Organizational Resilience During Times of Trauma

Organizational Resilience During Times of Trauma

Cynthia Calloway Rhone (University of Phoenix, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7016-6.ch009
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Effective communication and resilience are integral components in an organization's structure, particularly during and after situations of trauma. Trauma includes both internal factors (i.e., layoffs, mergers, unexpected changes in management, lack of positive social support) and external factors (natural disasters, economic insecurity, social violence). An organization's level of resilience to these factors is determined by the event's type, timing, location, rate of recurrence, and duration. In addition, proactive planning impacts organizational resilience. This chapter will focus on the importance of resilience during times of trauma, how resilience relates to leadership, and mental health experiences by employees.
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Organizational resilience during times of trauma is an organization’s ability to establish an environment that improves employee productivity, positive outcomes, and positive working relationships amid prolonged contact with adverse and challenging events. The literature has established that researchers hold differing viewpoints on the concept of resilience and how it may affect organizational success or failure. Lee et al. (2017) posited that the concept of resilience relates to a period when customary organizational routines are interrupted because of an unexpected catastrophic event. During this author’s doctoral journey from 2010 to 2015, she experienced a catastrophic and traumatic event that could have led to an interruption in her own journey. In 2010, the author experienced the death of a niece, who lost her battle with cancer. The author was devastated because this was her favorite niece. The event was so devastating that the author considered taking time away from classes to regroup. Before making a decision, the author contacted a professor at that time to share the situation. The professor offered class modifications so that the author could meet program requirements and complete the coursework.

As time progressed, the author remembered the many talks with her niece about furthering their education, and being advocates for children. As a result of remembering those conversations, the author was motivated to continue and eventually completed the coursework on time without modifications. The author believes that it was resilience and a changed mental state that led her to complete the program and earn her degree. Greene et al. (2020) asserted that the concept of “building resilience” also relates to “professional resilience”, which is an individual’s ability to succeed during adverse situations. (Greene et al. (2020) explained that resilience is the ability to demonstrate progress through challenges as people develop a strong support system.

Current research also reveals the necessity to develop strategies that will promote organizational resilience, especially regarding healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers faced inadequate resources such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortages while combating the deadly virus. With a lack of proper PPE, healthcare workers experienced emotional stress in their attempts to remain safe, to not get sick and spread the virus to patients and family members.

Arreglado, et al., (2018) indicated that the nursing profession has become a focal point of research to highlight strategies that can be implemented in the workplace to strengthen an individual’s resilience. Several studies explore ways to increase and promote resilient strategies to improve work performance during organizational trauma. This chapter on organizational resilience during times of trauma aims to:

  • Examine ways to improve organizational resilience.

  • Discuss how organizations methodically prepare for and persevere through unexpected trauma.

  • Illustrate how organizational resilience impacts leadership during COVID-19.

  • Identify leadership structures that preserve organizational resilience in an environment of trust to empower employees to communicate problem-solving ideas to leadership.



The author is extremely passionate about the title of this chapter: Organizational Resilience during Times of Trauma. This passion is a result of her personal experience as a teacher, building and division administrator. Researching characteristics of resilience, organizational resilience, leadership styles, working with or leading staff in times of trauma, crisis and/or unpleasant situations, provided the author with the opportunity to personally reflect on experiences that she actually witnessed or those in which she had direct involvement. The experience of researching this topic provided the author with new insights when reflecting on whether past administrative decisions were justified.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Internal Factors: Situations from within an organization that have a direct impact on the success of an organization, such as inconsistent leadership decisions and unexpected management changes.

Strategic Human Resource Management: A process by which organizations hire and retain experienced, enthusiastic, and devoted workers.

Mental Health: The stability of a person to process information to make appropriate decisions.

Adversity: A situation that results in a misfortune or unfavorable condition, such as hurricanes, flooding, or terrorist attacks. In an organization, adversity may refer to the loss of a team member or company restructuring.

COVID-19: A ubiquitous virus that contributed to long-term health conditions and adjusted to new environments through transformation. COVID-19 is sometimes referred to as Coronavirus.

Crisis: An unexpected event that requires leadership to respond quickly and appropriately to address and solve the issue.

Effective Communication: Information within an organization that ensures all employees understand and implement expectations, goals, and the vision and mission statement.

External Factors: Situations that have a direct impact on the success of a company’s production, such as social violence.

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