Hardiness Development

What’s in this for me?

Hardiness Development Adds to the Bottom Line

…by Barbara Semeniuk & Leslie Furlow, PhD


Today with a shortage of labor resources it is critical that retention strategies be enhanced to attract and maintain quality employees. The idea of creating a workplace that will act as a magnet and pull more quality people into the organization needs to be explored in detail.

Employees are experiencing more stress in the work place. Stress is especially increased when there are not enough employees to perform the work. Employees who work in an understaffed organization often are required to do more with less. They feel a sense of powerlessness and loss of control, which creates a vicious cycle and escalates stress.

Stress as a concept was first explored scientifically as a result of battle fatigue among soldiers in combats situations. Symptoms of stress lead to failure to fire arms, surrendering without cause and generally becoming ineffective. Selye, often identified as the father of stress research defined stress in terms of eustress and distress. He recognized that although a certain amount of stress, called eustress, is necessary for normal function, too little stress as in the use of isolation chambers that were popular for some types of therapy, can result in psychosis and other kinds of mental distress. Less dramatically, too little stress can result in boredom and lack of engagement in work activities. Optimum levels of stress result in individuals feeling engaged and challenged by life. They enjoy what they do; they are in the moment and have maximum productivity. Stress follows a bell curve see figure: if too much stress, referred as distress, exists it can result in frustration and burnout.

Burnout is epitomized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishment.

Fig. 1 – Stress Level

(Fig.1).Emotional exhaustion is characterized by feeling drained, frustrated, fatigued and not engaging with fellow employees. Depersonalization results with a calloused response where empathy is lost and people are treated like objects. These calloused individuals will tend to blame other people for their problems, or feel persecuted. When they began to lose productivity and focus they cannot deal with problems effectively, cease to be positive role models, and no long seek to understand other people’s issues. They see work as a chore and are no longer excited about their job. These are the consequences of burnout, which many companies fail to recognize or address effectively.(Fig 2).

Fig. 2 – Individual Consequences of Stress: Burnout

Emotional Exhaustion


Low Personal Accomplishment

Feel drained by work

Have become calloused by job

Cannot deal with problems effectively

Feel fatigued in the morning

Treat others like objects

Do not have a positive influence on others


Do not care what happens to others

Cannot understand others’ problems or identify with them

Do not want to work with others

Feel other people blame you

No longer feel exhilarated by job

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According to a survey by USA Today, people work for their supervisor, not for the senior administrator. By increasing the hardiness of managers, we are increasing the hardiness of the employee and providing a skill set that can be applied in all realms of their lives. By becoming more hardy individuals are able to perform better and become more productive in all aspects of their lives.

Therefore, if burnout is present in the management ranks, the problem is exacerbated. As they no longer model appropriate positive behaviors, their frustration and irritability are reflected in their subordinates. This engages the feedback mechanism which further increases workplace stress creating a toxic workplace environment, where absenteeism increases and productivity plummets.

Though companies are quietly aware of this syndrome in their environment, do not discuss it as they lack a method of correcting it. Thus there is the flavor of the month mentality where thousands of dollars are spent with little or no return. Exacerbating this tendency is that very few training methodologies even track the impact of the training over time. These metrics must be measured and trends analyzed to gain maximum benefit from this training strategy.

Research has shown that hardy individuals perceive less stress and thrive in challenging environments. Hardiness, first described by Maddi and Kobasa, provides the necessary skill set to address burnout effectively. For many companies, growth is hampered by huge payments they must make to disabilities resulting from stress related illness and accidents. It is reported that by 2008, stress as part of mental illness, with be the number one cause of workplace absenteeism. By not addressing this issue, companies are leaving millions on the table. By decreasing unscheduled absenteeism alone, companies can increase the bottom line without spending a dime to increase market share (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 – Market Share

Hardiness, a personality construct, consisting of commitment, control, and challenge offers a research based answer to these and other workplace issues. Hardiness has been shown to reduce unplanned absenteeism (or mental health days), increase productivity and decrease unwanted staff turnover by as much as 63% in a study of nurse managers by Judkins and Furlow.

Amazingly, hardiness can be learned. However, it is not a flavor of the month since it requires habituation and personal change. Hardiness requires organizational commitment from the senior management: policies and procedures that enhance and foster hardiness adaptive behaviours are an integral part of the equation. As with any change, there is resistance that must be overcome by spaced repetition and conditioned learning. Hardiness Development is development in the true sense of the word. It requires planned follow-up for monitoring goal setting activities. It has been shown to foster teamwork and indeed friendship amongst participants. This often results in breaking down of “silos” within highly bureaucratic organizations.

Since hardiness is a learned skill that requires practice and follow-up at regular intervals to ensure that it has “stuck”. Planned repetition at regular intervals will ensure that individuals remember the skills that they are taught and that they apply them to situations they are struggling with, often at the workplace. Moreover, the hardiness factor can be applied in all areas of life thus enhancing an individual’s ability to deal effectively with excessive amounts of stress in the family, home, and in social activities. It may even prevent workplace illnesses but more research needs to be done in this area.

The process cannot be one size fits all….reactions to stress is unique, like an emotional fingerprint, so the solution needs to fit the needs of the individual participant in the course. This is done by incorporating, in the truest sense of adult development theory, the actual challenges faced by the participant and through structured learning with the facilitator and their peers…solutions for issues are explored and tested in a safe environment. Follow-up on the retention and implementation of hardiness skills is essential to ensure that the learning has taken place.

To track effectiveness metrics are identified prior to initiating any development process. These are client specific and individualistic in nature. Assessment of hardiness and stress are the first steps in the process and are repeated throughout the training period. Improvements are made and have lasting impact of them. Such things as reviews of absenteeism rates, organization opportunities for improvement such as high employee turnover, low job satisfaction score, negative corporate culture, and ineffectual management can be tracked and improved.

Companies can show meaningful improvement and determine the success of the Hardiness intervention. Scientific research methodologies are applied to demonstrate validity and added to the body of knowledge in this relatively new and emerging field of human behavior.

For too long companies have ridden the process improvement wave. Time has come to begin addressing the behavioral patterns of individuals within organizations and provide personal improvement interventional strategies. Monies spent to develop effective management is well spent as it provides a positive feedback mechanism to instill good coping strategies and model hardiness behaviors to employees. In hardiness as in health and safety, modeling by management is one of the most effective strategies to ensure change. This leads to a positive impact on compliance with health and safety goals, and a positive impact on the bottom line of the organization.

It is like 360 degree feed back with a twist. The use of skilled facilitators and peer interactions result in a dynamic learning environment where bonds are forged and participants are engaged in a fun yet powerful life transformation. This investment in the company’s greatest resource pays enormous dividends in loyalty, reduced turnover and increased productivity. For the twenty-first century this is a vital skill set to learn…often we are victims of organizational culture or an environment that does not affirm us as individuals. Changing organizational culture can be a long and drawn out process, adaptive strategies like teaching hardiness are like broad spectrum antibiotics they kill a wide range of maladaptive strategies that are making individuals and organizational sick.

They are a focused and adaptive strategy that may become the next evolution in effective stress management.