A Warning to Bosses: Your Employees Really Hate It When You Talk About Resilience 

People are angry out there. Customers and airline passengers are logging record numbers of hostile incidents. Politics is a cesspool of distrust. Doctors and scientists are getting death threats in response to their efforts to save lives. Clearly, a couple of years of uncertainty and struggle have produced a lot of free-floating rage. 

If you don’t want to be on the receiving end of it as a boss, you probably shouldn’t start lecturing your employees about resilience right now. 

What could be wrong with resilience? It’s clearly an admirable personal quality that helps us weather life’s inevitable challenges. The trouble, mental health journalist Tanmoy Goswami recently argued on careers site Welcome to the Jungle, begins when employers tout resilience as the answer to employee complaints without addressing the deeper causes of their discontent. 

Your team hates it when you talk about resilience. 

Several months ago I wrote about a flood of reports of rageful reactions to bosses trying to coax and cajole their employees back to the office. Something similar is going on with resilience. 

When Goswani asked his thousands of Twitter followers “what their first, unfiltered reaction would be if their employer urged them to develop ‘resilience,” he got some brutal replies. “Oh god, not this crap again,” said one respondent. “Anger. Because it seems [they are] trying to manipulate me into making their problems disappear,” replied another. 

Why so much rage? After a long exploration into the origins of corporate interest in resilience and its current post-pandemic surge in popularity, Goswami gets down to the business of explaining why workers find pep talks about resilience so infuriating. 

“Resilience is a forced response to distress, not another nifty workplace skill,” he writes. “Instead of expecting resilience from workers, employers and society at large need to confront their own role in creating the very reasons of distress that demand resilience–inequality, discrimination, modern work’s productivity obsession.”

Resilience isn’t just another gear you shift up to when things get tough. Instead, the need for resilience is a blaring alarm that something is fundamentally wrong that needs fixing. When managers notice their teams are on the edge of collapse, they should rush to address the underlying causes of that burnout, not sign their people up for dubious grit-building training. 

True resilience takes a community. 

Resilience, in other words, shouldn’t be the responsibility of the individual, but of the community. And as Goswami explores in depth in his article there are plenty of ways society has failed workers during the pandemic. If you’re in the mood for a passionate takedown of companies (and even whole economic systems) that demand workers sacrifice their well-being for someone else’s bottom line, then read it in full. Little of it will be news to your workers. 

For bosses the lesson in all this is that if you don’t want to face a wave of rage and resignations, now is really not a good time to ask your employees to dig deep and push through yet more challenges without first addressing the issues that created the need for resilience in the first place. Your people want pay raises (or reduced hours, greater flexibility, protection from lunatic customers, etc.) not pep talks. 

“Resilience is useless as long as it is narrowly focused on individuals. What we need are resilient communities, not individual workers dragged through the latest pop psychology fad,” Goswami concludes. “Rather than chasing whatever training is the flavor of the season, organizations need to develop processes that sustain resilience.” Amen to that. 

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