Should Employers Select for Resilience?

The term ‘resilience’ seems to be the catch-phrase of this century. It would appear that we all have to be resilient, or have resilience, for us to succeed in our personal lives, at work, and pretty much everywhere else you can think of.

In a work setting, managing change or wellbeing workshops now seem to be re-named ‘resilience’ workshops. As professionals, we are often told that we are responsible for developing our own resilience, and if we want to be selected for a job, hiring managers are now advertising for ‘resilient’ individuals to fill their roles. Indeed, the resilient research tells us that resilient employees recover better and more quickly from disruptions than non-resilient employees and are more adaptive and responsive to organisational changes necessary for organisational success (Shin, Taylor, & Seo, 2012).

However, due to a tendency for resilience to be decontextualised according to a Western stance, the concept of resilience is at risk of re-creating power imbalances and discrimination within our society (Schwarz, 2018). In line with this stance, the Human Rights Act (1993) states discrimination on the grounds of psychological impairment is prohibited.

To further complicate the issue, Connor and Davidson (2003) highlight the contextual nature of resilience and state that “it is possible to perform well in one area in the face of adversity (e.g., work) but to function poorly in another (i.e., interpersonal relationships)” (p. 81). This view was supported recent research involving a New Zealand sample (Tonkin, Malinen, Näswall, & Kuntz, 2018), whereemployees’ stress coping ability (personal resilience) and resilient workplace behaviours (employee resilience) were found to be two distinct constructs. In this study, participants’ levels of employee resilience, prior to any workplace intervention, were found to be statistically higher than their levels of personal resilience. Given the contextual nature of resilience, employers would benefit from defining what resilience looks like in the context of the role and organisation they are selecting for. Once an employer has defined resilience, the obvious question follows, “How do we measure resilience in the context of this role in this organisational culture?”

The challenges of defining and measuring work-based resilience in a specific context, and the serious implications of potential discrimination occurring from inaccurate measurement and interpretation of resilience and its impact of job performance, should not be underestimated. Robust discussions within the I/O community should be encouraged to answer the question: Should employers select for resilience?