Tolerating Distress

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.

Distress tolerance plays a crucial role in ensuring employees exercise their curiosity in order to innovate.

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.

An audio version of this poem can be heard here:

Disclaimer: This post has been produced in cooperation with Merck. Merck is known as Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in the United States & Canada.

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