Over the past year the pandemic has impacted all of us in many ways, both in our work and in our personal lives. This impact has been wide-ranging and deeply concerning, leading many of us to face some fundamental questions, such as: ‘what is happening to us across the world?’, ‘will I keep my job?’, ‘how will I survive?’
Finding ways to help our teams to develop their critical thinking, resilience and identity will make a difference to them in their work and lives.
As we emerge from lockdown, it’s important for HR professionals to turn their attention to supporting employees to recover, reconnect and re-engage with each other and their work.
Learning from new insights
Whilst up until recent times the notion of a pandemic was unfamiliar to many of us, research into different sorts of change can help us to navigate and know what personal resources are useful to deal with such disruption.
We researched differing magnitudes of change, from large scale (for example war), through to more local sized (for example organisational change) and personal (for example divorce, bereavement). From this research, we pinpointed what resources helped people to manage in these situations.
Three resources were repeatedly highlighted as being useful when dealing with such unprecedented change:
- Critical thinking – which emerged from interviews with HR professionals in relation to mergers and acquisitions (Shook and Roth, 2011).
- Resilience – drawn from a study relating to spousal loss (Infurna and Luthar, 2017).
- Identity – arising from merger-induced change (Millward and Kyriakidou, 2004).
We’ve explored each of these in turn below, providing research-backed tips on how to cultivate these to better navigate through change.
In a research project in 2019 on career mobility, we defined critical thinking as ‘our ability to make sense of situations using both analytical and conceptual thinking’. Analytical thinking is the ability to break things down to its component parts, whilst conceptual thinking involves the ability to join the dots and see the bigger picture.
As well as making sense of the changing circumstances and threats, it can be drawn upon to explore what these changes mean for us. As such, critical thinking can help us to understand and anticipate the implications of change for us in our life, including our relationships, work, finances and capabilities.
Tips for cultivating critical thinking:
- Focusing our attention: Soojung-Kim Pang’s 2018 book Rest shows that it is best to channel our thinking for short periods of 90 minutes with short gaps in between, and over a maximum of four hours.
- Tapping into our subconscious: often we can have the best ideas when we are least expecting it – this is our subconscious at work. We can ask an unresolved question to ourselves, and then allow our subconscious mind to generate an answer for us.
- Cultivating our subconscious: we can get better at this by creating daily habits such as solo walking, daydreaming and power napping. Pang’s book highlights that some of the best global businesses are now encouraging workers to do this, including Uber, Facebook, Google, Apple.
In the past, resilience was emphasised as someone’s ability to bounce back and remain resolute and strong when faced with pressure. More recent findings, however, emphasise the importance of remaining agile within such adverse conditions, enabling us to be adaptive and grow through such challenging experiences.
Building resilience matters as it is increasingly being seen as a shield to protect our psychological wellbeing. It has also been proven to support improved physical health leading to reduction in heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep disturbance, and immune system challenges.
Tips for cultivating resilience:
- Managing our energy: drawing upon physiological wisdom, we can manage our energy to enable us to have a great day every day. We should therefore consider what activities and people help us to generate our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy.
- Finding our purpose: through understanding what truly matters to us and what legacy we may want to be remembered for, we can establish a purposeful life, which aids our decision making and life experience.
- Fostering playfulness: Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott highlight in The 100-Year Life that generating our abilities to improvise and adapt, and adopting a youthful mindset throughout our work and life, can help us to flow into and adjust to new situations.
According to Professor Dan P McAdams, identity can be defined as the ongoing crafting of a narrative informed by experiences and future expectations or ambitions. As well as helping to make sense of past experiences, it can help to bring a collective coherence to what has happened to us alongside personal aspirations and ambitions.
Consequently, during such a significant time of change, the ability to evolve and reform our identity enables us to both make sense of who we are during a shifting situation and regain a sense of personal control where our personal influence may have been challenged.
Tips for cultivating our identity:
- Making sense: to regain our sense of self it can be helpful to share stories of when we have been at our best in our life so far. Spotting the themes can help us to see who we are when we are living our best self.
- Crafting experiments: we may generate multiple identities and undertake different experiments to practice being our different selves. This can help us to see which self we wish to be and cultivate further.
- Shifting connections: when we know who we are and wish to be in our life, it is good to have supporters to encourage us to live this best life. We should consider which relationships we need to let go of and which we need to foster to support us on our journey.
Whilst the pandemic has been incredibly challenging for us in many ways, there are some practical steps that allow us to support employees to recover, reconnect and re-engage with each other and their work. Finding ways to help our teams to develop their critical thinking, resilience and identity will make a difference to them in their work and lives.
Interested in this topic? Read Back to work: an HR checklist to support a smooth return for furloughed employees.