Building Stress Resilience and Organizational Hardiness Despite Doing "More with Less"

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Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker as well as "Motivational Humorist ...Read More

Dear Workforce:

How do we cope with employee stress from them having to do more with less? Like many companies, ours has had to make tough choices in recent years. So far so good…. but we want to defuse any problems that might arise.
— Chief Worry Officer, services/software, New York City


Dear CWO,

I like your job title. The troops will more likely sense you feel their pain. And this is vital, for research has updated the old saw: “Misery loves company.” Actually, it really likes miserable company! While I’m being a tad playful, there is a serious message. When a company has had to make tough cutbacks, one of the most important dynamics is that everyone in the company makes some sacrifice; all, in some fashion, are walking in those “more with less” shoes, (and occasionally feeling the bunions).

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Let me also provide a proactive list of stress resiliency bullet points:

1. Hold Town Hall Meeting. Consider having an “all hands” meeting for the troops to review where you’ve been as company-division-department, etc. – bumps and strengths – during this tough transition. (And if necessary make it web-video friendly.) I might hold a panel forum with an array of levels having an opportunity to share what have been the challenges, the stress points; some humor here is especially invaluable. As I once penned: “People are less defensive and more open to a serious message gift-wrapped with humor.”

In addition, highlight what has been learned, including improvements made, noteworthy efforts and achievements, as well as areas to be strengthened. Perhaps give out some awards. Especially underscore where there’s been interdepartmental sharing and synergy. Not only did systems circle the wagons in tough times, but they interlinked, supported, fortified, and coordinated as well.

2. Seek Team-Department Input. Perhaps after the town meeting (or even in preparation for the big event), do a similar “local” analysis as noted above. The more people believe they are being listened to, that their diverse “worries” and ideas are respected and considered, the more they will see themselves as not just part of the problem but also instrumental in the solution. (Of course, acknowledgement doesn’t mean agreement. And most don’t expect immediate accord. But people want to know their argument is being genuinely heard if not addressed.) Finally, people will begin seeing you as a meaningful change agent – an aware, effective, and responsible individual who impacts positively mind, motivation, and morale and is also worthy of trust.

3. Generate “TnT” Environment. Management, in particular, can do two things to facilitate trust, especially vital in a changing, sometimes uncertain or turbulent environment. First be transparent – Transparency and Trust are soul sisters and brothers! As much as possible, share openly with folks what you know and what you don’t know. Don’t fudge facts. Be clear when you are speculating. Don’t put a positive spin on a problem to suppress angst in the short-term. That pseudo-Yin energy will likely turn around and bite you in the Yang.

Second, allow your audience or team members to raise tough questions and even to challenge some decisions made. Employees want leaders that can handle intense and intimate interaction without management getting defensive. And hold off jumping on someone’s attitude if they are not being abusive. (A little or occasional attitude isn’t unreasonable if “streamlined” or “right-sized” times have persisted for a good while.) Don’t immediately handle an encounter by immediately proving why “you” are right and “they” are wrong. Again, at least make sure the other party believes you understand their perspective. And if you are not sure of an answer, say so up front. Also, let people know of the research you will do to address the problem raised. And provide some time-line for report back. This kind of head-heart toughness also builds your trust account

4. Make Psychological Hardiness a Priority. Psychological hardiness is a concept developed by Dr. Suzanne Kobasa and her research team while studying the health of AT&T executives during the stressful breakup of “Ma Bell.” Some execs were having a hard time physically and emotionally, while others were coping effectively with the transitional storm. The hardiest executives demonstrated what I call the “Four C’s of Psychological Hardiness“:

a. Commitment. The hardy execs while not crazy about all the changes were still committed to doing really good work. They also were committed to finding work-life balance; they were not spending long nights at work hoping they would be rewarded for self-sacrifice.

b. Control. These effective execs understood that they would have to let go of some real control; they did not bury themselves in their silos, but were more open to exploring new assignments and role-responsibility shifts.

c. Change. The most stress resilient were able to release considerable control as they understood that “change happens.” These individuals were quicker to grieve their loss, perceived or actual. They were also quicker to jump into new learning curves; and did not fight being an uncomfortable beginner. I would say their personal mantra; I’m a learner not a loser!

d. Conditioning. The hardiest execs engaged in regular aerobic exercise or physical conditioning. Not only does exercise help you stay fit, manage your weight and improve your endurance and cardiovascular health, but it also releases mood-lifting bio-chemicals, a good antidote to mild feelings of agitation and/or depression. Also, when everything’s up in the air–you can’t seem to close any projects or meet elusive deadlines–structured exercise provides a self-defined beginning and endpoint, for a tangible self of accomplishment and control.

How about instituting a wellness/hardiness program or competition among departments, with some team rewards at the end of the challenge?


Follow these four resiliency-hardiness building measures and your ship, even when hitting some rough water, should continue to stay the course. Bon voyage!

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