Stressors can help build resilience

Written by Dr Monique Crane
Monday February 2016

It is often unrealistic for organisations to be free of job demands that potentially cause stress and strain, because such stressors are a common feature of most workplaces. The good news is that some stressors might be good for you. Previous research has found that people who experience 2 to 4 adverse life events had less functional impairment and distress than those who experienced very high or low levels of adversity[1]. We have thus been working on identifying those stressors that help employees develop their resilience.

This groundbreaking research demonstrated that certain types of occupational stressors could actually reduce employee stress and enhance resilience three months later. This is compared to other stressors that had the opposite effect such that they reduced perceived resilience and increased stress. We also fortunately found that perceived resilience could be changed over a short period of time.

Not all types of workplace stressors enhanced resilience. It was only stressors that were considered challenges that seemed to enhance resilience by increasing personal resources. Challenge stressors are the types of stressors that provide an opportunity for growth and development, even though they can also drain resources and be stressful (e.g., use of technical skills, time pressure, workload). These stressors tend to be associated with various positive workplace outcomes, but an individual’s interpretation of stressors can differ.  

In contrast, hindrance stressors tended to generate greater stress three months later and deplete resilience. Hindrance stressors are those stressors that tend to obstruct personal growth and goal accomplishment (e.g., role conflict, role ambiguity, red tape). Nevertheless, higher levels of resilience seemed to buffer the association between hindrance stressors and stress. It is beneficial to develop employee resilience because this indicates that resilience can protect employees from stress when faced with hindrance stressors. If you would like to know more about the research please see the video presentation below.



For more information see:

Crane, M.F. & Searle, B.J. (2016). Building resilience through exposure to stressors: The effects of challenges versus hindrances. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0040064

[1] Seery M.D., Holman, E.A., & Silver, R.C. (2010). Whatever does not kill us: Cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(6),1025-41. doi:10.1037/a0021344