How to develop adaptability in the workplace: New research.

How to develop adaptability in the workplace: New research.


I was in a local Chinese take-away last night and asked if a certain dish could be done without the chicken being in batter. The answer was “no”.

So I asked if the next dish down contained chicken without batter. The answer was “yes”.

I then asked why, as they cooked everything fresh (it is actually cooked in front of you) I couldn’t have the chicken without the batter in the sauce from the first dish.

The response was “No it’s not possible”.

When I asked why that answer was, “Because this dish has chicken with batter. Chicken without the batter is not possible in this dish!”.

One of the chefs then came over and asked what the problem was. When I told him he said “Yes that’s not a problem”.

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Adaptability is the ability of an individual, team or organisation to adjust or change itself to best meet the needs of the situation or environment. So that if change occurs, an adaptable person or team will adjust and find how best to perform in the new situation themselves, as opposed to having to be retrained. Adaptable staff, particularly frontline staff can make all the difference to changing customer needs and the profitability of a company for instance.

A research paper just published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services reports on a study that looks at what it is that helps create adaptability in employees, particularly frontline staff.

The researchers looked at a large sample of 711 frontline staff and measured their level of adaptability, their level of job satisfaction, performance and emotional intelligence.


What they discovered was:

  1. People with higher levels of emotional intelligence and emotional resilience are significantly more likely to be able to adapt to new and changing situations.
    1. It is thought this is because people with higher levels of emotional intelligence are more likely to be able to empathise (to show sensitivity to others’ perspective and feelings), and are more likely to be able to regulate their own emotions (emotional resilience) in the face of change and shifting requirements of the job.
    2. There is also a lot of evidence to show that people with better emotional resilience (emotion regulation skills) tend to be able to reappraise situations more quickly and change their view and appreciation of the situation as things change.
    3. Both emotional intelligence and emotion regulation skills have also been shown to help people deal better with conflict, both interpersonal conflict and things like conflicting demands.
    4. That people with better levels of emotional resilience (emotional intelligence) and emotion regulation skills tend to be better both verbal and non-verbal (body language) communicators.
  2. That people who are more adaptable tend to have greater job satisfaction. This confirms a number of other studies showing similar results.
  3. Lastly, that there is a link between job performance and adaptability over the long term. This they think is linked to role flexibility and the ability to understand the context the job sits in.

So if you want more flexible employees, developing emotional intelligence and emotional resilience (emotion regulation skills) is the way to go. And you will get happier workers who perform better.


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David Wilkinson

  • Sally Mercure says:

    Nice article. This is fast becoming one of my favourite blogs. Thank you OR.

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