marketplace, politics, and public opinion.

The University of Auckland in New Zealand gets this. The Resilient Organisations Research Programme cites a number of “Resilience Indicators” such as the quality of leadership, staff engagement, effective partnerships, breaking silos, and other key factors combining to create a resilient organization. What we have in this list is an appreciation that the resiliency of an individual is key to the resilience of the organization.

6 thoughts on “Is your organization’s resiliency grounded in employee resiliency?

  1. The simple answer for me is NO. I was just talking with a friend about bullying and resiliency, and I shared with her that I had never in my life been bullied or mistreated until I became a nurse. I agree that all of the literature and work in resiliency in the workplace tends to focus on organization resilience, as you said; what makes the whole organization a survivor in crisis? Well, without the people, there is no organization to be resilient. If there is any thought of human resiliency in an organization, the focus is on how the executive set will survive societal hardship. The assumption is that as long as they ivory tower is safe and intact, all is well. We recently had a employee satisfaction survey done by the nurses and the scores were very low in the areas of morale and feeling supported. I am going to check out the study from NZ. Of course they “get it”…their not in our country. Thank you for sharing.


  2. I love the premise of your article and agree. I did a great deal of research on individual and organizational resiliency and conclude that individual resiliency is often over-emphasized. Naturally resilient individuals will be far less so in an environment lacking solid leadership, trust and a willingness to engage all levels in decision-making. Karen’s story here demonstrates how individuals can be demoralized by the lack of these things. Organizational resiliency is ultimately, a function of leadership and positive engagement — not just infrastructure. Well done.


  3. Thanks Rick, your own work in this area is something I’d love to hear more about. I am struck, for example, when organizations spend zillions of hours and energy on “strategic planning” and setting “priorities” when the human element is completely dismissed from this exercise. I once had the temerity to ask a group of “leaders” if they thought employee well being, engagement. and associated factors played any role in getting their corporation’s “strategic priorities” accomplished. Their laser-like look said it all. So I returned to my planet.


  4. Well said Karen. It is always astounding to me (well, maybe not) how organizational “leaders” manage to nicely compartmentalize the emotional and psychological health needs of employees, referring to them as some amorphous “soft skill” for HR to figure out. Your profession as a nurse is often caught in this sad situation. Thanks for sharing!


  5. Hi Dr Eli, great article and it really resonates. How does one go about getting a copy of the results/key indicators? I suspect this would be a useful tool to better understand the potential fallout before implementing large scale change within an organisation.


  6. Thanks for the encouraging words, Tracy. In a day or so I will send you an email attachment with what, at least my research, shows are the key indicators.



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