Hardiness

Hardiness consists of three interrelated belief systems people have about their relationship to their world. Commitment refers to people’s ability to find meaning in events that happen to them. People who are high in commitment feel involved in and engaged by events in their lives rather than feeling alienated, disengaged, or disconnected. Control refers to the sense that, through effort, people can influence the world. People who are high in control feel capable of responding to events in their lives rather than helpless. Challenge refers to the belief that to be fulfilled, people must gain wisdom from experience, rather than living a life that is completely safe, secure, and routine. People who are high in challenge tend to view potentially stressful events as opportunities for personal growth, rather than feeling threatened by the world. Hardiness researchers regard these three belief systems as reflecting people’s dispositional resilience to the detrimental effects of stressful events as well as their ability to summon courage in the face of adversity.

In the late 1970s, a research team led by Salvatore Maddi and Suzanne Kobasa conducted a longitudinal study of business executives. They were particularly interested in differentiating between executives who thrived under intense stress and those who experienced great personal and performance difficulties. They identified the hardiness belief systems as crucial to maintaining health and performance under stress. For industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists, perhaps the most compelling aspect of their theoretical model was their research-supported contention that hardiness could be taught, which has important practical implications for stress management programs. Maddi and Kobasa’s (1984) research stimulated hundreds of studies on hardiness as well as numerous doctoral dissertations. Thus there is a substantial empirical literature from which to draw conclusions about the effects of hardiness on work-related outcomes.

Findings from Hardiness Literature

Much research has studied the effects of hardiness on health-related outcomes. One of the most common outcomes examined in this literature is burnout, defined as a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, disengagement, and a loss of feelings of accomplishment that is common in occupations requiring intense interpersonal interactions with clients or customers. Several studies have established a negative relationship between hardiness and burnout, particularly for service professions such as nursing and teaching. Hardiness also is associated with desirable outcomes such as job and life satisfaction, optimism, positive affect, perceptions of support, and general well-being; and it is negatively related to outcomes such as anxiety and depression. Finally, several studies report modest positive relationships between hardiness and physical health, but the connections between hardiness and physiological reactions to stress are not well understood.

 

Less research has examined work outcomes such as job attitudes and behavior. Although there are some exceptions, hardy employees appear to hold more favorable views of their jobs and are more committed to their employing organization. Other studies suggest that hardy individuals may be better organizational citizens and better able to maintain effective performance under stress. The relationship of hardiness to other occupational outcomes, such as absenteeism and injuries, lacks definitive conclusions. Conclusions vary greatly across studies of absenteeism; the limited research on injuries suggests that hardy workers may be less likely to suffer illnesses or injuries requiring hospitalization.

Ample research has examined indirect effects of hardiness on work and health outcomes, including hardiness-related individual differences in how people appraise potentially stressful events, choose coping strategies, and access social support. Hardy people tend to appraise stressful events as less threatening and more controllable. They feel more confident about their ability to cope with stressful events and classify fewer experiences as undesirable. Hardy people also are more apt to use adaptive coping strategies such as active or problem-focused coping and avoid maladaptive strategies such as denial and disengagement. Finally, hardy people generally tend to build larger, more effective social networks, suggesting that they have more potential support when coping with workplace stressors. They also report higher levels of social support from both coworkers and supervisors. It is unclear whether these perceptions reflect higher levels of received support or a lower need for social support. However, in either case, hardy people seem better equipped to cope with stressors at work. Taken together, these findings show that hardiness influences many of the causal pathways through which stressful events influence health.

One of the most frequently examined issues in the hardiness literature concerns whether hardiness moderates the relationship between experiencing potentially stressful events and suffering adverse consequences of those stressors. This literature is replete with inconsistent findings. Some of the inconsistencies observed may be caused by differing definitions of stress. For example, hardiness researchers have defined stress in terms of exposure to events most people consider stressful, the perceived intensity of a stressor, frequency of exposure to a stressor, the number of major life events experienced, and the levels of perceived role demands they face. These differing definitions of stress probably account for some of the conflicting findings in this literature. Thus although there is ample evidence to suggest the beneficial effects of hardiness on health and work outcomes, the exact mechanisms through which these effects occur are unclear.

Unresolved Issues

A few unresolved issues present challenges for hardiness research. First, the central propositions of hardiness theory are somewhat more complicated than those tested in most empirical research. For example, hardiness theory suggests that hardy employees should experience less stress and be more resistant to the effects of stress. This implies that the effects of hardiness on outcomes should be expressed through stress response processes rather than directly on outcomes of interest. Second, some theoretical depictions of hardiness suggests that high levels of all three parts are required, whereas researchers typically examine each part separately or average across the three components to form a total score. Finally, some research has begun to separate the positive and negative components of each belief system. For example, people may differ in their tendencies to adopt entirely positive, largely negative, or somewhat more conflicted belief systems. The positive and negative elements of these belief systems may exert distinct effects on health and performance processes. Thus much literature has demonstrated the importance of hardiness for I/O psychology but has also identified some exciting challenges for future research.

References:

  1. Britt, T. W., Adler, A. B., & Bartone, P. T. (2001). Deriving benefits from stressful events: The role of engagement in meaningful work and hardiness. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6, 53-63.
  2. Funk, S. C. (1992). Hardiness: A review of theory and research. Health Psychology, 11(5), 335-345.
  3. Kobasa, S. C., & Puccetti, M. C. (1983). Personality and social resources in stress resistance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 839-850.
  4. Maddi, S. R., Kahn, S., & Maddi, K. L. (1998). The effectiveness of hardiness training. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research, 50, 78-86.
  5. Maddi, S. R., & Kobasa, S. C. (1984). The hardy executive: Health understress. Chicago: Dorsey Professional Books.
  6. Sinclair, R. R., & Tetrick, L. E. (2000). Implications of item wording for hardiness structure, relation with neuroticism, and stress buffering. Journal of Research in Personality, 34, 1-25.

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