Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Resilience & Stress Exposure

Resilience is positive adaptation to adversity.  It has been considered an individual character trait. 

Recent research explored resilience as a pattern of responses during ongoing challenges within a group culture.  A meta-analysis of 57 prior studies found that 66% of people responded with resilience to extremely challenging or traumatic events.  The current study defines dynamic resilience as a “stable and high level of functioning in the face of adversity.”

Researchers were interested in the impact of ongoing demands, such as common workplace stressors, on members of a group or culture.  Work stress literature suggests that adverse conditions in an employment context, such as heavy workload, role uncertainty, or employee conflict, tend to be persistent.  The impacts of ongoing moderate stressors are theorized to be gradual and cumulative, impairing well-being, attitudes, and behaviors.

Researchers studied members of a marching band at a large university that performed at half time during NCAA Division 1 football games before 80,000 fans, and often a TV audience.  Band members spent about 20 hours per week at rehearsals and performances, which amounted to a work overload for these college students.  Researchers collected data 9 times from 314 members, and 12 times from 146 members of the band over 3 months.  Participants were 50% male and 50% female, with an average age of 19 years.

The research examined a trajectory of responses over time that impacted emotional exhaustion and commitment.  Emotional exhaustion presents as negative feelings, over-extension, and reduction of energy and emotional resources.  Commitment is attachment to an organization, and it generally declines over time, depending on the organizational culture and the individual’s experience within that culture.  

Researchers discovered that band members who were high in emotional stability and newer to the organization demonstrated greater resilience.  Emotional stability is the tendency to be calm, even-tempered, secure, and self-confident.  Day-to-day stressors are more threatening to people who possess lower levels of emotional stability.  Band members who were lower in emotional stability showed a gradual decline in functioning. 

Individual Takeaway: Self-reflection on emotional stability, the capacity to remain calm and self-confident in the presence of stressors, may help you evaluate your desire to be part of high-stress cultures.  You may also want to recommit to activities that recharge you and provide sufficient recovery time.

Organizational Takeaway:  The impact of emotional stability and experience on dynamic resilience has implications for organizations that want to understand how chronic stressors may influence its members.  Mild stressors for emotionally unstable individuals may accumulate and become problematic over time, negatively impacting commitment and/or retention.  Resiliency in emotionally stable individuals can be worn down with the accumulation of high-intensity stressors and insufficient recovery time between stressors.

Source

Patrick J. Flynn, et al., Tracking the Process of Resilience: How Emotional Stability and Experience Influence Exhaustion and Commitment Trajectories, 46(4) Group & Organization Management 692-736., Jul. 13, 2021, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/10596011211027676.

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