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“Judo” Stress for More Resilient Teams

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Every industry claims to be very highly regulated and constantly transforming, but healthcare stands out. From the still-uncertain massive overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, to the most stringent privacy requirement, to industry-reshaping mega-mergers like Cigna and Express Scripts, no industry faces more uncertainty than healthcare. This pressure cooker environment leads to very high stress levels. The AMA and Mayo Clinic recently found that over half of healthcare providers show signs of burnout, with nearly the same proportion of primary care physicians saying they would leave their jobs if they could afford it.

These external sources of stress aren’t going away.

We’ve made a lot of progress in helping our employees cope with stress by enforcing vacations, rolling out more robust wellness programs, and encouraging more fun at work. Despite those investments, employees remain very stressed because the attempted solutions don’t address the causes of stress—they help us cope with it. We need to do more, but not just more of the same. We must fundamentally change how we perceive and respond to stress in the working environment.

We can find inspiration in Judo, which means “a gentle way.” Judo uses a gentle response to transform a negative force into a positive, dynamic outcome. The attack itself provides the energy for the solution. When it comes to workplace stress, we need a Judo move.

For employees, stress first presents as a destructive force. Like in Judo, though, we can often transform it from a destructive force to a productive one. Productive stress motivates the discovery of solutions to problems as well as creativity and innovation. Resilient organizations transform destructive stress into productive stress and use it as fuel for adaptation, and in the process eliminate or dramatically reduce the cause of the stress and its impact. Moreover, resilient teams rebound from setbacks, overcome challenges, and learn from failure again and again, further reducing stressors.

Unfortunately, destructive stress is winning.


In our research, we found that only:

  • Eighteen percent of employees said they consistently bounce back from multiple setbacks to achieve a work goal.
  • Twenty-nine percent consistently overcome the difficulties encountered in achieving work goals.
  • Twenty-nine percent consistently show determination when initial attempts do not succeed.
  • Thirty-one percent consistently pursue goals with a lot of energy.
  • Thirty-one percent consistently use the lessons they learn from mistakes at work to improve the way they do their job.

That’s not Judo. That’s taking a beating.

How can leaders forge resilient teams that transform destructive stress into productive stress?


Don’t leap to action in the face of a new stressor (or just take it as given). Pause and determine how best to lead through the challenge. Pausing creates time for self-reflection, for reflection with your team, and to reduce your initially heightened emotional state.

Identify the root causes behind the stressor. Don’t just focus on the consequences. In many cases, when we look for the root causes of a stressor, will find causes for other sources of stress as well.

Experiment with solutions. The odds are that your first attempt at addressing the causes of stress won’t work as you expected. We live in a complex, uncertain world, especially in healthcare. It usually will take more than one attempt to find a solution. If you learn from your unproductive attempts, you will land on an effective one in time.

How do these ideas stack up with what you’re observing in your organization?

If you’d like to learn more about AchieveForum’s research into resilience, download this report.

About the Author

Scott Bohannon is chief executive officer of AchieveForum. Across Scott’s career, he has provided guidance to C-level executives at top global companies on issues including leadership development, HR & digital strategy, employee engagement, change management, finance, risk management, advocacy, corporate strategy, social media, and growth planning.

Before joining AchieveForum Scott was CEO of Info-Tech Research Group and McLean & Co. in Ontario, Canada. Prior to that, Scott was President of nsight2day, a company he founded in 2011 to help organizations better protect and engage customers, employees, and students through innovative technologies. From 1999 to 2011, Scott was General Manager and Executive Committee member at the Corporate Executive Board. He was also an attorney at Sidley Austin and an Instructor at the University of Virginia.

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