We are almost at the end of the first quarter of 2021 and things are looking rather optimistic with most countries rolling out vaccines for COVID-19. Since organisations are a microcosm of the overall society, they are also similarly buoyed with hope and optimism for 2021. According to a global Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum, about half of working adults saying they have experienced increased anxiety around job security (56%), stress due to changes in work routines and organization (55%) or to family pressures such as childcare (45%), or difficulty finding a work-life balance (50%) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge of mental wellbeing is so severe that it has been called a second pandemic.

Most organisations have been grappling with how to support and enable their employees to unleash their full potential despite the trying times. While we don’t have a a vaccine for our mental health, is there a way to make positive emotions viral and positivity contagious?

Borrowing from the field of Positive Psychology, and Emotional Intelligence, here are 3 habits that will help us in growing our psychological wellbeing while igniting our creativity and productivity at work:

  1. Adopt an Optimistic Mindset

Martin Seligman defines optimism as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability. Optimism helps at work, and not just in competitive jobs like sales, but also every time work gets hard for anyone. It can mean the difference between getting the job done well, poorly, or not at all.

Specifically, optimism helps us believe that negative events are temporary and limited in scope (instead of pervading every aspect of our life). This is precisely what we desperately need in these difficult times—an optimistic mindset. Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan in their HBR article suggest that it is in the midst of a setback or challenging time, that leaders should be actively encouraging positivity because it will help their team weather the storm.

The pertinent question is, if we have a more pessimistic explanatory style, is it possible to learn to be optimistic? The good news is that we can change our mindset through cognitive training techniques and by learning ways to overcome self-defeating beliefs. Here are some tips:

  • Visualize our best possible self at work. This could be in one year, or two or five years from now.
  • Modified from the first tip, we could do a team exercise wherein we could visualise the team to be its best possible version in the short-term of say, 6 months and what that would look like.
  • This could be further expanded into a visualisation exercise for what the best possible organisation would be in 6 months and then in 2 years. If done with authenticity, this could be a transformational exercise that could help rejuvenate the beliefs, behaviours, and culture of the organisation.

2. Choose Compassion for yourself and others

Dog-eat-dog world. Cut-throat competition. Ruthless. These are some of the words that we use to describe overly competitive work environments. Can compassion be the antidote to such work environments and promote more kindness?

Compassion is closely related to empathy. While empathy is our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when we are moved to help because of those feelings and thoughts.

Research shows that compassion heals, allowing us to recover physically from illness and bodily harm, and psychologically from grief. Compassion in the workplace calls up positive emotions (e.g., gratitude), reduces anxiety, and increases our engagement levels. Compassion communicates dignity and worth from one person to another, helping people feel valued at work. This sense of being valued and worthy is rather unique in organizations; and it is something that is created or destroyed by the way that people interact with one another while at work.

When it comes to compassion, we can start by being kind to ourselves and then extend it to others around us—our family, our friends, our coworkers, and others. So how can we grow our compassion?

  • We can start with a meditation practice that helps us see others as a part of our common humanity. Research has shown a very strong link between meditation and empathy and compassion.
  • We can volunteer for any cause that we feel strongly about or even donate monetarily or in any manner we can.
  • For compassion to grow, we will need to be very intentional about reducing our “I, me and myself” thoughts and bring the spotlight on others. It helps to have positive role models at work and outside of it who are compassionate and encourage our compassionate behaviour.
  • Here is a tip inspired by Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research which she shares in her action provoking book The How of Happiness, and I’ve taken the liberty of modifying it. It is to be practiced by individuals and shared within their team.  Each team sets a goal for team members to perform five acts of kindness. These can be performed within the team, within the organisation, or for someone a team member has come across during the week. These ‘kindness reports’ (as Sonja Lyubomirsky calls it), can be shared over a slack channel or in team meetings to promote a more altruistic and compassionate work culture. The only caveat she shares here is to make sure we don’t behave self-righteously or condescendingly.

3. Embrace Gratitude at work (and off work too)

A 2015 article in the Scientific American reported that, out of 24 strengths, including love, hope, kindness, and creativity, the single best predictor of good relationships and emotional wellbeing was gratitude.

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process: “1) recognising that one has obtained a positive outcome and 2) recognising that there is an external source for this positive outcome.”

Research says that when we’re grateful, we have lower levels of inflammation, better sleep, lower blood pressure, less depression, and fewer symptoms of illness. Being grateful boosts our mental and psychological health by reducing a multitude of negative emotions such as envy, resentment, frustration, and regret. It also enhances our self-worth and self-esteem,  enhances our empathy, and reduces aggression.

How can we become more grateful at work and in our personal life?

  • We could start writing a gratitude journal every day or every week and write down 3 things that we’re grateful for.
  • We could consider initiating a gratitude practice in our team in which we start team meetings with: ‘What is the one thing I feel most grateful for today?’
  • We could even write a note to individuals at work thanking them for helping out. Gratitude practices done consistently can lead us to more grateful living.

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team”

Phil Jackson

So, are you ready to strengthen yourself, your team, and your organisation?