How Employee Resilience can Drive Innovation

After increasing for a many years, the annual cost growth for providing health coverage to employees is finally expected to slow in 2014. There are many reasons for this tempered growth, but one key factor is that many employers have made fundamental changes to their employee health benefit programs, including implementing employee wellness programs. Management and prevention of major diseases (such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease), along with an emphasis on weight loss and smoking cessation are core components of almost every employee wellness program, but another important aspect of employee wellness that can have an equally significant impact on a company’s bottom line—but which is often overlooked or discounted—is emotional resiliency, a term that refers to one’s ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. More resilient people are able to roll with the punches and adapt to adversity, while less resilient people have a harder time with stress and life changes.

Emotional resilience is closely tied to our automatic nervous system, which provides a built-in survival mechanism to protect us from immediate threats. In situations that our nervous systems perceives to be threatening, we automatically prepare for fight or flight through an unconscious rebalancing of hormones, including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Historically, this surge of hormones lasted a few super-charged moments (basically until we escaped, overcame the threat, or had been eaten.) In modern life, however, fight or flight triggers are everywhere. They include mundane things such as our nagging to-do lists or our email inbox to more complex factors such as personal relationships and difficult work situations.

The amygdala in our brain is our danger alert signal, and, unfortunately, it hasn’t evolved as quickly as modern day society—which means that the average person is really bad at distinguishing between dangers that are truly life threatening versus perceived dangers that are merely thoughts, feelings, or beliefs in our mind. Scientists now understand that we do not even need to feel particularly stressed for these hormones to increase and the continual release eventually adds up, potentially leading to a multitude of health issues including sleep disturbances, impaired mental function, weakened immune system, weight changes, irritability, anger and low motivation.

Not surprisingly, when an individual becomes trapped in a continual fight or flight mode, their ability to think creatively, problem solve, and innovate are severely impaired, which is where this health issue starts to have a real, financial impact on a company’s bottom line. That said, how does one actually go about accounting for the cost of lack of creativity on a balance sheet?

What is the breakeven point for investing in emotional resiliency? Because emotional resilience is such a tricky concept to quantify, it’s often ignored. But, for a multitude of reasons, having an emotional resilient and creative workforce is critical to a company’s long-term success. In a research study conducted by IBM, CEOs from around the world cited the rapid escalation of complexity as the biggest challenge confronting them and their organizations. Creativity was cited as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through this complexity.

Factors such as globalization and outsourcing create an increased need for improve efficiency and effectiveness and organizations require innovative processes and management to drive down costs and improve productivity. Customers have come to expect products that continually improve and are unwilling to accept mediocrity when they can easily look elsewhere; these expectations have a very real impact the amount of innovation required of employees. Innovation is also driven by the exponential increase in competition that has come as a result of the Internet and technology.

Companies that used to have a fairly narrow geographic radius of competitors now find themselves competing with companies halfway around the world. Luckily, resilience is not something that we are either born with or not. Rather, it can found in behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and cultivated over time.

Factors that contribute to healthy resilience include:
•Close relationships with family and friends
•The ability to manage strong emotions and impulses
•Good problem-solving and communication skills
•Healthy eating and exercise habits
•Avoiding a victim mentality by proactively developing solutions to problems and barriers
•Feeling in control
•Avoiding harmful coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or drugs
•Helping others
•Finding positive meaning in life despite difficult or traumatic events

Enabling emotional resiliency need not be expensive or difficult. Open innovation is one example of how individuals can maintain resiliency by proactively developing solutions to stressful problems. For example, through Edison Nation Medical, a health care innovation incubator, any individual with an idea for improving health care can submit their idea via a confidential and secure platform. A team of medical, product development and intellectual property experts then evaluate the idea. If the Edison Nation Medical expert team agrees the idea is worth commercializing, Edison Nation Medical will bring the invention idea to life at no cost to the inventor beyond the $25 submission fee and all subsequent licensing royalties are split 50/50 with the inventor. The end result is that the health care problem in question gets resolved, the individual who submitted the idea feels empowered, and patient care is improved a win-win-win.

Creating a clear and actionable plan for building individual or organizational resilience is beyond the scope of this article; however, without question, the impact of improving resilience is straightforward: distress goes down, confusion dissipates, emotions are controlled, teamwork improves, creativity is unleashed and performance soars. For all these reasons, investing in employee emotional resiliency needs to be reframed so that it’s no longer thought of by C-suite executives as a nice-to-have perk, but rather a critical component of building a core competence and competitive advantage around innovation.