Employers can use positive psychology to connect with employees in times of crisis

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In times of crisis, managers are on the front lines of helping employees build resilience to the challenges and changes in the workplace.

As the coronavirus crisis endures, managers should be paying more attention on strategies to build mental strength and use positive psychology to foster a more productive and successful workplace, says Courtney Bigony, director of people science at 15Five, a performance management software provider.

“Increasing positivity starts with the managers themselves,” Bigony says. “It's the organizations that are putting these key positive psychology skills into place that are going to come out even stronger. The managers that don't incorporate positivity into their communication during this time, where it's so critical, are really going to struggle.”

Bigony shared how positive psychology can be applied in daily workplace interactions, and how businesses can benefit from the crisis by putting these practices in place now.

How can practicing positive psychology help workplaces thrive and be productive during the coronavirus pandemic?

Positive psychology is a science of thriving. Right now we're in survival mode. So to shift from surviving to thriving according to positive psychology is through resilience. Right now, uncertainty and fear can lead to a lot of rumination, which can lead to anxiety and depression, which is already high. Negativity can have really detrimental effects. Stress increases one’s heart rate and compromises the immune system, for example. But on the other side, positivity has so many physical and emotional benefits. It lowers the stress hormone. It builds immune health. It improves cardiovascular health. It builds resilience and strengthens relationships and social support. So while negativity really narrows our awareness and our focus on what's going wrong, positivity really opens up our awareness.

With the new shifts to remote work, people might be thinking about the negative effects over the positive. But switching over to remote work can be a really wonderful thing, as people can have more freedom and autonomy and control over their work. When you're in a positive brain state, you're able to make more connections, and you have more creative solutions to problems.

How should managers be taking the lead in encouraging more positivity among employees?

There's this idea called emotional contagion, which is the idea that emotion spreads. So if a manager is coming in from a place of fear, that fear is going to spread. On the reverse side, if a manager is feeling really calm and positive, that emotion can spread. Managers need to own this idea of positive emotional contagion and really help spread positivity and calm. If they want to increase positivity for their employees, they need to do that by practicing positivity.

Managers should start all of their meetings with a simple feeling check-in: What are you feeling right now, starting with themselves. If they can lead with vulnerability and say that they feel anxious or overwhelmed, that'll allow everyone else to name their feelings. They can also start their meetings by practicing gratitude or celebrating big wins. Finally, when managers have one-on-one meetings with their employees, try not to dive into the work and actually spend the first five minutes just checking in with them.

How can these practices benefit workplaces well after coronavirus is over?

Resilience is the ability to navigate adversity and grow in the face of challenges. That's how we shift from surviving to thriving. Growing through these challenges can lead to what's called post-traumatic growth. So businesses at an organizational level can not only survive but can actually come out even stronger after adversity. It's the organizations that are putting these key positive psychology skills into place that are going to come out even stronger. The managers that don't incorporate positivity into their communication during this time where it's so critical are really going to struggle.

These skills are just life skills. Gratitude, resilience, understanding their employees’ strengths, self-compassion, self-awareness. It's easier to practice these things not during a time of crisis but just during the everyday, to flex that muscle. So it will be a little bit harder for companies who haven't flexed this muscle before and are just starting to do this during this time. But hopefully people can see the importance of this now then hopefully continue it and emerge stronger. It’s so critical for their well-being.

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