One of the key developments in the modern business world is the widespread understanding that companies can maximise growth by providing not only knowledge-based training, but also programs that focus on the psychological development of their staff.
This is what has become known as “psychological capital”, a term used to equate the importance of intellective competencies within human resources with other forms of capital (physical, financial, structural and social) that give businesses a competitive advantage.
The term was coined in 2004 by an organisational psychologist named Dr. Fred Luthans, a Professor at the University of Nebraska in the United States. He reviewed the psychology literature as it applied to organisations and identified four key attributes that had been consistently correlated with high performance and success. He proposed that if these attributes were provided in organisational training, the return on investment would be just as significant as an investment in other forms of capital.
The attributes are:
Hope – this does not refer to the ‘wishy-woshy’ form of hope that puts reliance on a magical power that will lead one to successes, but instead refers to the belief that one’s own efforts will result in future success. It is having the willpower to attain one’s goals.
Efficacy – This is the confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to overcome challenging tasks. It is the belief in one’s ability to access and mobilise the resources that one needs to accomplish tasks.
Resilience – When beset by problems, obstacles or failure, this is the capacity to bounce back and perhaps even thrive through the difficulty (what may be called ‘bouncing forward’).
Optimism – This is a feature of a person’s internal dialogue, or “explanatory style”, that attributes positivity to what occurs (either internally or externally).
These psychological attributes are obviously desirable, and one can see how they would promote excellence within a business context.
Certainly, within the current climate of uncertainty as a result of unpredictable lockdowns, restrictions and a constantly changing work environment, these traits appear all the more relevant and important.
Since Luthans proposed this designation, there has been much research into it. Studies have found that:
- These attributes (individually and collectively) correlate strongly with business success (Gao, Wu, Wang & Zhao, 2020)
- High levels of these attributes are positively related with employee performance (Fred Luthans, Avolio, Avey, & Norman, 2007)
- There is a significant correlation between these attributes and job satisfaction (Abbas, Raja, Darr, & Bouckenooghe, 2012)
- High levels of these attributes have been found to determine well-being, with respect to health outcomes such as lower BMI and cholesterol levels as well as satisfaction with one’s relationships (Lorenz, Beer, Pütz, & Heinitz, 2016)
An important feature of these attributes is that they can be developed and improved. We can all learn to unleash our inner HERO’s!
Several interventions have been identified for each attribute that can be put into place within the workplace.
- Learn effective goal setting – employees and managers can be taught both the value of setting goals, as well as the art of goal setting, which requires an understanding of low-level, medium-level and high level goals, as well as the importance of setting goals which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
- Understanding how to break down larger goals into smaller, more manageable targets enables employees to experience gradual progress and ‘small wins’, which enhances motivation to persevere.
- Workplaces can use participatory goal setting techniques which involves employees in the setting goals, this encourages all involved to be invested in achieving them.
- Managers can utilise delegation and empowerment strategies such that employees view themselves as having control of their own and the organisation’s future.
- Utilise a positive reinforcement managerial style. When managers express confidence in their employees and treat them “as if they are going to succeed”, this has been found to be very effective at enhancing hope.
- Companies that practice effective contingency planning, engaging “what-if” and scenario analyses, and explore alternative courses of action, instill in their staff a sense of readiness for multiple possibilities.
Developing (self-) efficacy:
- The best way to build employees’ sense of efficacy is to allow them to experience success. Managers can contribute to this by setting challenging, but achievable goals – they need to be specific and measurable goals in order to provide a means of ascertaining success.
- Companies can provide staff with “guided mastery experiences”, which may involve experiential exercises or on-the-job-training and coaching.
- Provide opportunities for vicarious learning and modelling. Shadowing a successful mentor or watching a relevant model successfully dealing with a realistic situation has been shown to develop a sense of efficacy in the observer.
- Giving positive feedback, support and encouragement also increases a sense of efficacy.
- Encouraging staff to focus on past success also increases efficacy.
- Develop systems of social support within the workplace, and team accountability – providing opportunities for staff to check-in with each other, not only around professional goals, but also in relation to emotional well-being.
- Companies can provide wellness programs and employee assistance programs to ensure employees have access to training and support.
- Managers can model resilience traits for their employees in the way that they handle set-backs. This can involve sharing what one’s struggles are and what ways one has used to help get through them.
- Cultivate self-awareness techniques to be actively alert to limiting thoughts and beliefs, and learn to reframe those limiting thoughts and beliefs.
- Learn stress management tools, such as breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Cultivate ‘leniency for the past’ – managers and employees can learn to reframe and accept past failures and setbacks, give themselves the benefit of the doubt and forgive themselves for mistakes that they no longer have any control over.
- Cultivate gratitude – gratitude helps people refocus on what they have rather than on what they lack. People who practice gratitude are able to maintain a positive attitude despite what is happening around them and tend to feel more positive emotions.
- Identify opportunities in the future – the future does not yet exist, and contains a multitude of possibilities. Rather than think about the possible negative futures that might occur, optimists think of the future as providing opportunities for growth and achievement. This is not a matter of being unrealistic or idealistic, but a choice of what to focus on where the simple act of placing focus creates a headspace more likely to achieve the desired result.
Unleash your staff’s inner H.E.R.O. and maximise company growth amidst uncertainties. Holistic Services Group offers fitness classes, team building activities, workshops and other services designed to cultivate a Culture of Wellness at work. Contact Us to learn more tools and techniques in developing hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism at work.