Post-traumatic growth: How Companies and Leaders Grow Beyond Coronavirus

Understanding the mechanisms behind post-traumatic growth will help organisations navigate COVID-19 and transform workplace wellbeing, culture and performance.

Current challenges are putting people under huge amounts of pressure. Yet is there an opportunity to grow?

Current research has shown that 53% of people rated the psychological impact of COVID-19 as either severe or moderate, with associated links to stress and reduced sleep quality. The pace and perpetual change within organisations, the threat of redundancy and the health implications of COVID-19, are impacting how people feel about themselves, their organisation, and their place in it.

This puts even more emphasis on how an organisation chooses to communicate and act. Get it wrong and it adds to the growing pressures and can create deep distrust, self-doubt and feelings of fear, anger and anxiety.

However, is there is a potential opportunity that is being overlooked? Can these events, with the right direction and leadership create an opportunity for post-traumatic growth?

Post-traumatic growth has been the focus of psychologists for over two decades

Post-traumatic growth is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the positive changes experienced as a result of a traumatic event.

Psychologists Tedeschi and Calhoun coined the term post-traumatic growth to better understand and cultivate the conditions in which people can transform and grow after experiencing a traumatic event. Understanding post-traumatic growth will help organisations build strength during these difficult times and support their people to grow and thrive.

Empathy alone is not enough

Research suggests that when it comes to supporting people through an intense crisis, empathy is not enough. What matters is workplace culture and the interactions that support post-traumatic growth:

  1. Foster a sense of safety
  2. Foster a sense of calmness
  3. Facilitate a sense of self, team and organisational efficacy
  4. Foster a sense of connectedness
  5. Facilitate a sense of hope

Developing the potential to grow through trauma

Further research on post-traumatic growth highlights specific cognitive attributes, behaviours and skills that shift people’s mindsets away from helplessness, disengagement and resistance and towards wellbeing, opportunity and performance. It means the outcomes are tangible and measurable.

Post-traumatic growth models are built on the concept of resilience and underpin stress reduction, prevention of mental health problems and wellbeing and performance.

It moves away from a medicalised model of weakness and distress and builds strength and resource in everyone

What makes these models so proactive is they develop resilience to stress, change and uncertainty from the inside out. It’s a measurable process that builds capability, understanding and resource that can easily be adapted into any cultural transformation piece across any organisation. Developing resilience underpinned by post-traumatic growth enables people, teams and organisations to operate with agility and confidence while remaining psychologically strong, together.

Organisations who understand how to focus on resilience and growth, intentionally create a mental, emotional and social skillset that acts as an infrastructure. It enables people to anticipate and manage the unexpected together.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it highlighted how mental health and post-traumatic growth, is underpinned by a more connected sense of culture. Without a resilient workplace culture, there will be very little growth.

Resilience and post-traumatic growth have a process and an outcome. It involves a set of cognitive attributes, skills and behaviours that can be trained and cultivated in any board room, any industry and at any level and the impact and success are game-changing.

It enables organisations to actually live to their values and create a culture of strength rather than focusing on deficit.

Avoid falling into the trap of targeted interventions that only address the symptoms or take a more broad-brush approach towards stress or wellbeing

The current trend for wellbeing initiatives and even Mental Health First Aid, inadvertently puts the responsibility of mental wellbeing on to the individual and inadvertently acts as a band-aid; an ‘illusionary’ growth against a backdrop of the broader pressures brought on by COVID-19. From a psychological recovery and post-traumatic growth perspective, we must focus on ‘constructive’ and ‘collective’ growth with quantifiable change.

In the context of COVID-19, conventional Mental Health First Aid training is no longer enough. This pandemic is affecting us all; people are stressed, anxious and worried about the future. It could be the new norm, and spotting the signs is no longer enough. Post-traumatic growth models support people so they can transform and grow. Focusing on workplace culture is the way forward both individually and economically.”

In the context of COVID-19, conventional Mental Health First Aid training is no longer enough. Focusing on workplace culture is the way forward both individually and economically.

What can organisations do to support post-traumatic growth?

If organisations wish to move their people beyond trauma and towards growth, it’s essential they have the skills to enable high levels of self-awareness and emotional regulation. As well as the ability to sustain strong and trusting relationships and the individual and collective belief in building forward momentum. It involves an organisational commitment towards developing a mental, emotional and social skillset that enables people to remove any barriers to post-traumatic growth, so they can focus on their technical expertise and delivering business objectives.

Work-related outcomes

Several psychological and behavioural outcomes are associated with cultural transformation initiatives focusing on resilience and post-traumatic growth:

  • Positive leadership behaviours toward others
  • A higher sense of accomplishment and meaningfulness at work
  • Increased career proactivity
  • Self-efficacy – the belief in one’s abilities and able to see challenges as something to navigate, not avoid
  • Increased self-regulation in the face of stressful situations
  • Self-awareness – able to regulate and challenge their thinking and understand the impact of their behaviour on others
  • Critical thinking and decision-making that facilitates strong relationships with others

In a nutshell

We are living in unprecedented times where we can expect the unexpected, both economically, personally and collectively. From a workplace perspective, we can continue to operate and push through any threats to our wellbeing or livelihood, OR we can make it far easier on ourselves and flip adversity on its head and focus on the mechanisms that boost post-traumatic growth.

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