#TRV2020 Session Recap – Nurturing Hope, Optimism, and Resilience

July 31, 2020 Sarah Bloznalis

4-minute read

sprout growing through rusted pipes

“In 2018, a 37-year-old teacher from Midwest United States decided he was going to set a world record. He wanted to row solo across the North Atlantic from Canada to England.” This is the story London Business School Professor Kathleen O’Connor uses to show how hope and persistence leads to resiliency.

Although not many of us are planning to row across the Atlantic Ocean like Bryce Carlson, there are many lessons from his story that are applicable in the workplace. In an insightful WorkatWork 2020 Total Resilience Conference session, Kathleen discussed “the science behind hope and resilience,” and how they can benefit our organizations during these novel times.

The power of hope and resilience

Kathleen is quick to admit “we’re living in a very stressful world,” whether we’re thinking about COVID-19, working from home, or issues surrounding social injustice. Businesses and their people are feeling these stressors, so it is important to strengthen hope and resilience in the workplace. 

“Hope is a powerful, positive view of one’s ability to attain a better tomorrow,” Kathleen explains. This requires two things – goal-setting and identifying pathways to achieve those goals. According to her, hope is more than just a feeling; it’s very action-oriented. 

What are the benefits of having hopeful employees? Kathleen asserts, “when people are stuck, those who report feeling more hopeful do two things: They shift their goals and they find new pathways of getting there.” A hopeful employee is a resilient employee, which is what companies are looking for right now. 

“Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt to change, and keep going.” Kathleen says resilient people tend to have these three things in common:

  • Acceptance of reality

“We have to come to grips with where we are now,” she explains. Once we accept this new normal as our reality, we will be able to move forward. Companies should promote transparency and open communication so their people feel safe accepting where they are now and where the company will lead them in the future. 

  • A deep belief that life is meaningful 

“To be resilient, we have to believe there’s a reason to go forward, even when we are overwhelmed.” We are all human, and staying optimistic can be difficult. But Kathleen has noticed employees who believe they are making a positive impact in their role are more optimistic and resilient than those who don’t. 

  • Ability to improvise 

“In those moments of stress and fear,” Kathleen recognizes, “it’s often hard to find motivation.” 

If organizations are looking to move forward through this pandemic, they need to focus on fostering these three characteristics. Once employees start accepting this new normal, they can leverage their hope and optimism to thrive. 

Focusing on what you can control 

More than ever, we are faced with challenges out of our control. A resilient workforce resists the urge to dwell on the unknown, Kathleen emphasizes, and instead focuses on reality. By focusing on only things within your power, she explains, “you grab back that sense of control that’s so important for feeling hopeful and not helpless.” Kathleen encourages leaders to identify where they have influence in the organization and start there. 

The bottom line

Employee engagement, productivity, and D&I are three aspects organizations can improve on the road to a more resilient, hopeful workforce. One way to improve all of these? Promote a culture of recognition

Workhuman®’s Global Head of Analytics Dr. Jesse Harriot has discovered some of the most resilient corporations are using recognition to thrive during COVID-19. “Gratitude is more important than ever,” he explains, “as employees are holding each other up, helping each other during these times of stress.”

Creating a culture of gratitude

Without support, it’s inevitable that employees will feel the effects of burnout. In fact, Workhuman surveyed more than 3,000 full-time workers in the U.S. earlier in the year and discovered 38% of workers had experienced a form of burnout during the pandemic. For working parents, this number was even higher (42%). 

For organizations looking to modernize the way they operate, these survey results may be intimidating. Employees who are stressed and burned out may struggle to remain resilient through tough times. As Kathleen mentions in her session, having a growth mindset is key to more persistent and innovative employees. By recognizing employees for the positive work they are doing, they will be much more likely to “have that optimism, that hopefulness, that belief that they can get through it.” 

Kathleen emphasizes that resilience comes once you believe that life has meaning. Promoting a strong culture of gratitude in the workplace can help with that. As we navigate the future of work, frequent validation and recognition can serve as an anchor.  

According to Workhuman research, employees recognized in the last month are more than 2x as likely to see a path to grow in the organization and nearly 2x as likely to trust their HR team. This sets the tone for a more hopeful and resilient workforce. As Kathleen asserts, “life is better when hope is alive.” With the help of gratitude and recognition, we can keep that hope alive in all our organizations.  

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About the Author

Sarah Bloznalis

Sarah Bloznalis is a content marketing intern at Workhuman from Upton, Mass. She is a rising senior at University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is studying management and political science.

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