3 min read

Do You Know How To Strengthen Employee Resilience? Start By Addressing Their Adversity Load

Do You Know How To Strengthen Employee Resilience? Start By Addressing Their Adversity Load

Resiliency is a trainable intrapersonal skill. Despite common perception, it is not intuitive; it must be learned and practiced. The APA suggests it is like building muscle and requires focus and practice to build healthy social connections, physical wellness, and healthy thinking. 

This is a topic we’ve discussed many times on this blog. With so many changes occurring in the workplace compounded by social and economic pressures, it’s a topic of great concern for many employers.

Adversity load has a direct bearing on resilience

While resilience is something that can be learned, it can’t be addressed in isolation. Every employee is carrying an adversity load which has a direct impact on their resilience on the job.

Everyone of us carries a different load depending on our personal situation. Many carry heavier adversity loads than others because they have faced a lifetime of inequitable social policies, cultural prejudices, or lack of support or awareness in dealing with trauma or mental illness.

Research shows how racial discrimination negatively impacts workers’ mental health. And there is growing research which indicates that early adversity, like emotional abuse and discrimination, influences how the brain develops and copes with emotional processing and regulation.

While you can’t fix what is outside of your control, you can pay attention to the individual needs of employees, create conditions in your workplace that mitigate adversity, and provide tools and support to build resilience and promote mental health.

Resilience is not influenced by knowledge, skills and habits alone

Recognizing that a growing number of employees are experiencing stress and disengagement, many leaders are investing more in training and supports such as apps to promote resilience. Resiliency training can prepare a person to cope better and overcome life challenges and setbacks. are providing more training and support to build employees’ resiliency. 

These are definitely important steps; however, if your efforts don’t take adversity loads and workplace conditions into account, it’s unlikely that you will have much impact on employee well-being and resilience, and ignoring these factors could be perceived as oppression.

If employees are already carrying a heavy adversity load and are challenged by psychosocial factors in the workplace such as excessive work demand, toxic culture, and poor leadership, they will quickly become drained. Depleted employees are more likely to experience mental health issues leading to an increase turnover and disability costs due to mental illness and lower employee engagement (i.e., discretionary effort). 

Understanding intersectionality and its impact on adversity load and resilience in the workplace

We don’t know what others’ experiences have been or what adversity load they are facing, but if we commit to continuous learning, open and transparent conversations, and recognize the intersectionality of lived experience, we can deepen understanding and move toward a more resilient workplace culture.

Intersectionality is defined as “The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

Many of your employees are carrying a heavy adversity load due to the intersectionality of their lived experience. This can’t be ignored in your efforts to attract employees, be inclusive and build resilience.

This Harvard Business Review blog post explains that intersectionality is critical in attracting all talent to your workplace.

“Welcoming all talent requires:

  • Systemic inclusion that considers intersectionalities, comprehensively addresses all barriers, and embeds inclusion in all talent processes and decision-making mechanisms. It calls for inclusion by design, thoroughly and thoughtfully planned.

  • Inclusion from the margin. Creating systems that include the most marginalized and those identifying with multiple marginalized groups is the fastest way to include all. It also requires the participation of the marginalized. People don’t notice barriers they don’t face. Those impacted by barriers others don’t notice (or only notice when the problem becomes extreme) are best qualified to design the barrier-free.”

The chart I’ve created below shows types of adversity that can challenge workers every day. When you consider that many employees check several of these boxes, you can appreciate the adversity loads that individuals in your workplace may be carrying.

Everyday discrimination 

Workplace psychosocial factors and hazards

Trauma, including childhood



Sexual orientation 


Weight and appearance 

Neurodivergence (e.g., dyslexic)

Income level, financial health, food insecurity risk, quality of housing, physical safety at home (domestic violence and crime) 

How work is organized

Interpersonal interactions 

Physical equipment 

Physical space 

Quality of leadership 

Work demand 

See ISO 45003 for more examples of psychosocial factors and hazards that can drain employees’ batteries. 

Emotional abuse 

Physical abuse 

Sexual abuse 

Emotional neglect 

Physical neglect 

Exposure to trauma 

Degree workplace is trauma-informed with resources to help in times of need


How you can support employees’ resiliency

  • Consider psychosocial factors and hazards that influence or drain employees’ experiences. Support employees’ resiliency and help them cope with adversity by idetnifying what can be controlled in the workplace and designing policies and processes together.

  • Provide training and supports that build knowledge and skills to promote resiliency 

  • Evaluate programs and policies like remote work and safe and respectful workplaces through a plan-do-check-act approach. 

  • Engage in conversations to identify prevention and support programs that will help lessen adversity loads, such as daycare, access to medical care, benefits for senior care, and extended benefits that support family psychological needs. 

  • Maximize impact by viewing situations through an intersectionality lens and recognize that one size does not fit all.

  • Revisit your Respect in the Workplace policy regularly to reinforce it’s importance and ensure that it is evolving with your workplace culture.

While you cannot change social injustices and inequities, you can lead with empathy, seek to understand the experiences of others, and build your understanding by viewing situations through an intersectional lens. Creating a resilient workforce begins with focusing on what you can influence and taking preventative measures to support employees’ well-being and mitigate adversity. 

Get to know the author – Dr. Bill Howatt



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