Resilience can be trained, and here’s how to do it!

Key Points

  • In face of adversity, training people’s resilience is worth it in order to improve well-being and performance.
  • Training that resonates with people’s experiences and needs is the key for long-lasting results.
  • In fact, coaching is the best means for training people’s resilience, followed by classroom-based training.

The World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century”. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that “the total number of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000, a prevalence rate of 1510 per 100,000 workers”. An EU-funded project carried out by Matrix (2013) estimated that in Europe, the cost of work-related depression is around € 617 billion annually. The main costs were found to be related to absenteeism, presenteeism and loss of productivity, in addition to health care costs and social welfare costs.

In the face of this challenge, organizations can proactively take action to prevent the onset of stress, instead of reacting to the bad consequences that it carries with it.

The question is: How can companies prevent stress in an effective way? Are well-known resilience-building training programmes the answer to their problem? Afterall, resilience is the set of means by which people turn challenges into opportunities!

What’s the evidence for the effectiveness of training resilience?

Vanhove and collegues (2015) conducted a meta-analysis  of 37 experimental and quasi-experimental studies involving 16,348 people, which investigated if resilience-building training actually improves performance and well-being, and under what circumstances these interventions work best.  

Train resilience, it’s worth it!

Let’s start from the core question: are resilience-building training programmes effective? The results of this large analysis indicate that there is a small, but positive impact. Specifically, it shows that resilience-building training is associated with increases in performance, subjective well-being, and reduction of psychological disorders.

Even though many organizations aim to achieve big results when it comes to performance, a small effect does not mean that these training programmes are not worthwhile. In fact, multiplying a small effect across all employees may turn into considerable gains for the organization. In other words: “one small step for the individual, one giant leap for the company”.

Resilience training is no magic: here is how to make it a success!

As practitioner, what you might find interesting is to know that the training effects tend to diminish over time. If we think about it, the reason why this happens is obvious. Training effects diminish if we don’t use what we learned in the training. How can we avoid this?

If you want to ensure positive long-term effects, there is one thing you should care about: targeting the training to peoples’ experiences and needs!

It is important that people create become more aware of their own daily stressor and the demanding situations in their life. In this way, they can develop the needed coping mechanisms and practice what they learned as well. In doing so, they will create a virtuous circle that results in the development of other protective factors which a person may use to deal with future challenges.

So, which training is the best?

What we learned up to now is that the tailored training can really help people in building resilience. So there’s one question left: what delivery format is best when looking at classroom learning, computer-based training, a train-the-trainer format, and individual coaching?

Not surprisingly, the results show strong effects of coaching on training effectiveness, followed by classroom-based formats.

This finding is aligned with what we discussed earlier in this article about tailored training. Imagine you have the following problem: You want to learn a new language. You are taking an online course, but still you cannot achieve your goal. You decide then to get a tutor who can work with you face-to-face rather than investing money for an additional generic course. Why? You want someone who understands your challenges, listens to your needs and makes you practice the language, tailoring the learning process to your way of learning and your learning speed.

“The more direct contact trainers have with trainees, the better trainers are able to attend to trainee comprehension, identify the trainees needs, and provide relevant feedback, all of which have been identified as important to effective training delivery” (Kraiger, 2003).

Takeaways for practice

Now, what is the message from all that? What can we do with this new knowledge?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Take into account that training effects diminish with non-use. This means that you might focus on the skills that the person can benefit from in the face of dilemmas she/he encounters in her/his daily life.
  • For this reason, we suggest you to conduct a needs analysis prior to the implementation of the training to make sure you know the audience.

To do so you can:

  • Use a questionnaire as the Management Standards Indicator Tool developed by the HSE which assesses the characteristics of an organisation that are most at risk of work related stress.
  • Ask the participants to provide you with concrete examples that make sure you understand their specific situation (e.g. “what makes you feel stressed most, how do you cope with stress?”…).
  • During the training, be practical and refer to their personal experiences at work.
  • Focus on those people that are most at risk when it comes to stress, rather than offering it “blindly” to each and everyone. This is vital in order to determine whether it is necessary and, in turn, suitable for maximizing the organization’s return on investment.
  • In order to help participants to keep their learning fresh, consider setting up a follow up computer-based training after 6 months to 1 year from the initial session.

Share your ideas and insights with us!

  • Have you ever participated in a resilience training? How was your experience?
  • As a trainer, do you think our suggestions can help you in order to build the right training?
  • As a participant, which information would you like to share with the trainer in order to receive the right support?

Trustworthiness score

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the study we used to inform this summary. We found that it has a very high (90%) trustworthiness level. This means that there is a 10% chance that alternative explanations for these results are possible, including random effects.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

We aim to provide you only the best available scientific evidence to inform your decisions.

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Vanhove, A. J., Herian, M. N., Perez, A. L., Harms, P. D., & Lester, P. B. (2015). Can resilience be developed at work? A meta‐analytic review of resilience‐building programme effectiveness. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 278–307

Kraiger, K. (2003). Perspectives on training and development. In W. C. Borman, D. R. Ilgen & R. J. Klimoski (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Volume 12, industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 171–192). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological science in the public interest, 13(2), 74-101.

Matrix (2013), Economic analysis of workplace mental health promotion and mental disorder prevention programmes and of their potential contribution to EU health, social and economic policy objectives

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  1. Pingback: Aiutare i Lavoratori a Costruire la Resilienza per Resistere allo Stress e Trasformarlo in Alleato | SCR Selezioni

  2. Eva Rimbau-Gilabert

    I’ve really enjoyed this article, thank you! Resilience is a useful skill in stressing situations, and it’s good that organizations offer resilience training to their employees. However, I’d like to point out that the best antidote against stress is to prevent it altogether, not to increase workers resistance to it. Resilience puts the onus on the employee since it is the set of means by which people turn challenges into opportunities. That’s good to have, of course, but it’s still better not to burden employees with excessive, continuous “challenges”.