Do workplace resilience programmes actually work? New research

Do workplace resilience programmes actually work? New research

workplace resilience

Workplace resilience programmes

During times of significant change in organisations, for example during downsizing and mergers, many companies around the world have instituted workplace resilience programmes to guide their employees through the turbulent times of change. There has been a number of evaluations and papers published about the success of these programmes but much of it has been heavily criticised for its methodology, bias/ lack of objectivity and poor measurement. This has largely been because the people evaluating the programmes are often the same people running them.

The study

A new study has just been published using randomised control groups and is probably the most objective study we have seen to date of workplace resilience programmes. The sample size is an issue but it is a start. The study was conducted in 2015-16 into 28 employees of a company that was undergoing downsizing and facing a merger. Staff subjected to this change were going through the uncertainties and stress associated with these major changes to their environment and the possibility of redundancy. Though a relatively small scale research project in terms of numbers of participants, it was done with a reasonable level of scientific rigour.

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Measurements and technique


Subjects of the study were recruited ahead of the commencement of a workplace resilience programme and had to meet a number of criteria. For example; they could not be undergoing psychiatric or psychological treatment or counselling that would skew the results, they had to be able to attend all five sessions in the programme and they had to have been working at the company for at least twelve months.


The workplace resilience course comprised five, hour long sessions taken during the staffs’ lunch breaks. This was sufficiently short and of minimal impact on company time to be repeated elsewhere.


Before and after the course, the employees were subjected to interviews and self reporting of levels of resilience which were then compared to their results from the standard Resilience at Work (RAW) scale. This validated scale measures people’s resilience in the workplace.


Finally, there was a control group who did not do the course but were treated in every other respect the same as the sample group. People were allocated to either the control group or the subject group at random. This provided a comparison between those doing the course and those who did not during the same period.




The course


The course involved five, hour long sessions that looked at the following:

  1. Introduction to the concept of resilience and baseline measurements returned to participants
  2. Understanding what drives you – Understanding your personal strengths and values and how to capitalise on these
  3. Healthy body, healthy mind – Developing personalised exercise and dietary behaviours to enhance physical and mental capacity
  4. A resilient mindset – Identifying unhelpful thinking patterns and learning to reframe unhelpful thoughts. Developing optimism, and the skills to deal with and mitigate workplace stressors
  5. Building resilience behaviours


One of the important parts of the course was that those leading it were careful to bring in real world scenarios that were specific to the staff involved. Thus it wasn’t a completely general course, but gave the attendees grounded real world situations to relate to.



The workplace resilience participants and a control group (who didn’t do the programme) were then measured across seven content areas.

resiliency in the workplace

There were 7 aspects to the course and the measurements:


1.    Living Authentically – this was significantly higher at the end of the course for the treatment group.

2.    Finding Your Calling – again this area was found to be significantly higher in the post treatment group compared to the control group.

3.    Maintaining Perspective – similarly maintaining perspective was significantly greater in the treatment group than the control group after the programme.

4.    Managing Stress – was significantly greater in the treatment group than the control group after the programme.

5.    Interacting Co-operatively – this area of focus for the course was not statistically significantly different in either of the groups following the programme.

6.    Staying Healthy – was significantly greater in the treatment group than the control group by the end of the course.

7.    Building Networks – This area increased significantly for both the control group and the treatment group following the programme. There was no difference between the two groups however. This suggests that the process of the study on its own may have increased the networking ability of the two groups or that some other process was involved here.

Editors note:

While this wasn’t a large scale study it does have some merit largely due to the research methodology used. Apart from the small sample size, there are two other issues that this study faces. The first is that the measurements were taken immediately after the programme in what is known as the ‘glow period’. Unfortunately, the researchers did not revisit the subjects after the study to see how long these effects lasted for. Secondly I fail to see how such ‘big ticket items’ like living authentically and ‘finding your calling’ can genuinely be improved with such short exposure and learning times.

Previous studies have indicated that the effects of similar programmes tend to last for about 7 weeks without further intervention or support.

This is a interesting study which usefully breaks the programme down to its component parts. In terms of the longevity of the effects of such a programme there is evidence emerging from a number of ongoing studies that support in terms of things like

  • communities of practice,
  • coaching and mentoring,
  • refresher and advanced emotion regulation sessions, and
  • embedding resilience and emotional intelligence as part of the culture

may extend the results considerably.

Reference – available to members


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page