April 6, 2022 All Articles

Resilience versus stress management – what is the difference, and where do I need to focus?

Organisations need to take employee stress and emotional mood seriously. According to a report by an Australian Medicare provider, stress and low mood account for 33% of lost productivity. On average, 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress. Australian businesses lose over $6.5 billion each year by failing to provide early intervention/treatment for employees with mental health conditions. Workplace counselling for anxiety and stress is on a rapid rise. Organisations need to implement proactive strategies if they are to avoid the negative impact of stress on their workplace.  

Stress is part and parcel of life. Learning to deal with daily stressors is crucial for many employees to develop. Psychologists categorise people’s responses to stress and stressors along the continuum of primary prevention to tertiary intervention (Cooper, Drewe, & O’Driscoll, 2001). We can think of primary prevention as occurring before the stressor arrives, interventions that put us in a stronger position to deal with the stress. Secondary interventions are responses directed at a particular stressor and modify our responses to stress. Tertiary interventions are when one needs to recover from prolonged stress and are symptom directed, i.e., designed to address a particular stress symptom that has resulted from excessive exposure to the stressor. With a tertiary intervention, the focus is on treating the problem after it has occurred.

Primary prevention and secondary intervention are closely related. The former reduces the intensity of the stressor while the latter provides coping mechanisms. Developing resilience is more akin to a primary prevention technique, while stress management is more aligned to a secondary intervention. Both are important, and together the two work in tandem. Another way to think of the distinction is a financial analogy. Stress management is the daily balancing of one’s account, managing daily transactions. Resilience is building up one’s investment portfolio.

For too long, the focus of workplace psychologists has been on stress management techniques, with not enough emphasis put on its precursor, the building of resilience. Stress management techniques such as cognitive reframing, breathing, and learning to lean into difficult emotions are valid and valuable skills. But equally important is building the resilience reserves that act as a forcefield repelling stressors before they can take hold.

At Talogy, we define resilience as an individual’s capacity to adapt positively to pressure, setbacks, challenges, and change to achieve and sustain peak personal effectiveness. We view resilience as an essential quality for enhanced job performance in today’s world of work. We recognise that diagnosing current levels of resilience and intervening to help people become more resilient in work environments will improve, and productivity will increase. Our research indicates employees with higher levels of resilience are 43% more productive, 47% more engaged at work, and twice as likely to stay at their current organisation.

Resilience is, in part, specific to different environments (Herrman, Stewart, Diaz-Granados, Berger, Jackson, Yuen, 2011). We, therefore, need to measure resilience as it pertains to work, and interventions need to be work-focused.

Building resilience starts with assessment. We need to first and foremost measure critical components of a person’s resilience. Having measured resilience, we can see where we need to focus our interventions designed to increase resilience and build a stronger forcefield to deal with life’s challenges.

Resilience and stress management are different sides of the same coin. Organisations employ both resilience and stress management to help people cope better with stressors, but resilience focuses on proactive strategies. In the following article in the series, I will discuss the model of resilience we have developed at Talogy, outlining the various areas one needs to measure and manage to ensure their resilience investment remains intact.

Paul Englert, Director, Talogy

References

Cooper, C. L., Dewe, P. J., & O’Driscoll, M. P. (2001). Organisational stress: A review and critique of

theory, research, and applications. Sage.

Herrman H, Stewart DE, Diaz-Granados N, Berger EL, Jackson B, Yuen T. (2011). What is Resilience? The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry;56(5):258-265. doi:10.1177/070674371105600504

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