Articles

The Ugly Truth About Resilience

February 24, 2017

Originally posted on LinkedIn.


A large employer recently asked me if Imperative could help screen candidates for resilience. He described the challenges of some of their toughest jobs and said he wanted to increase retention by hiring people who could overcome those challenges and not quit.

At Imperative, we believe deeply in the value of resilience, being able to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. However, we declined this request because for the majority of employees in the workforce, resilience is not a sign of strength but of weaknesses.

For the majority of employees, resilience is rooted in fear not strength.

In 2015 we conducted a national study of the workforce with New York University and last year a global study with LinkedIn, building on research previously done by theUniversity of Michigan. What has clearly emerged from these studies is the importance of our orientation to work in our lives. This radically changes how we think about resilience.

The Purpose-Driven Employee

In the United States, 28% of people have an orientation to work that is focused on adding value and being personally fulfillment. They don’t just work in social work – they are found in every industry and profession. When we explore the impact of this orientation at work we find higher performance scores, longer tenure and greater fulfillment and wellbeing. We call these employees purpose-driven employees.

Purpose-driven employees have a healthy relationship with work. They understand the role of work in their lives. When they are resilient it is due to an ability to see the bigger picture and push through hard times because they are committed to their colleagues and customers and carry on because they care. This form of resilience predicts success, is good for people and cultures.

For 28% of the workforce, resilience stems from a healthy relationship with work.

The Fear-Driven Employee

The rest of the workforce is dominantly oriented to work primarily for financial incentive or a form of social status. In our research we have found that these employees are much more likely to be operating out of fear in how they define work – regardless of the role of industry.

They report having lower self-esteem, not having agency in their lives and seeing the world through a zero-sum game lens. For them, they see work as either a necessary evil or needed to make up for a gap in their self worth, but not as a potential source of fulfillment.

They can be resilient as well, but their form of resilience is born out of fear. They push through hard times and challenges out of fear of income loss, loss of control and/or a loss in social status. This can be toxic for them and their colleagues; and I believe it is often what breaks down culture and values in an organization.

Resilience for the majority of employees is toxic for them and your culture.

When an employer seeks non-purpose oriented hires with high resilience they – inadvertently and unconsciously – are defacto looking to benefit from the pain and fear of employees. And while they might see greater resilience, it comes at a cost to their people and culture. This is why we have to be careful about how we approach the topic of resilience.

Hiring based on work orientation is the key to healthy resilience.

If we want healthy resilience in our employees, the most important thing to do is hire people who have a healthy relationship with work. A great way to start is to make sure you are a great place to work for women. Women are 50% more likely to be purpose-oriented and have also been found in studies of resilience and grit to score higher than their male counterparts.