Post-Pandemic Growth. Strengthening the Way Forward.

Post-Pandemic Growth. Strengthening the Way Forward.

This article is based on a keynote given at the 2022 Learning in Law conference

The number one request I’ve had as a trainer over the last two years has been for resilience training. We’ve had to draw on multiple forms of resilience to get through the pandemic. Adaptive resilience to cope positively with pivoting our lives and ‘bounce-back-ability’ to recover from the setbacks. Now as we learn to live with Covid-19 we may begin to see signs of reconfiguration. Navigating through tough times will test us but also has the potential to transform us for the better. This is known as Post-traumatic Growth and refers to the positive change that can happen in the wake of adversity – in ourselves, our relationships and worldview. From ‘Test and Trace’ to ‘Test and Transform’.

Growth through suffering is not a new phenomenon – there’s the ancient tale of phoenix rising from the ashes and the Buddhist concept of ‘no mud, no lotus’. It attracted widespread interest after the terror attacks of 9/11 when survivors reported unexpected positives in their trauma. Post-traumatic Growth, according to psychologists Tedeschi & Calhoun, can show up as:

  • A fresh appreciation of life
  • Feeling stronger than before
  • Warmer, closer relationships
  • New priorities and possibilities
  • Spiritual development.

As we emerge from the pandemic, there will be green shoots of growth developing. So what does positive psychology have to offer that can strengthen the workplace for the way forward? Here are three strategies to adopt on the individual, organisational and universal level.

Using Strengths. Your greatest potential for growth comes from using your strengths. A strength is something you do regularly, that you do well and that energises you. Strengths include your positive qualities and your abilities. You can apply them to help you reach your goals and navigate around obstacles. They are the toolkit we use in positive psychology and rising to the challenge of the pandemic will almost certainly have added to your repertoire, so you might consider doing a strengths analysis to see which strengths have developed.  Strengths Profile, which I use in my coaching practice, carried out a survey of over 20,000 respondents and discovered that one of the top strengths that grew during the pandemic is… Growth itself. We’ve had to be open to new ways of functioning. Adherence, which is about following through on processes, shot up from being our top weakness to one of the top strengths.

Psychological Capital. You’ve heard of human capital and social capital, but what about psychological capital? It is an ‘individual’s positive psychological state of development’ and is characterised by having Hope, Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism. All these positive qualities, known as the ‘HERO Within’, can be developed and together they combine to form a higher resource, that is linked to desirable work-related attitudes and behaviours. More engagement, better teamwork and less deviance (although ‘positive deviance’ can be a good thing!)

It’s a beneficial resource to nurture as it supports performance and positive change. Prof Fred Luthans, the architect of PsyCap, suggests that it gives companies a competitive advantage. He suggests organisations favour psychological development over educational development. PsyCap is strongly associated with employee wellbeing and job satisfaction so it’s a WIN: WIN for employer and employee.

Wellbeing at Work. COVID-19 not only caused a crisis in physical health, it’s also unleashed a pandemic of mental health problems with high anxiety levels and social isolation being two of the worst saboteurs of wellbeing. Wellbeing will be the driver of post-pandemic growth it’s the fertile soil of performance and productivity. The Happiness Advantage is the link between wellbeing and success. We tend to think that success leads to happiness but the reverse is equally true. Higher wellbeing at work leads to higher motivation, better performance and greater productivity We need a working culture built on wellbeing – not just lunchtime yoga sessions. Prof Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of wellbeing offers a framework to help people and businesses to flourish.

Positive Emotions are a particular challenge in law, where people are trained to focus on the negative and spot the flaws in an argument. This fault-seeking mindset can bleed into other areas of life and, together with the high pressures and long working hours, may help explain why the legal profession has some of the highest levels of depression and anxiety despite the high status and income. There’s more to positive emotions than a pleasant experience. The Broaden and Build theory of Positive Emotions demonstrates how feeling good broadens thinking, builds psychological resources and helps the body to undo the effects of stress.

Engagement: Being fully absorbed in an activity is known as ‘flow’ where time flies and you’re at one with whatever you’re doing. It’s a positive sign as we perform at our best in flow and it’s a deeply satisfying experience. To get into flow, you need to have a match of challenge and skill above average levels. Too much challenge and it triggers anxiety. Too little and you might feel bored or apathetic. Using your strengths puts you into a flow state.

Relationships: We are social animals and having meaningful interactions are the key to business success, not only with the people we see every day but also with those on the periphery of our lives, such as people we connect with on social media. The Strength of Weak Ties theory dates from the seventies but has as much relevance today. You’re more likely to get a new job through a weak tie than a strong tie. This is because strong ties, the people we hang out with regularly, tend to do similar things whereas weak ties are mixing in different circles and therefore can act as bridges into new networks and opportunities.

Meaning: Having a sense of meaning in life is essential for wellbeing. Meaningful work is aligned with your core values and provides a sense of identity and belonging. It’s about contributing to the wider world in the form of knowledge, power or service. You can ‘craft’ your work for greater meaning by changing the way you approach:

  • Tasks: Change the kinds of tasks you do, take on more or fewer tasks, expand or diminish their scope and change how tasks are performed g. An L&D manager might take on additional event planning because they like the challenge of organising people/logistics.
  • Relationships: Change the nature or extent of the interactions with others at work (managers, peers, clients etc) g. An MD might mentor young associates as a way to connect with those who represent the future of the firm.
  • Perceptions: Change how you think about the purpose of certain aspects of the job. Reframe the job as a whole g. The team leader of a Research & Development Unit might come to see their work as a way of advancing science rather than simply managing projects.

Achievement: Grit is the ability to sustain interest in and effort towards long-term goals. It’s a special blend of passion and persistence according to Prof Angela Duckworth, author of Grit. Some tips that help you become more gritty.

  • Deepen interest to tap into the passion you have for whatever you’re trying to achieve.
  • Practise deliberately to improve skill.
  • Focus on the purpose to maintain motivation.
  • Adopt a growth mindset to experiment and navigate around obstacles.

A Final Word 

Prospection is the ability to conceive of a better future and it is, according to Prof Martin Seligman, more important for wellbeing than resilience. He spent 20 years developing practices to help people become more positive but is now  focusing on how to become better prospectors. Creating a vision of a positive future is essential to nurturing those green shoots of post-pandemic growth.

Miriam Akhtar delivers wellbeing and resilience training. The Positive Psychology Masterclass has trained hundreds of people in the practical science of optimal human functioning. The advanced workshop has a focus on wellbeing at work. Dates: April 27-29 2022, 0900 – 1300.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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