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Effectively Addressing Root Causes of Workplace Stress
Calls for a "Systems Thinking" Approach

We know that awareness alone isn't enough.
What can be done ... and how is it done?

What Skills, Actions and Practices work synergistically to support
Workplace Stress Readiness, Responsiveness and Resiliency?

Just as it is impossible to thoroughly address human health concerns without getting to the root cause of any dis-ease, the same goes for the well-being of an organization. Science has taught us that in order to achieve optimal wellness, every interconnected part of our human system must be considered and properly addressed, and that same type of "whole systems" approach is called for when diagnosing maladies that exist in an organization that impede it from operating at its best, particularly during times of internal and external change. Simply tackling "broken parts" of a system and not their interdependence with all other parts of the whole is a misguided approach. Ethics and Compliance professionals can proactively support and strengthen a sustainable culture of integrity in any organization when they take the wide-lens view of systems thinking:

"As with most systems, systems thinking consists of three kinds of things: elements (in this case, characteristics), interconnections (the way these characteristics relate to and/or feed back into each other), and a function or purpose (Meadows 2008). Notably, the least obvious part of the system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior" (Meadows, 2008)"


Source: A Definition of Systems Thinking: A Systems Approach 2015 Conference on Systems Engineering Research


As a pioneer in the field of operations research, systems thinking and management science, and the former Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, the late Dr. Russell Lincoln Ackoff taught:

  • Improving the performance of the parts of a system taken separately will not necessarily improve the performance of the whole; in fact, it may harm the whole.

  • Problems are not disciplinary in nature but are holistic.

  • The best thing that can be done to a problem is not to solve it but to dissolve it.


"If you apply analysis to a system you take it apart and it loses all its essential properties, and so do its parts. A system is never the sum of its parts. It is the product of the interactions of its parts."

Case Study: 

University of Southern California Finance Division

Whole Systems Change to Co-Create a Healthy University Culture


What viable actions can organizations take that can support all stakeholders during times of uncertainty, stress and change, and not just continue to place band-aids over growing cancers that also causes a lack of trust to spread unchecked? Ineffective stress "management" trainings don't address the impacts of toxic leadership and culture "root rot." How often must we have to deal with a "taking the bull by the horns" frantic and unfocused false bravado that will perpetuate the insanity of doing the same things over and over and over again expecting different results?

If it all could be accomplished with some “easy peasey, one and done” weekend or eight-week-long "stress management program" we'd all be happy campers humming through the work day. However, the reality is that nothing of lasting value occurs just that because you desire it you actually deserve it – unlike what so many deceptive marketing campaigns promote. It must be earned by going through the messy and uncomfortable work of change as often as necessary. The good news is it can be accomplished with a spirit of curiosity, adventure and a sense of service to our fellow human beings.


And although Einstein didn't actually say the above-referred to famous quote, he did say this:


“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

In other words, we need to change our Mindset


Featured Resource: Carol Dweck's TED talk on Growth Mindset


Image Source: TED,com


"One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, Dweck found in her research, has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality.


"A 'fixed mindset' assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.


"A 'growth mindset', on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness."

"Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives,"

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