Fostering Grit: A Vital Skill for Thriving in Today's Workforce

Every older generation laments how easy the current generation has it. Evidence of this mentality can be seen in the proverbial, “Back in my day, we walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways.” Few will argue that today’s social and work environments differ dramatically from a generation ago. Time moves on, and with time comes technological improvements that speed up execution or make a task more manageable. The odds are good that a physical job today is less demanding than a decade ago. But what about the mental demands of a task?

The World Health Organization reports a 13% increase in reported mental health disorders over the past 10 years, and numerous studies show that Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, are struggling more with mental health issues than any other generation. Anecdotally, this would suggest that although technology has eased the physical burden of work, it has had a detrimental impact on the mental aspect. Mentally, how can stressed workers strengthen themselves to handle today’s work demands day after day? The answer is grit.

The term “grit” was popular in the 18th century, and in the early 19th century, grit became synonymous with pluck, determination, courage, and the mental strength to endure pain or hardship. In the 21st century, the term has seen a resurgence in great part by the work of Dr. Angela Duckworth through her TED Talk and book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth defines grit as a combination of passion and perseverance over a long term. It is not about short-lived desire but the commitment to a goal for years or decades. Grit is not about avoiding failure or side-stepping setbacks; it is the quality that fuels you to persist in your quest despite them.

Duckworth’s research revealed that effort counts twice, meaning that effort combined with talent generates skill and skill combined with effort results in achievement (Effort x Talent = Skill, Skill x Effort = Achievement). This thesis is corroborated in the work by Dr. Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which showed that a growth mindset, defined as dedication and hard work, is necessary to develop skills and abilities. The extensive research performed by these talented academics concludes that grit is essential for success. But how is grit developed?

Parenting plays a part. Parents can foster grit in children by providing a demanding yet supporting environment during their formative years. High standards in a loving environment encourage children to be passionate and demonstrate perseverance, and they often learn the power of delayed gratification. Grit is fostered by the child’s intense daily interest in pursuing a worthy goal, especially when the goal links to a higher purpose. Their curiosity drives them to succeed. Along the way, the child trips and gets scuffed up. The caring parent helps them on their feet and nudges them to continue the quest. Over time, the child learns that setbacks are an expected part of the journey.

On the business front, it is all about culture. Articulated standards are the benchmarks for expectations, and a business leader must establish a demanding and supportive environment just like a parent. Meaningful organizational goals will require steadfast resolve and long-term commitment. The entire organization must know the higher purpose, and all parties must clearly understand the talents, skills, and effort to achieve it. Smaller intermediary goals offer obstacles that will test perseverance. During a setback, leaders must mine the failure for learning points that instill grit. They must tactfully call out substandard efforts to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels. The entire team must feel the sting of any poor performance since shielding any level will lessen the satisfaction of future goal achievement. As John Steinbeck wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

In this type of crucible, grit becomes a shared characteristic, a cultural norm. Team members develop grit in themselves and support and inspire others to do the same. Older generations pass on their grittiness to the younger generations to help them forge mental toughness that gets quenched and hardened through work and life experience. While grit alone is not a cure for Gen Z’s anxiety and stress in the workplace, it is a critical ingredient for choosing to move forward day after day.

Since the dawn of time, grit has played a role in our survival and advancement. Continuing to pass down this characteristic from generation to generation is essential for success in the workplace and life.


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