Workplace resilience: A path to perseverance and performance

In his book, Spartan Up!, Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena discusses resiliency. He writes, “In ancient times, the concept of learning how to ‘fail well’ encouraged young Spartans to develop critical skills of resiliency and self-determinantion.”1 This reflects Spartan’s organizational spirit as the global leader in obstacle course races — offering challenges for everyone from first-time racers to elite athletes.

De Sena goes on to say, “Only by placing ourselves in a state of disequilibrium can we grow stronger and tougher.”2

Sometimes we don’t even need to put ourselves in a state of disequilibrium. Life is happy to do it for us. I’m a case in point: Over the past three years, I moved several times, got divorced, watched one parent beat lung cancer, watched one parent die of lung cancer and had a fairly significant back injury. I also now face the worthwhile challenges that come with sending a child off to her first year in college.

Talk about adversity and testing. And here’s the thing: I’m not special. I’m not different. There are thousands of employees who are going through some combination of adverse experiences that they can’t compartmentalize into life outside the work space. Whatever they’re dealing with — not just job situations — is with them through every day.

That’s where the tools that teach resiliency come into play.

The next level in workplace wellness: Resiliency
As I engage with company leaders around the country, I see a real desire to bring resiliency tools into the wellness space. It’s a higher order of employee wellness that helps workers show up to do their best every day.

Yet there’s the added benefit that on days when life knocks workers off balance, the company understands and supports them — from the C-suite on down. Employees are not only given the time and space to deal with adverse, challenging or stressful situations, they’re prepared with the right tools and skills. Workplace resiliency is seen as the way employees “bounce back” from an obstacle or negative event on the job, using various methods to address the situation in a positive way.3

Joe De Sena talks about the benefits of facing physical challenges as another way to change how a person handles mental and emotional challenges. Take, for instance, one of Spartan’s obstacle course races. Whether it’s a 3-mile Sprint, an 8-mile Super or a 13-mile Beast, the participant comes to understand that some of the smaller challenges they face on a daily basis aren’t as monumental as they seem.

By overcoming a significant physical challenge like a race that an employee didn’t think they could do, I’ve observed epiphanies when they realize:

  1. “I was able to do the race.”
  2. “The thing that’s stressing me out about tomorrow doesn’t seem so big anymore. After all, I just completed a race I thought I could never do.”

Employees can learn the skills to push through when they think they can’t. And not just physically. We agree with the Spartan ethos that finishing a race — or let’s bring it closer to home: completing a job assignment or project — is not so much a limitation of the body as the mind. It’s about learning how not to let your own mind get in the way of success.

On-site resiliency coaches open a path to performance
When you bring an on-site resiliency coach to your workplace, you have a wellness partner who educates employees within certain Spartan principles. Your employees will have a set of modules available, which can be delivered directly to employees within company walls. Resiliency coaches focus first and foremost on conditioning the whole body, mind and spirit.

Coaches are:

  • SGX certified, which is Spartan’s functional fitness training program
  • Credentialed by the Optum Wellness Coaching methodology
  • Trained to prepare employees for the race of their choice

An on-site resiliency coach will help you measure employees’ progress against performance appraisals and scores, as well as employee engagement indexes related to participation in races and their work with the coach. More importantly, you and your wellness partner can start the conversation about individual performance and its relationship to organizational performance — all tied into the power of resiliency.

As Joe De Sena says, “When adversity does arrive, and it always does, someone who has never encountered it before will have no clue what to do in response.”4

Employees don’t have to be clueless. Whether they encounter life changes they’ve never experienced before or face a demanding project that requires a new skillset, they can learn to persevere and overcome in the face of adversity. And that can lead to huge strides on the path to better health, wellness and work performance.

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About the Author

Picture1Dave Milani has been with Optum for more than 10 years. He oversees the full leadership of a rapidly growing provider of on-site fitness and wellness solutions, and is responsible for chartering and accelerating the growth of the business. He’s a source of inspiration and direction to a diverse team of 3,000 fitness, wellness and management professionals.





  1. Sena JD, OConnell J. Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life. Boston: Mariner Books Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bennett JB, Neeper M, Linde BD, Lucas GM, Simone L. Team resilience training in the workplace: E-learning adaptation, measurement model, and two pilot studies. JMIR mental health. Published May 2, 2018. Accessed July 8, 2019.
  4. Sena JD, OConnell J. Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life. Boston: Mariner Books Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2016.

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