Linking resiliency to health, engagement and productivity

Each of the four pillars of the Total Health Index can impact employee resiliency

Linking resiliency to health, engagement and productivity

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What role does resiliency play in predicting employees’ health, engagement and productivity? Most HR leaders would agree resiliency is being discussed more often, and has become more important in helping employees to cope with change and to keep up with the demands of work. 

However, only a small percentage of leaders have the actual data to specifically demonstrate a direct link between employees’ resiliency levels and health, engagement and productivity. 

Those leaders who can demonstrate that employees with higher levels of resiliency are more likely to thrive than employees with lower levels are better-positioned to make the case that investing in employee resiliency is good for business.

Resiliency refers to an employee’s ability to recover from adversity and setbacks, according to the 2018 article “Improving Resiliency in Healthcare Employees” in the American Journal of Health Behavior. Any time an employee has a difference between what she wants and what she has can be perceived as negative and a setback. 

Setbacks come in different forms, from the minimum to the major. In a typical day, most employees need to deal with minimum setbacks both at home and at work that drain their energy. 

When the average employee is asked what he does daily to build up his resiliency reserves, he won’t have a clear answer. This kind of response implies that resiliency is something you have or don’t have, like a personality trait — which is not accurate. 

Resiliency is not static — it’s dynamic. It requires intention, focus and action. It’s a trainable skill that employees can learn to help them better manage the variety of setbacks presented by life and work. 

Resiliency can be developed by daily micro-decisions and habits. From a total health perspective, each of the four pillars of the Total Health Index (physical health, mental health, work health and life health) can be a source of energy or a drain on energy that impacts an employee’s resiliency reserves. 

Consider the following two employees and determine which would have more resiliency:

Sam: He gets four hours of sleep a night, 60 per cent of his diet comes from fast food, he averages fewer than 5,000 steps a day, doesn’t enjoy his work, is in a strained marriage and has credit card debt issues.

Sally: She gets eight hours of sleep a night, averages 10,000 steps a day, is in a loving relationship, is active in her community and is passionate about her work.

Clearly, Sally is better-positioned than Sam because she has learned how to better manage each of her four pillars. Sam lives in chronic stress and, because of this, even a minor setback has the potential to impact him much more than Sally, who has more energy to push through life’s challenges.

Employees like Sally who invest energy into each of their four pillars each day are more likely to operate from an internal locus of control, and understand the value of paying attention to their micro-decisions and habits. 

By building up her resiliency reserves, Sally is prepared to manage the unknown challenges she may face in life and work.

Research has found that the higher an employee’s Total Health Index (THI), the more resilient he is. The following resiliency question from the THI is aligned to the above resiliency definition: “I usually recover quickly from setbacks (such as making a mistake or receiving negative feedback).” 

The above chart shows aggregated data from the THI database that includes tens of thousands of employee files from a large cross-section of organizations across Canada. This data set provides a benchmark against which employers can compare employee profiles. 

It clearly shows employees with higher scores on this one resiliency item have higher THI scores that predict better health, engagement and productivity outcomes. 

When an entire workforce is put into one of the five THI profiles, it’s not difficult for HR professionals to compare the different THI profiles. 

For example, comparing the Strained Health category to Active Health, the differences are quite significant, especially when it comes to the number of days employees are at work feeling unwell. The strained employee is costing the organization much more than the active one. 

This kind of data suggests employers that invest in resiliency to help employees stay in the green, and to move employees from the lower categories to green ones, have the potential to both save costs and boost productivity.

We’re in a period where the one constant is change. It appears that resiliency levels and total health profiles can help predict which employees will thrive more than others. 

Employers can’t make employees resilient. However, they can facilitate strategy and resiliency programs that enable employees to develop awareness and tools to build up their resiliency reserves. 

Resiliency matters, and those employees who have it are more likely to keep up with constant change, maintain their health and be more engaged and productive. 

Bill Howatt, Ph.D. Ed.D., is the chief of research and development, workforce productivity, at Morneau Shepell in Toronto. For more information about the Total Health Index, visit

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