As we enter a new decade, I am determined to reduce workplace suffering and consider how we can create more workplace HEROes! Let me explain.
Our workplace should be a safe and positive place to be. We talk a lot about leaders creating a safe and positive working environment; an environment of trust, challenge and support. A place where people can achieve their full potential and enjoy a positive work experience. So, I am always pleased when I am asked to help businesses improve employee resilience. But I wonder if providing the tools to build resilience is enough on its own and will it be enough for the future of work?
There remain so many risks to our wellbeing in the workplace, and the risks seem to be on the increase, resulting in high levels of stress related illness and increases in levels of anxiety and depression. In many cases, these are context specific, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Rather than just focus on resilience, what if organisations aligned their efforts in several areas to truly build ‘psychological capital’ with their employees.
Psychological capital is more than a single approach (such as developing resilience) and refers to four criteria-meeting positive psychological resources which when combined, create the ‘hero within’ (Luthens, 2014).
The four pillars of psychological capital are easy to remember, as together, when nurtured, they create HEROes!
The four pillars of psychological capital are:
H – Hope
E – (self) Efficacy or self-belief
R – Resilience and
O – Optimism
Developing psychological capital across an organisation has been empirically linked to improved job and life satisfaction (Luthens, Yousef et al, 2017) and is increasingly considered a very real competitive advantage for organisations. Indeed, alongside economic and financial capital, those organisations embracing activity that supports growth in psychological capital are not just the most forward thinking but, in my view, will be the ones that can attract and retain the very best talent.
It’s not enough any more to display a mental health pledge or sign up to a wellbeing charter. Savvy potential employees can now see through this. What they will be interested in over time, is what you are doing to develop their psychological safety and focusing on building HEROes in your workplace may well be a great place to start.
So, how do we support the creation of HEROes?
Tap into the territory of building character strengths
What commercially astute leader would not want their team members to know their strengths and be drawing on them whilst at work? Using our strengths at work, not only improves performance and autonomous motivation but will help maintain healthy levels of emotional wellbeing.
The key point that underpins each of these constructs is they are all malleable and can be developed through focused facilitated learning and deliberate and conscious practice. How exciting is that?
This view has been confirmed by the latest studies from neuroscience that our brains have neuroplasticity and can constantly form new neural pathways and develop new habits and ways of thinking and acting – no matter what our age.
Create an environment of Hope
Hope is an essential component for nurturing the human spirit. We need to carry deep within our core, a belief that things will get better, no matter how uncertain. This process motivates us and carries us forward to achieve our goals and create alternative ways to overcome barriers. Hope can also influence our willingness to accomplish increasingly challenging goals.
Hope can be developed in a number of ways. Partnering with employees to create goals that are challenging yet supporting them with the mastery of new skills, offers them assistance with the development of ‘willpower’ and ’waypower’ (Snyder et al 2001). Celebrate small achievements and tasks on a long term or complex goal or project also helps considerably. Pay attention to the quality of your daily and strategic communication; does it instil and inspire confidence and hope?
Optimism is most closely linked with Martin Seligman’s work on human flourishing. Such an outlook can build positive expectations and employees with a sense of optimism are more likely to adopt positive coping techniques and minimise their self-doubt. Those high in optimism (which can be learned), see positive life events as something personal and negative events as external to themselves. Increased levels of optimism have proven links to increases in performance, for example in sales and in leadership.
Even the most negative employee can be helped to be more positive! Techniques such as reframing situations, disrupting toxic or unhelpful assumptions and beliefs, and replacing them with more helpful thoughts are a great start.
Most commonly viewed as our ability to be able to bounce back from a setback – in work that may be a failed negotiation, a missed deadline, or difficult feedback. Employees also need resilience when apparently positive things occur such as an unexpected promotion, new role or job change. Certainly, in my private coaching practice, I am having more and more conversations about the need for increased resilience and achieving much needed balance between home and work.
I’m delighted to say that positive psychology research has shown that we can indeed develop our resilience. From an organisational perspective, creating a supportive organisational culture with inclusive decision making and high levels of autonomy in job role will fundamentally shift employee resilience, but such words are often easier to write, than to implement!
From an individual perspective, helping employees understand the elements that can build resilience, such as strong relationships and networks, understanding and applying your strengths, focusing on your health and sleep, are ways in which employees can set their baseline and then work to develop areas that need help. I use the Resilience@Work tool to support individuals and teams to build resilience and am finding it to be extremely helpful in setting people on a path to increased confidence and resilience.
Growing Self Efficacy
This is a concept that first emerged from David Banduras (1997) work on self-belief – basically, how confident are we that we can achieve what we set out to do?
Sounds simple! High levels of efficacy will lead employees to set themselves challenging goals and commit fully to achieving them. We may often see this type of behaviour in entrepreneurs. However, if deep down we don’t really believe the goals we agreed are achievable, or the SLA we signed can be adhered to, what chance do we have of being successful?
High levels of self-efficacy enable us to dig deep when we get knocked off course.
Ways of building self-efficacy include focusing on past successes, ideally those similar in nature to the challenge facing you now. What did you do that enabled you to be successful? Too often we rush from success to success, never pausing long enough to appreciate what we have achieved or how we did that. Doing so, is not self-indulgent, it’s a necessity for building grit and self-efficacy.
Our workplaces today are increasingly busy, distracting and draining. I love the fact that my job enables me to help people see that workplaces can and should be different – they can be motivating, exciting and positive. I visit many organisations that are brave enough to try and do things differently. The future of our workplace can be stimulating and optimistic.
It is absolutely possible to create workplace cultures that are energising, productive and incorporate employee wellbeing, but it takes deliberate and conscious effort to understand where you are on the journey and to support your employees maintain high levels of emotional health.
Increasing your employees’ psychological capital can have enduring effects on their wellbeing and performance. I encourage all leaders to consider whether you are helping to create HEROes in your workplace?
If you would like to explore more about this topic or discuss how you can achieve this in your workplace, please get in touch!