The Sloan Management Review has questioned the whole idea of 'resilience' in an article published in April.
Dr Sue Hanley has posted the following on LinkedIn;
It has become one of those 'motherhood' words, which are so often trotted out with scant regard for what the word means or how utterly trite its overuse makes it sound. Resilience is about bouncing back from hard times. Well, we all know that bad things happen, and when something like a Covid-19 Pandemic strikes, then 'yes', we do need to be able to step back, look after ourselves and each other, and reassure ourselves that we can re-emerge with confidence and conviction. But there is a vibe around the word 'resilience' that I think is a bit unfortunate. Definitions of the word go along these sorts of lines:
- the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
"the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions"
- the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
"nylon is excellent in wearability, abrasion resistance and resilience"
Institutions may recover quickly from difficulties, but people not so much. None of us is an institution. We are all people and people are not endlessly tough. Where indeed is the line between toughness and post-traumatic stress disorder? PTSD itself seems to be in epidemic proportions at the moment. Perhaps it is not resilience we need but solutions that avoid the need for it. We are not actually elastic substances or synthetic material like nylon. I have come to detest the word 'resilience' and I cringe every time I see or hear it. As a trendy, nonsense word, it deserves to be treated with contempt. Instead of asking people to be tough and to 'bounce back', start really looking at the cause and this is especially so when it comes to the workplace. When we go to work, we expect that there will at times be challenges, but in meeting them we OUGHT to be treated with dignity and respect. When things do get tough, then maybe we need to be treated with a little tender, loving care. Sometimes that means a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. We are not at war, we should not have to be 'resilient' in the same way that perhaps those on the front line of wars have to be. There are times when we do need stamina and perseverance, but the antidote to that is rest and replenishment, not resilience. And the OUGHT word, well, that is a call to ethics, doing what is right and proper in terms of that which is virtuous. To demand resilience is not virtuous.
This article essentially argues that managers/supervisors need to communicate better with their employees, but as important as that is, it does not go far enough, in my view. Let's work at making workplaces decent places that do not require us to be tough or therefore resilient.
My preferred approach is 'anti-fragility' propounded by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - (very) basically bouncing back stronger.
To do this we need to be equipped with the tools to learn from those stressors that cause fragility, rather than merely cope and get back to some sort of normality. In other words, be a hydra: when one head is cut off, grow back two more.
Resilience is often see as one size fits all. As the recent focus on neurodiversity shows, we are all individuals with differing needs and ways of being treated and treating others. by being resilient and having a single model for growing resilience, we are killing variety, and variety shows us differing ways of dealing with stressors. Anti-fragility thrives on variety. One size fits all is often a prescribed approach within a business, if it has the EAP or tools available to its staff to promote their idea of 'mental wellbeing'. The agency problem, as this might be termed, is where the company has a different approach to what the employee needs.
So... is resilience dead or do we need to be anti-fragile? Or do we just need to work in decent places?