High performance without the stress: fostering resilience

Posted 12 November 2012 by
Penny Moyle

The business world is a stressful place right now. Identifying and selecting those resilient professionals who take external pressures in their stride is one thing; but there are inherent dangers in relying solely on the resilience of individuals. Creating an environment that fosters resilience is a stronger long-term solution.

The natural assumption for many people is that ‘fixing stress’ means backing off on workload. But this is not always necessary, and it should be remembered that many individuals not only survive but thrive in the most highly stressful jobs imaginable (in roles such as President or Prime Minister, for example). Instead, there are a number of ways of fostering high performance without suffering the harmful effects of stress. One key consideration is finding a good match between a person’s skills and competencies and the requirements and pressures of the role. Instruments such as the 16PF provide a way of exploring a candidate’s suitability for a position before the hiring decision is made. This is to the long-term benefit of both parties, ensuring that no-one is stuck in an unsuitable role. Mismatch can occur just as easily with a role that is relatively slow moving and lacks variety as in one that is fast-paced and frenetic – it all depends on the match.

For certain positions, it will clearly be particularly important to pay attention to the candidate’s likelihood of managing pressure. The 16PF can be a crucial indicator here, looking at whether a candidate is relaxed or tense, self-assured or apprehensive, trusting or vigilant, and reactive or emotionally stable.

However, assessment also applies much more generally to matching people to roles. This is the key to fostering the right environment, for any aspect of personality. Think, for example, how stressful it would be to do a job that really didn’t suit your ambitions and motivations – eg asking an extravert to do solitary individual tasks without the opportunity to interact with other people.

Furthermore, extensive research has repeatedly demonstrated that people are able to manage demanding and challenging jobs without suffering the negative effects of stress, as long as they have good support and sufficient control over their workload.  Positive management plays a crucial role here. Management development that includes the raising of self-awareness and an understanding of individual differences (aka ‘personality’) enables managers to develop key skills in providing the right levels of support and challenge to their direct reports. This can be a very effective way of creating a resilient work environment.

Instruments such as the MBTI give unique insight into minimising, handling and learning from stress. For example, in order to be supportive, managers should understand their own stress triggers and know how to manage their personal stress levels. This will put them in a good position for adopting the necessary behaviours to help their teams avoid the negative effects of stress. Conversely, if managers are themselves stressed, it becomes difficult for them to offer support to their teams, all of which can descend into a negative spiral, compromising the bottom line of delivering results.

Additionally, if managers understand how the stress process applies to different team members, they will be able to nuance their management style to meet each individual’s needs. If a managers lack this understanding of individual differences, then with the best will in the world, all they are likely to do is manage their team the way they themselves would wish to be managed. Unless they have a team of clones, this is likely to ‘miss the spot’ for many members of the team. And if they do have a team of clones, they are likely to experience a whole range of other difficulties… but that’s a topic for another blog!



Karasek, R.A and Theorell, , T. (1990).  Healthy Work: Stress, Productivity, and the Reconstruction of Working Life, Basic Books, New York.

Stansfeld, S., Fuhrer, R., Shipley, M., & Marmot, M. (1999). 'Work characteristics predict psychiatric disorder: Prospective results from the Whitehall II study', Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 56, 302–307.

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