SACS is currently undertaking a project for an organisation which has many employees working in a line of work which requires high levels of resilience. The organisation typically recruits raw graduates into these roles and trains them over the course of several years.

The job is demanding – it is high pressure, it requires interaction with an extremely wide range of people and the consequences of good or bad work are very significant. As we are undertaking this project the client had a specific question – have young people declined in their levels of resilience over the past decade or so? This is an important question for them. Subjectively they believe that the raw graduates they are hiring these days are more sensitive, more easily upset and take longer to recover than the graduates of previous years.

So, we undertook a literature review of the topic. In fact, it turns out that there is significant evidence that resilience has declined in young people. Rates of anxiety and depression have increased and direct measures of resilience which have been used longitudinally are showing declines in this important psychological characteristic.

So, why? Two courses are cited consistently in the literature:

  • Helicopter parenting. There is a consistent view that across the western world parenting these days is more risk averse, harm avoiding, and likely to intervene to solve problems for children than previously. When parents step in to solve the problems of their children they send a couple of very important messages:
    • The world is a dangerous place, so you had better fear it.
    • You are unable to solve this problem yourself so I had better do it.

This is in effect anti-resilience training. A pro-resilience approach would be to say “I know you can solve this problem, come to me if you need help,” which encourages self-reliance and “grit”.

  • Screens. In David Gillespie’s latest book he undertakes a review of neurological research which indicates that resilience is declining in teenagers because of the focus on social media and online games which is in effect rewriting the neural equipment of our teenagers. Focusing on an invented world of online experiences for hours per day, especially during the periods of rapid brain growth in late youth and adolescence change the structure of the brain. He cites evidence that traditional forms of addiction such as alcohol and drugs have declined markedly in recent years, being replaced by the newer addiction of screen time amongst young people. For followers of cognitive behavioural therapy this trend is fascinating. One of the best techniques for dealing with anxiety and depression is Mindfulness – focusing on the here and now and practising being in the current moment. Screen time is, of course, the exact opposite of mindfulness and so we should not be surprised that it gives rise to high levels of psychological distress.

Our suggestion to this client is that they begin psychologically assessing for resilience, which will allow them to pick out young people who are more likely to cope effectively with the challenges of the role. In effect this will give them the opportunity to identify people who they can more confidently invest training time into as well as being more confident that they will not do their young graduates psychological damage by exposing them to challenges they are not able to cope with.

For existing staff we are also recommending the introduction of resilience training using techniques such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. This will help reduce the discomfort and increase the effectiveness of current employees.

To find out how to assess for resilience click here.

Helicopter parenting leads to lower confidence, reduced resilience and poorer academic achievement. (2019). Retrieved from http://citel.com.au/2018/06/27/helicopter-parenting-leads-to-lower-confidence-reduced-resilience-and-poorer-academic-achievement/

Gillespie, David, (2019). Teen Brain. Pan McMillan Australia.

Andrew Marty

Managing Director at SACS Consulting
Andrew is a qualified psychologist who has over 25 years of human resource management consulting experience, including extensive senior executive search and selection experience.
Andrew Marty