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How Much Do We Really Know About Employee Resilience?

  • Thomas W. Britt (a1), Winny Shen (a2), Robert R. Sinclair (a1), Matthew R. Grossman (a3) and David M. Klieger (a4)...


Past research purporting to study employee resilience suffers from a lack of conceptual clarity about both the resilience construct and the methodological designs that examine resilience without ensuring the occurrence of significant adversity. The overall goal of this article is to address our contemporary understanding of employee resilience and identify pathways for the future advancement of resilience research in the workplace. We first address conceptual definitions of resilience both inside and outside of industrial and organizational psychology and make the case that researchers have generally failed to document the experience of significant adversity when studying resilience in working populations. Next, we discuss methods used to examine resilience, with an emphasis on distinguishing the capacity for resilience and the demonstration of resilience. Representative research is then reviewed by examining self-reports of resilience or resilience-related traits along with research on resilient and nonresilient trajectories following significant adversity. We then briefly address the issues involved in selecting resilient employees and building resilience in employees. The article concludes with recommendations for future research studying resilience in the workplace, including documenting significant adversity among employees, assessing multiple outcomes, using longitudinal designs with theoretically supported time lags, broadening the study of resilience to people in occupations outside the military who may face significant adversity, and addressing the potential dark side of an emphasis on resilience.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Thomas W. Britt, Psychology Department, Clemson University, 418 Brackett Hall, Clemson, SC 29634. E-mail:


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