By Dr. Joel Bennett, Organizational Wellness & Learning Systems (OWLS)

The prevailing culture of individualism, consumerism, and self-help in the United States has led to a myopic understanding of resilience. We tend to believe that resilience primarily lives within individuals and as a personal trait. Very often, when asked to keynote or discuss my book Raw Coping Power, I get the question: “What makes someone bounce back from the same tragedy that leads another person to crumble?”

You may be anxious to know the answer as well. But wait. As part of the prevailing culture, modern psychology has perpetuated an overwhelming focus on individual-level strengths. Researchers investigate such topics as grit, mental toughness, self-determination, growth mindset, and individual mindfulness. Most recently, scientists study the brain and neurological correlates of these strengths.

More and more self-help gurus are offering courses related to neuro-this and neuro-that. And people seem to be fascinated. I call the latter “neuro-romance”—an unquestioning captivation with anything that points to the brain as an explanation. All this, while our society-at-large continues to show signs of division, fissures in communication, polarization, and even violence. Organizations also continue to report problems in mental health, burn-out, and moral injury. The coronavirus has only added further stress.

Multi-Level Resilience: An Idea Whose Time Has Come


Perhaps I have already made my point. So, you still want to know the answer to the question? Here it is.

Our connection to a compassionate community of others who believe in humanity’s unity is our best bet for sustainable and personal resilience.

Those who feel social support, belongingness, and connection to widening circles of community are better able to adjust to stress, adversity, and trauma. Additionally, when learning from their adjustment, they give back to others, the fabric of connection strengthens and expands.

We are our own safety net.

No amount of individual resilience training will help sustain personal strengths unless the activity also bolsters community and compassion in the surrounding social network. More importantly, this approach should also enhance empathy in other networks you might dislike (for example, social media!), other communities and networks, and other people. And still yet others. We are talking about taking a widened and global view on resilience.


In the past year, many articles appeared discussing the importance of a multi-level view of resilience for organizations, society, and for health and well-being. Julia Hillmann (Dresden University of Technology) and Edeltraud Guenther (United Nations University) analyzed 126 articles and distinguished between several types of resilience behaviors, resources, capabilities, and response as the key to organizational growth. Mais Iflaifel (University of Reading, UK) and colleagues focused on resilience in healthcare settings, analyzing results from 32 articles. Margherita Cameranesi and colleagues from the University of Manitoba studied resilience in children exposed to domestic violence.

In these and other studies (see more references below) there is a repeated theme. In order to promote resilience for the individual, it is essential that resilience also exists in the family, the organization, the community, and society. This is, sine qua non, the key to sustainable well-being. Even further, studies of national and global resilience point to the need for more climate diplomacy, and international coordination and cooperation. Especially since the pandemic began.

Resilience & Thriving: The Secret Power of Stress

An increasing number of wellness practitioners are being asked to deliver training or coaching in the areas of resilience and thriving. To meet this need, the National Wellness Institute (NWI), in collaboration with Organizational Wellness Learning Systems (OWLS), is offering a Resilience & Thriving facilitator certificate course with evidence-informed tools and competency-based training. Participants will learn a new system that integrates NWI’s Six Dimensions of Wellness model with the concepts of stress, resilience, and thriving.


The workplace plays an essential role in supporting multi-level resilience for many reasons. Mental well-being and employee assistance programs give tools that worker may not otherwise have. Teamwork and positive, authentic, and inclusive leadership support the expression of strengths. The organization, through economic vitality and human productivity, contributes to employees, customers, and the surrounding economic resilience.

In 2020, we had two articles published based on our own consulting work that helped organizations build multi-level resilience strategies. If you are interested, please check them out.

The article “Resilience 3.0: Multi-Level Approaches are Essential” was published in the 2020 Worksite Health International (Volume 11, Issue 3), a publication from the International Association of Worksite Health Promotion.

The multi-authored article “Toward Evidence-Based Cultures of Resilience: Authentic Leadership, Mental Health and Social Connection” was published in the 2020 Proceedings from HEROForum20: A Virtual Conference (September 2020). It includes four case studies from clients who worked to build a resilient culture in their respective workplaces.

Other References

Cameranesi, M., Piotrowski, C. C., & Brownridge, D. A. (2020). Profiles of adjustment in children and adolescents exposed to intimate partner violence: A scoping review investigating resilience processes. Journal of Positive School Psychology4(1), 117-136. Retrieved from

Goldin, I. (2020). Rethinking global resilience. Resilience: Healing the Fracture.

Hillmann, J., & Guenther, E. (2020). Organizational resilience: A valuable construct for management research? International Journal of Management Reviews, 23(1), 1-38.

Iflaifel, M., Lim, R. H., Ryan, K., & Crowley, C. (2020). Resilient health care: A systematic review of conceptualisations, study methods and factors that develop resilience. BMC Health Services Research20(1), 1-21.

Mobjörk, M., Smith, D., & Rüttinger, L. (2016). Towards a global resilience agenda: Action on climate fragility risks. Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’

Vakilzadeh, K., & Haase, A. (2020). The building blocks of organizational resilience: A review of the empirical literature. Continuity & Resilience Review.

Dr. Bennett has been an NWI member for over 15 years and regularly teaches our very popular Resilience & Thriving facilitator course. His company, OWLS, also offers direct training on resilience to your workplace or group. You can learn about that here.