When resilience training isn’t the answer
Resilience training can be hugely beneficial for many – but it has a time and a place. Are some managers offering this training as a solution to a difficult situation just to avoid conflict?
Have you ever witnessed someone being asked to go on a resilience training course after bringing up a workplace issue or conflict without the manager looking into it properly – if at all? This knee-jerk approach managers are sometimes taking aims to develop employees’ resilience and emotional intelligence to better cope with work-life stresses.
But do you suspect a growing trend where offering this training is a default (read: easy) response to concerns raised in the workplace?
Offering resilience training can, of course, be the solution if there’s a perception the employee is struggling to cope with conflict, and might also be offered in addition to investigating into their complaint.
With an estimated 17 million work days lost every year due to stress, anxiety and depression, resilience training can be incredibly helpful for employees. A systemic review of the effectiveness of resilience training conducted in 2016 tentatively concluded that 12 out of 14 studies (85%) showed positive and significant changes as a result of resilience training.
This early intervention ensures that any self-destructive behaviours are brought to the individual’s attention so to identify them, assess them, examine their triggers and ultimately learn how to better process them in a healthy way.
We’re quick to offer resilience training to those who voice concerns about a colleague with little regard to training for the other party.
But resilience training isn’t helpful in the instances where managers brush genuine concerns under the carpet that need examining, and place 100% of the responsibility (and, seemingly, blame) on the individual who has raised these concerns.
Furthermore, when an employee raises a concern about the manager to the manager themselves – which is no easy task – it is troubling to see managers avoid any sort of accountability by insisting the employee attends a resilience course, rather than taking a look at the concerns, their management style, and their ability to work cooperatively with their direct reports.
‘Manage the manager’ and all that. We need to look at the other influencing factors to the concern, beyond the employee who raised it.
Then there are the other parties involved. We’re quick to offer resilience training to those who voice concerns about a colleague with little regard to training for the other party.
Ultimately they have acted in a way that has affected one of their peers which shouldn’t go unnoticed, but oftentimes does.
Do they need to work on their communication style? Do they need to be made aware that their collaborative and team-work skills are lacking? Are they just plain rude and inconsiderate?
There are also times when a line manager’s resilience needs to be looked at instead of offering the training to their reports. Managers are accountable for what happens with their team and their members, which can amount to a lot of stress to the manager.
If a line manager has a lack of resilience and can’t bounce back easily in the face of adversity, this causes a rippling effect that impacts not just their team but the team’s stakeholders too. Managers are expected to be calm, communicate assertively and deal with problems within their team effectively, and without resilience, this can’t be executed effectively.
Offering resilience training might be seen as a way to help the employee conform to a culture that doesn’t like saying anything unless it’s positive.
Finally we must question if the organisation’s culture is an influencing factor. It might be the sort of culture where voicing concerns are, on the majority, considered as negative or disruptive.
Offering resilience training might be seen as a way to help the employee conform to a culture that doesn’t like saying anything unless it’s positive. Speaking up and calling the organisation out on unethical practices or workplace conflicts is seen as the inability to ‘process emotions correctly’.
How HR can help managers
As HR professionals, we need to be able to educate managers on the purpose of resilience training as well as identifying when the employee’s ability to process emotions is not the cause of concern, rather the concern they have raised.
A good first port of call is putting yourself in their shoes. You may not react in the same way as we’re all unique and reactions are part of our personalities, but can you understand why they’re reacting in this way?
When a manager approaches you advising they want to enrol someone on resilience training, as an HR professional, you should ask the following questions:
Has there been a recent drive, promotion or encouragement from leaders on the uptake of resilience training? Managers may feel almost pressured into sending employees for resilience training. Understanding why there has been a recent drive will also sway your thinking – have the results of a recent employee survey suggested resilience is low or that more concerns are being raised each year?
How many employees has the manager previously enrolled onto resilience training? If they’re overzealous in sending employees onto resilience training, this suggests that either team resilience is at an all-time low – in which case you need to have a discussion with the manager about why – or the manager is brushing issues under the carpet. If you suspect the latter, don’t be quick to judge. How’s their resilience? Are they struggling to cope with conflict or disagreement? Do they need to brush up on their management skills? As I’ve written before, managers usually become managers as a by-product of a promotion based on their technical skills, not for their management skills.
What’s the manager’s rationale for enrolling the employee onto resilience training? Having this discussion with the manager will help you understand the nub of the issue. Let them talk you through the sequence of events that have led them to this to really understand how this happened in the first place.
Does this nub warrant resilience training? Is the employee the one lacking resilience or have they brought attention to a serious concern, conflict or disagreement?
Is the manager’s reluctance to address the issue properly a result of organisational culture? Would they be seen as going against the status quo if there’s an expectation of being ignorant to anything ‘negative’ because it hinders business and people just need to ‘learn to be more positive!’?
Has a series of practices and policies enabled this to happen, or at least not prevented it from happening, for example poor change management or grievance procedures? Sometimes the culture is reinforced with like-minded policies and practices that makes this happening inevitable – something the employee should not be addressing by simply attending resilience training.
Managers have the responsibility to identify the issue accurately to provide the most appropriate action to conflict. Sometimes this can be resilience training. Other times, this can be addressing the issue that is completely separate from how an employee processes emotions.
Helping the manager work through the sequence of events, the factors that have influenced these to occur and the rationality for suggesting resilience training will get them to understand what has happened and reconsider their next steps.
Charles Goff-Deakins is a senior HR policy specialist and a member of the CIPD with HR and managerial experience from the private and public sectors. He is a HR policy lead, author of the book 'HR Beyond the Theory', HR feature writer, career development blogger and editor, international speaker, and a hungry learner. He also founded the career...