The Poetry of Science – Episode 13: Tolerating Distress

This poem is inspired by recent research from Merck, which has been conducted into better understanding distress tolerance (i.e. the capacity to be able to confront the new) and how this can be fostered in the workplace, for example by rewarding employees for being open to novel approaches.

Distress tolerance is broadly defined as an individual’s ability to cope in difficult situations, and in the workplace, this might be considered to be a trait that enables an employee to be willing to try new approaches or take the calculated risks that are needed for developing new ideas and practices. This new research found that an ability to cope with that distress is crucial to how curious employees are in their workplace – and, in turn, how successful the overall workplace is at innovating.

By surveying over 3,000 employees from various business sectors in Germany, China, and the USA, this new study revealed distress tolerance as relatively low among employees across both the different countries and different sectors that were studied. This research also found that distress tolerance is a trait that can be easily influenced; for example, when a workplace encourages things that are new, unusual, and outside of normal experiences and comfort zones, then their employee’s distress tolerance naturally increases. However, when employees work in an environment  where pursuing new or uncertain ideas is punished or prohibited, then they tend to have a lower distress tolerance. These findings illustrate that distress tolerance is not an attribute that people innately possess, but rather that it is a characteristic that can be fostered and developed in a supportive workplace environment that encourages their workforce to be innovative. Fostering distress tolerance can be further supported by providing mentorships and supporting mental health and wellbeing, and the Merck Curious Elements feature provides several other examples of how to foster and enhance creativity as an individual and across the workplace. By helping to strengthen the distress tolerance of their employees, businesses will benefit from a workplace that is more resilient and better adapted to implementing and accepting change.

Listen to the audio version of this episode’s science poem

Read this episode’s science poem

Creating environments in which
Cookie cutting is placed
On precarious pedestals
As the peak of workplace
Productivity –
Whilst new moulds are
Shattered into a million
Pieces before they can
Travel from neural pathways
To production lines –
Is an extremely effective
Approach to promoting
And stagnation,
In the workplace.

The following behaviours
Will not be tolerated:
Tolerance of variation
Tolerance of adaptation
Tolerance of innovation
Tolerance of revolution.

The following benefits
Will not be procured:
Mental wellbeing.

A failure to innovate lies
Not with the biological synapses
Of a misrepresented workforce,
But with the decrepitude of
An employer who is intolerant
To change.

By Dr Sam Illingworth

External Resources

Read the scientific study that inspired it here

The orginal episode appread here.

The Poetry of Science blog.

Go back to The Poetry of Science

Featured image credit: Alaitz Zabaleta Sarobe on Pixabay

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