In an uncertain, dynamic, and unpredictable world in which real and alternative facts are barely distinctive, resilience for citizens and workers is of the utmost importance. The original safety net of government, associations and businesses disappears through financial setbacks, political folds and changing mentalities of individuals. Citizens and workers are now responsible for getting and maintaining health, finances and work, supported only by their personal networks. The fact that citizens and workers experience stress in these times is not surprising; it becomes harder to achieve the personal goals and to control life and work. Certainly, if dramatic events take place that will destroy their existing security. Resilience or robustness is necessary to continue living and working every day. But unfortunately, a part of the population lacks this ability due to insufficient relevant personality characteristics and, by implication, unsuccessful controlling at times of setbacks, developments and unpredictable events. Recently, the Dutch government received a scientific advice on citizen’s resilience. The core of the advice concerns a more realistic and less rationalist government. In my opinion a ‘good’ government assumes that there are citizens who hardly cannot of not at all can direct themselves living and working. Not every citizen is fully self-reliant and able to participate actively and fully in a society with a reticent government. Such advice is not an impulsive action, but a response to longer living dissatisfaction Not every citizen is fully self-reliant and able to participate actively and fully in a society with a reticent government. Such is not an impulsive action, but is a response to an unprecedented dissatisfaction over a strictly and almost inhuman government. The ideal of working together for a safe pleasant world and fun work disappears; just solve it yourself. The general tendency is to get more and more afraid of so-called ‘wads of cotton wool’ and strive for robust citizens and workers: ‘hard as diamonds’. Working together they form a gorgeous necklace.
The call for resilient and robust workers sounds longer. The WRR-advice is in line with numerous developments and measures in vocational education and HRM to prepare for the uncertainty and unpredictability of work. But not for the more psychological aspects. So, let us address stress as a result of uncertainty, reliability, robustness and, in particular its development.
People experience stress if the demands of a situation or a happening exceeds their possibilities. These can be acute threatening for a worker, others, machines or installations. They also can be threatening for a planned work process and/or the result or for the aims of life. Being aware of threats makes workers insecure and causes stress. This makes it difficult to realize desired goals. Resilience is important to overcome these threats or uncertainties and, to reduce stress by thinking and doing, perhaps with support of others. ” Resilience is the total of abilities of an individual to achieve his goals and to maintain himself in live” (WRR, 2017). Delahaij distinct categories of abilities: global, contextual and situational (Delahaij, 2007). The extent varies per situation. The notion that the demands of situations can exceed the abilities makes workers uncertain. The distinction into categories situations causing acute, discontinue and continue stress can be very helpful. Perhaps is restlessness a more appropriate concept for continue stress.
In acute stress situations threats endanger the safety of workers or others, a proper operation of machines or installations. Workers ought to curb their emotions -they stay calm, don’t panic, overcome their fears or bring themselves to rest- analyse the situation and act adequate. In military situations soldiers seek coverage and communicate, in chemical industry operators press the emergency button and alarm the plant, in hospitals nurses alarm their colleagues and start reanimating the patient. In short, these workers take the right measures. So, a process starts of taking care of themselves, overcoming fear or anxiety, weigh or estimate the severity of the threat or challenge for profit or growth, call for help, taking appropriate actions based on a repertoire of skills and drills and grow by reflexion and reflection. They are robust and hard enough to act according the situation with a repertoire of skills and drills; they continue their assignment and stay alert: they are resilient.
Occasional stress situations. Sometimes stress arises while working, caused by variations in products or services because the company focuses on small series or unique products or services. Or, caused by occasional unexpected deviations arise from the planning (process specifications), the result by circumstances or expectations of customers. Mostly, workers must adapt immediately their planning to circumstances because from the usual planning, specs, means (materials and tools) not present. Workers should consider the different interests of the company, the customer and own. A lack of knowledge expertise also can cause stress. The process of adaptation begins with curbing the emotions, gathering information about the situation, the desired products, circumstances or resources. Next, the (re) planning of the work processes and the results, execution and evaluation. Resilience is important for renewing and adapting work to conditions. Reflexion is important for developing expertise. Reflection is important for learning about their reactions. Workers direct themselves during work so they continue. A prerequisite is that they are robust enough to seek independent or autonomous solutions or ask advise to colleagues or their supervisors.
Workers have aims for their life such as self-fulfilment, a good income, having and taking care of a family, being important for the those loved etcetera. And they have notions of their role in work processes. Unfortunately, this all is under pressure. Mostly by changes of the work, because nowadays companies are very dynamic. A lot of features of the work will change. E.g. changes of work processes, materials, machines (robots), products of services, reduction of production and organisational structures. They also can cause chances in the balance between independency and control or decreasing employability due to innovations of the processes. Being aware of the treats for your relations with the company a worker should take measures to decrease his employability under changing circumstances. All these changes cause stress. An adequate reaction is to curb emotions, gathering information, adapting career plans, taking actions (training, career switches) also when meeting difficulties. A network of friends good willing acquaintances can be supportive for gathering information or reflecting on aims, motives, abilities and personal characteristics. Robustness and emotional wisdom are the main prerequisites to handle the dynamics, adapt to changes or even anticipate them. Because the dynamic is an ongoing process, I call these continuing stress situations.
