Why Resiliency Shouldn't be Taught in the Workplace

ADP recently came out with their most recent Global Workplace Study. In the past this study has looked at employee engagement, but this year they also took a look at employee resiliency, because that, along with pivot, is the current word of the month. The report is a pretty quick read so I recommend checking it out for yourself, but here's a high-level summary of what you need to know.


Baseline Definitions and High-Level Findings

ADP defined fully engaged and highly resilient employees as follows:

  • Fully Engaged: “All-in” and highly committed and willing to give their all to their team and organization. They are dedicated to the organization’s purpose, certain in their definition of excellence, confident in the support of their teammates, and excited by the organization’s future. Those employees who are not Fully Engaged, in contrast, we designate as “Just Coming to Work.”

  • Highly Resilient: Demonstrating agency and the ability to compartmentalize on the level of the self, while feeling psychological safety and demonstrating trust in their leaders’ ability to anticipate the future, communicate, and follow through on commitments. Those employees who are not Highly Resilient we designate as “Vulnerable".

I'm going to focus on the United States results because, well, that's what I know. According to the report, 19% of U.S. employees are engaged and 16% of employees are highly resilient. Wow. Engagement is higher than I would have expected, and resiliency is lower than I would have expected. That being said, we're talking both fully engaged and highly resilient. That's a high bar.


While the survey questions were provided, it was unclear how full engaged or highly resilient was defined based on how the questions were answered. The report shared that highly resilient workers have three key characteristics:

  1. They feel a strong sense of agency.

  2. They are able to compartmentalize at work.

  3. They trust their leaders' ability to anticipate the future, communicate and follow through on commitments.

The report offered no recommendations on the role that the workplace plays in improving employees' resiliency. But others have, so keep reading.


No, Teaching Resiliency Doesn't Belong in the Workforce

This article discusses how HR departments can respond to improving these numbers for their own companies. To be fair, they mean well. They even call the three above characteristics as "feeling treated like a grown-up". Here's a summary of what a HR minion can do within their own organization to help employees feel like grown-ups:

  • Support agency and compartmentalization by focusing on outcomes more than hours. It’s nearly impossible for people to take ownership of their work when they feel as if they’re being micromanaged and not trusted. Your employees are intelligent adults. Treat them as such and they will deliver.

  • Intentionally embed the language of strengths into communications and programs to help create an environment that culturally supports employees working on activities that energize them and allow them to do more of their best work. The Global Workplace study confirmed this by showing that workers who love what they do are 3.9 times more likely to be highly resilient.

  • Establish weekly check-ins between team leaders and team members to ritualize this “grown up” mindset. This builds trust, accelerates productivity, and maintains connection. Time after time, our research shows that trusting your team leader is a foundational element to engagement — team members who trust their team leader are 14 times more likely to be fully engaged. Moreover, the highest levels of self-resilience exist when individuals fully trust both their team leader and senior leaders within their organization.

Again, these are great points and I would love to work at a company that had leaders that sincerely believed this. But these companies are like unicorns--many people claim to have seen one, but more often than not, these only exist in our fantasy worlds.


Why this won't work

I sometimes hate writing these posts because I come off so bitter. But one reason I don't miss the corporate world is because I rarely worked at places with good leadership. And that's what's needed to improve engagement and resiliency. Period. Sincere leadership who genuinely trust their employees and hold other leaders in their organization accountable can achieve these things.

  1. Focusing on outcomes more than hours: If leadership judges others based on time spent in a seat (or online for those remote), all others will judged as such (even if said leadership is rarely in the office themselves).

  2. Intentionally embed the language of strengths into communications and programs: You can craft all the newsletters, corporate values and employee recognition events you want--people end up in soulless jobs because of necessity, lack of opportunity, systemic prejudice, and a myriad of other reasons.

  3. Establish weekly check-ins between team leaders and team members to ritualize this “grown up” mindset. This sentence alone is a problem: "Keep checking in on your team to make sure they trust you" is not the way to get them to trust you. Again, leadership sets the tone. If they're distrustful, all those below them are also taught to be distrustful. Trust is earned.

It's fine if employers want to offer (confidential) programs to employees so they can build resiliency on their own time. But building resiliency can be very personal. It's something you do on your own time, with your therapist, or with friends. Introducing resiliency and engagement into the work narrative sounds like, "replacing people that have quit is expensive so let's throw around the word 'resiliency' to see if that helps. But unless leadership believes in the above, it's all a waste of time.


What do you think? Should employers focus on resiliency, or should they leave well enough alone?

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