The coronavirus diseases 2019 (COVID 19) has drastically affected the business environment. The lack of interactions, the uncertainty about the future, the financial hardship and the additional family duties can make us feel drained, pessimistic and ineffective. Why this matters? Our negative emotions arousal activates a downward spiral of negativity which narrows our attention, suppresses our ability to engage in effective communication, our openness to new ideas and the overall individual performance.
The time is right to claim metal health an important topic of concern. “Happy workers are better works” says Prof Ed. Dienner. Employees who experience high level of mental health and well-being are more committed, have more positive attitudes, take incremental and purposeful actions to deal with adversity, have more confidence in their ability to control things. But, can we talk about positive mental health and well-being during a pandemic? Can we boost our metal health even during difficult times? Absolutely! It’s all about how we think and what we do.
I’ll give an example. Jeny, a senior manager in a large company, in one of our last sessions shared how anxious she felt before a presentation about the business results in front of the stakeholders. “I get distracted by my self-doubts. I feel that I’m not prepared for this presentation. Why my boss asked me to rehearse my presentation with him? I think he doesn’t trust me enough. What if I lose my current position or, worst, I get fired?”. Jeny was experiencing a crisis of self-efficacy and without knowing she felt paralyzed by her thoughts. After a moment of silence I asked Jenny “What are you worried about?”. “I’m afraid of failure” she sad. “What evidence do you have that you will fail?” I asked. Jeny made a pause and then she started to laugh. “Yes, you are right, I don’t have any evidence. In fact, in the past I was quite good in presenting the business results. I remember that I have received very good feedback about my last presentation in front of our stakeholders”. She seemed to be relieved. “Who could provide a valuable support for you right now?” I continued. “Well…my boss” she said, and she started to laugh again. “I’ll use the <rehearsal moment> to ask him for feedback.” “Who else could help you?”. “My team, of course! I will fix a meeting with them tomorrow.” “What have you learned? ”. “I’ve learned a lot. It’s all about my thoughts. How I chose to think about the situation was the real blocker for me. I feel so energized now thinking about tomorrow. I feel so grateful that I have so many people to rely on helping me achieving what is important for me right now”.
Nevertheless, we need to consider also the social context, another variable that contributes to our mental health and well-being. The social environment can support or thwart our psychological need, impacting our metal health. So, what can a manager do to boost employees’ mental health? We draw from the evidence based literature some strategies that were proved to be efficient.
- Set a safe space for interaction. When we convey genuine presence, we communicate and listen in a way that shows regards and appreciation of others’ worth, we build high quality connections which, in return, give energy and vitality to the workplace. The ability to create a safe supportive environment that foster trust and respect is a competence that could help leaders provide to their employees a sense of “secure base” from which they can confidently explore and navigate challenges.
Tips: Just start with being genuinely present. Convey attention by focusing your eyes on your speaker’s eyes to create intimacy. Use a relaxed posture and try to mirror back the other’s body language to establish a mutual connection. Focus your entirely attention on your speaker by expressing interest in what he wants to say, on his feelings, thoughts and actions. This increases people’s sense of safety, generating a neural resonance and dampening unproductive limbic responses. From this safe space an individual can adopt less defended positions and can easily start exploring new ideas and opportunities.
- Create a shared vision. Both individual and shared vision creates motivation for people, teams and organizations to move from the current situation to a desired one. The desired image of the future, the hope for the future, attracts positive emotions. Research has shown that positive emotions can broaden and build our resources, stimulate our creativity and learning orientation, higher the level of optimism about the future, the openness to behavior change, altruistic and cooperative behavior and improves decision making. Additionally, positive emotional states are accompanied by health benefits such as improved immune system, cardiovascular health and lower risk of depression.
Tips: Invite employees to send an email called “Latter from the future”. The task is to write a letter back (to oneself) from that future point (the desired future), describing how things have turned well, what are some positive emotions that he experience and what might be his advice for his self from the present. This exercise provides the opportunity to articulate an ideal vision about the future, some personal effective expectations and intentions and helps define meaningful goals that increase motivation.
- Give recognition and encouragement. This practice creates a context that supports the satisfaction of the basic psychological need for competence and relatedness, leading to an increased motivation and engagement. The research suggests that managers who scored high in giving frequent recognition and encouragement achieved 42% increase in productivity compared with managers who scored at the bottom.
Tips: Use VIA character strengths to recognize and spot strengths in others. You can start a meeting or an email to your employees with an appreciative introduction related to what character strength they demonstrated in their actions. Then, you can invite them to think about how they can use their character strength for the challenge at hand.
The main obstacle to using our strengths and competences lies in the ways we are interpreting the events and in how we choose to act. A supportive manager can harness the power of his employees’ strengths unlocking their potential even during difficult times.
Boyatzis, R., E., Rochford, K., Taylor, S., N. (2015). The role of the positive emotional attractor in vision and shared vision: toward effective leadership, relationships, and engagement. Frontiers in Psychology 6:670. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00670
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