Analysing the three processes I see many similarities I conclude that a metamodel is possible. It consists of several phases.
• Immediate adequate reaction to stress causing situations (acute and occasional);
• Gathering information about the situations, causes and possible actions and communication with others if necessary and possible;
• Planning of adapting plans for action;
• Realizing plans;
• Controlling the processes, persisting while meeting difficulties;
• Reflexion on the plan and the realization and reflection on personal grow.
Now we can focus on absolute necessary personal characteristics to be successful in coping stress situations such as robustness or resilience.
Necessary personal characteristics
With seemingly simple questions you can check if workers are employable in the company: “Do they know enough?”, “Are they able to do enough?” and “Do they have the right personality?”. An analysis of knowing a doing is eased with a description of activities, tasks or responsibilities of a worker as a reference. The necessary personality is harder to analyse. Therefor I utilize Damme’s model of the model of features of labour (2007), and a mix of Delahaij’s model (Delahaij, 2007, WRR 2017) making a distinction between global, contextual and specific characteristics influencing coping stress. With Damme’s model (2005) you can predict stress during work situations and their character: acute, occasional and continuing stress.
Global characteristics are powerful predictors for coping stress: the robustness of hardness (resilience) and goal orientation of workers predict the reaction under stress. Of course, everyone has a setback of becoming scared. But, this is not a reason for sitting down, waiting the emotions are gone. It’s a trigger for actions as getting information. Robustness and hardness are needed to overcome the scariness. This means mean that workers are used to work under stress or stressful conditions. Goal orientation means that a worker wants a perfect performance or sees stressful events as a possibility to learn and grow. This developmental focus is important for dealing with stress; it’s an attitude of ‘being who you become”. Didn’t Nietzsche said “what doesn’t us kill, makes us stronger”? The global characteristics are linked to the three forms of stress.
Contextual characteristics concerns knowing, directing and controlling yourself, and grow. Coping-self-efficacy, is the confidence of workers of their abilities for working under stress. Coping style is the way workers handle stress: a goal, a performance or avoidance directed approach. Metacognitive awareness is the degree of insight in their own stress reactions and conscious regulation of future behaviour to function better under stress. The less the work is structured, the more stress you will experience and the more you have to grow. Again, the importance of knowledge production is mentioned.
Specific characteristics influence the responses, the actions and the stress at the moment. Notice a link between solving the stress causing problem, the necessary expertise, earlier processed experiences and the repertoires needed for adequate reactions under acute, occasional or continuing stress.
Organisational characteristics influence the coping of stress and the processing of experiences. There’s evidence that a learning organisation promotes resilience; workers learn of mistakes made. Knowledge production is a necessary feature of learning organisations. A more repressive organization emphasizes the perfect execution and punishes errors. Workers and organizations don’t develop.
Assessing personal characteristics
We are able to assess the resilience of future workers. Instruments for known and evidence based instruments are available. Global characteristics can be assessed with the Utrecht Proactive Coping Competencies instrument (UPCC). Contextual characteristics also can be assessed: coping style with the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations; coping self-efficacy with Delahaij’s instrument; coping appraisal with the Stress questionnaire and the process of coping with the Coping Inventory for Tasks Stressors.
Learning and developing personal characteristics
Not all the researchers are optimistic about the development of necessary personal characteristics concerning coping stress. Some workers are gifted, others hardly have any of the necessary characteristics. But that’s nature. The question is how nurture can bring some development of characteristics or progress by education, training and interventions by HRM.
Coping acute stress caused by life and/or goods threatening events is trainable. The goal of the training is the development of a repertoire of ‘skills and drills’ and the utilization in many (simulated) threatening situations. E.g. the military training of combat troops, the training of nurses and doctors for the emergency unit or the operators in chemical industry. Notice that a sharp selection is part of this training; not all the workers have a sufficient level over personal characteristics.
Coping occasional stress caused by unpredictable situations is not only a matter of training a repertoire. Planning and methodical action based on knowledge of theories, methods and designs is also important. The ‘curriculum’ is built on a stepwise increase of problem spaces (4CID) together with instruction and utilization of relevant knowledge and repertoires. The gradual increase in stress is important. But without coaching is this pointless. Coaching supports the reflection and reflection and is based on the meta model for dealing with stress. The special is that the coaching is withheld. This, evidence based, strategy forces workers to cope stress caused by unexpected situations.
Coping continuing stress by environmental dynamics, causing insecurity and stress, threatening careers and life aims isn’t simple. It’s about developing a sensitivity for changes of the labour and the company. And it’s about systemic approaches for maintaining employability and career planning and about developing career concepts, career anchors and labour values. A worker needs a network of friend to support reflexion on employability and reflection on the concepts, anchors and values and about a personal S.W.A.T. analysis for a strategic plan.