what’s wrong with resilience?

You hear a lot these days about resilience. It’s a big buzzword, and if you’re in the HR world, it’s usually in the context of resilience training.

When I work with clients in burnout and do workshops on stress relief, I always start by asking them to rate their capacity to handle stress on a scale of 1 to 10.

Inevitably, there are several people in the room who rate themselves at 8 or higher. And they are happy to tell everyone about the methods they employ in service of “stress management.” (It’s kinda like that joke about “How do you know there is a vegan at a party?”)

If you’ve been with me for awhile, you know I’m not a fan of that word—management.

A couple decades ago, I would have been that participant. Now, I take perverse pleasure in telling my younger self to take a seat. (And please, please shut up).

the wrong question

Why is rating oneself high on the capacity-to-handle-stress scale not desirable?

Because we’re asking the wrong question. And I suggest we’re asking the wrong question about resilience—which is really a new word for “stress management.”

What’s the right question?

Well, not sure I’ve found “the right one.” I do think a better one is, “Why are you in a position where you experience stress in the first place?” or “Why do we even need to be resilient?”

No, I’m not naïve. I’m not saying that there is a perfect world out there somewhere that doesn’t include stressors.

I am saying that there’s a paradox inherent in the situation, much like the burnout paradox, which goes something like this: burnout is caused by the system in which we live/operate (especially, but not solely, in our work lives). Yet the burden of preventing/reversing it is almost always put on the individual. (Usually with the words, “You just need to practice more self care!”

And to that end, we are offered a slew of methods under the title of “employee wellness benefits:” lunch-time yoga/HIIT workouts! dress down Fridays! discounts at gyms and spas! free meditation apps! free coffee on Mondays! [fill-in-the-blank] challenges!

the wrong approach

None of those offerings are inherently “bad.” (Well, other than making an assumption that most/all of us benefit from them.)

And yet they are just that: methods. They don’t speak to the deeper issue—how can we change the workplace/culture rather than (or along with) the individual?

Or, why is it on the individual to protect themself from the institutions that purportedly exist to support them?

I’ve been listening to Rainn Wilson’s Soul Boom, and I think he makes a great point about spirituality: it’s not solely an individual journey. Spirituality is about moving our institutions along and evolving our society as well.

Want to offer all those methods for equipping employees with greater resilience? Feel free. And remember that defining the company values—and aligning with them in every way every day—needs to be happening simultaneously.

make the connection

Does your company espouse the value of deeply supporting employees in their overall wellness? And does that value include doing the work on the company culture to make it healthier, too? Or do you preach wellness and resilience and simply offer tools for employees without addressing the underlying reason they need them in the first place?

Want to talk about wellness programs that work? Schedule a time, and let’s connect!