Warning signs about resilience and resilience-based HR practices

Warning signs about resilience: Closeup of teary-eyed black senior woman experiencing compromised resilience

Summary:

    1. "Resilience" is now "Uber Competency," HR systems (esp. hiring) are being redesigned for (around) it.
    2. In the context of a life-threatening global pandemic, compromised resilience isn't the exception, it's normal -- but norms don't move.
    3. Psychological "issues" (resilience being one), are notoriously prone to bias; extraordinary times belie ordinary norms. Both qualitative (interview) and psychometric (personality inventory) assessment practices are now likely to generate false positives (incorrect classification as "compromised resilience").
    4. As a socially stigmatized condition, low resilience is likely to be misinterpreted as a trait-based deficiency vs a more contextually dependent, state-based reaction. (see 2)
    5. This pandemic has disproportionately affected specific groups (i.e., people of color, aged), warning signs about resilience and HR practices are emerging.
    6. These groups are protected by law from discriminatory practices or impact.
    7. The stage is set for potential resilience-based adverse impact.

Resilience.

If your next book’s title doesn’t include this word, I recommend adding it. (Try, "The Resilience of Cooking"). If your hiring practices don’t include resilience, you're exceptional (and not in a good way). Resilience is THE thing of HR today.

Although I start with "tongue in cheek" language, I'm not at all flippant on this topic. Resilience is serious and I mean no disrespect. It's merely a matter of style. So, let me be clear:

This is NOT a repudiation of resilience.

Resilience is real. Great thinking has brought attention, understanding and sage counsel to the concept. I wholly support the construct for it's value to progressing organization theory and practice. Not by any fault of its origin or development, but for a number of reasons, I see warning signs about resilience risk and urge caution with use of resilience-based HR practices.

Specifically in the case of resilience, the risks of misunderstanding and misuse are greater than for previous super constructs ("Emotional Intelligence" comes to mind). The mere term, resilience, seems so relevant today that many have been, and others will be, drawn to its "solutions" like choosing a book by its cover. A book that has your name on it. Who doesn't want a resilient organization?

But these are the framing conditions that can rapidly lead to over dependence and over confidence with an apparently simple term that is more nuanced and potentially hazardous than it appears.

Ultimately, I urge you to consider what I see as early warning signs about resilience and its application in HR systems. You may disagree, and I may be wrong. But both the stakes and risks are high. And I'm comfortable to risk my reputation to raise awareness and stimulate deeper thought on this topic.

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Workforce predictions for 2021

Worforce predictions for 2021 should keep the dream of MLK alive

It’s no coincidence that I release my workforce predictions for 2021 on Martin Luther King, Jr Day, a day of hope. Despite all of the uncertainty and chaos lapsing into this new year from last, there are signs of hope – some still faint, but others more apparent. Much of 2021 will be about fixing what went wrong in a most tumultuous 2020. But we’ve a lot more awareness of those problems and that’s where rehabilitation starts. Plus, the fact that you’re reading this means you weathered the most chaos one year has dumped for decades. As my grad school professor and mentor used to say, “Hope springs eternal.”

But I’m not in denial. There are still many, complex and critical issues that don’t (and didn’t) magically “go away” with a new calendar. In statistical terminology, we still have a number of “main effects” exerting considerable and all-encompassing influence on human behavior – including work and the way it’s conducted. Among the most impactful are,

    1. a relentless, growing, global pandemic that’s been around for over a year,
    2. a hyper-polarized, angry, and increasingly aggressive, US population divided on, and driven by, political ideology,
    3. a dramatic increase in technology-enabled communication (substantially driven by #1)
    4. an increase in technology “hacks,” breaching data and disrupting infrastructure,
    5. massive unemployment (substantially driven by #1)

These aren’t independent of each other, as noted for a couple, but true of all. Nevertheless, each of these (i.e., 2-5) has evolved as formidable and life changing forces that now exist beyond the pandemic (i.e., they would continue even if the pandemic magically “went away”). Moreover, these main effects have predictable, if not already commenced, domino effects.

So, yes, some predictions for 2021 are almost “no-brainers” because we’ve already seen some of the effects they have had, and will have, for some time.

On the other hand, the impacts of these “main effects,” may not have fully revealed their potential for even further disruption, or mitigation, thus making predictions also tenuous. {I’ve started this list three times since the new year for just this reason.}

Nevertheless, regardless of this era in which we've witnessed the emergence of nearly instantaneous, global chaos, one has to put a stake in the ground.

So, these are my workforce predictions for 2021:

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8 steps to address workplace stress when “reopening” during the pandemic

Businesswoman drinking coffee at work contemplative looking out the window of high rise skyscraper building during morning tea break. Workplace stress, mental health in the workplace.

"Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore." -- Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz.

The world and workplace are reopening. And like Dorothy awaking from her vivid (not covid – couldn’t resist) dream, we’re beginning to realize that work and life aren’t exclusive of each other. If you ever thought you could “leave your work at the door” or “compartmentalize your life” this pandemic has certainly challenged those beliefs. Because, like this virus, anxiety knows no boundaries. Returning to “normal”? Not!  ... but not really. Things will be different, but not completely so. It’s more that now the “light” shines bright on the acts and actors of psychology, exposing shadows ever present, but now in vivid color. There’s going to be a lot more “color” now, in terms of people, their behavior and especially their feelings. And like a child waking from a bad dream, there’s going to be a need to comfort and reassure people at work, even if it’s in their home. Here, I provide a checklist of 8 steps to address workplace stress when “reopening” during the pandemic. (And they apply outside of work – whatever that is – too).

Getting down to work.

Workplace stress, and here I mean the non WFH place, is going to be a real issue for organizations (beyond the sum of individuals) for some time. Government imposed practices intended to limit virus transmission have already revealed psycho-social behavioral issues and conflicts. For some, uniform mandates have been a source of shelter. For others, they've been a source of infringement. To say they've been 'controversial' is an understatement -- especially in these times where everything seems controversial.

As restrictions originally imposed to mitigate the spread of CV-19 are relaxed, responsibility for one’s exposure to the virus increasingly falls to individuals – but especially on leaders of others. While organizations adopt their own policies in light of the pandemic such as those to enforce or support “social distancing” (a term I dislike), individuals will now primarily be responsible for their own “CV behavior” and may experience considerably more workplace stress.

Although stress isn't altogether bad, it almost always is when it reaches high levels. And like never before for most of us, we now live in a world of extraordinarily high stress -- especially in the workplace. Strong, confident, reassuring leadership will be paramount. Fortunately, research in psychology at work reveals practical steps leaders can take to manage varying levels of stress among employees.

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