Pharmacist holding medication tray in pharmacy

Improving Workforce Morale: Balancing Calm and Vigilance

Rachel Stewart Johnson

Psychologist | Driven by communications about human behavior in Work

Traitify explores the principles around which the new age of Employee Experience will take shape, concluding with an in-depth look at calm vigilance.

Adults in the paid workforce today have not experienced a time when the phrase “the new normal” resonated so widely. As we all adjust to new routines, the need for ongoing efforts to improve Workforce Morale is a new priority. Wrapping up the series, Traitify provides action-oriented steps to address morale by focusing on calm vigilance.

The power of calm

To discuss this concept, let’s first focus on the “calm” component. Personality science has shown that some individuals tend to have steady reactions to the ups and downs of life. To predict who can do this, we can look to the Big Five framework of personality as a starting point. Those who have a higher level of Emotional Stability are often less reactive. They are unlikely to focus on worst-case scenarios. They can accept unfavorable news without feeling overwhelmed by it. They may therefore be described as the “calm in the storm.”

When conditions are challenging, it’s time to use high Emotional Stability as an advantage across the workplace. Think about which team members have an even-tempered approach to the workday. Those individuals can then be called upon to fill specific needs.

People with high Emotional Stability are a good choice when you need someone to…

...keep showing up.

Others might have a harder time maintaining routines when times get tough. Your high-ES employees are able to “shake it off” and keep doing their jobs. These workers can move projects and tasks along at a normal pace, which may enable you to provide others the space and time they need to adjust.

...deliver updates.

Need someone to remain composed and speak clearly while informing others of a plan? Emotional Stability enables one to accept challenging news with relative calm. Relatedly, these members of your team can explain realities to coworkers while keeping their cool.

...make decisions based on data, not emotions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in varied roles are susceptible to fear responses and a heightened level of anxiety. Since they are less likely to be keenly tuned into all the emotions, needs, and worries of those around them, those with high Emotional Stability can filter out inputs and maintain focus.

...take it slow.

Those who are more reactive may want to “Just do something!!” Their impulse may be to take action quickly. Individuals with high Emotional Stability are less prone to rash decisions. They are well suited to considering multiple inputs along the way.

In addition to valuing the unique contributions of staff members with high Emotional Stability, consider ways to promote these same helpful approaches in everyone on your staff. Tips for cultivating calm:

  • Focus on one thing at a time.

    For those working from home, follow a set workday that includes a lunch break. Without this, work and home blend together, and neither provides a refuge from the other. For those spending the day in workplaces, take steps to leave work at the door. For instance, change out of your work clothes upon returning home. That’s a good safety measure that also helps you adjust your mental framing from a “work mindset” to home and rest.

  • “You do you.”

    Don’t try to be someone you’re not. It can be calming to accept yourself for who you are -- and along with that, to accept your circumstances. If you thrive in a tidy home with a set schedule for every hour of the day, keep up those same habits. But if that’s not what makes you tick, now is not the time to retrain your brain. Instead, embrace your comfort zones where you can.

 

Doctor protecting patient and theirself from germs

Vigilance: a high-value trait when health and safety are on the line

Now let’s consider the second piece of this boost to morale: vigilance. Someone who is vigilant is alert, tuned into possible breaches of safety protocols, or able to recognize when cash flow challenges require action. The need for vigilance is considerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research in a medical setting found that vigilant care of nursing home patients was enhanced via specialized knowledge. Specifically, a nurse with specific expertise could leverage that insight to detect a relevant concern, then effectively share that information.

This idea of specialization can be applied to many workplaces. Individuals can become “subject matter experts” in a single topic, then ensure that the organization is taking a proper approach to that topic. For example, one staff member could focus on virus prevention in food storage areas, then direct efforts to keep the break room safe. Another could gain insights into proper use and removal of disposable gloves.

Research on the effects of quarantine in past episodes of disease outbreaks has found that transparency and communication can reduce anxiety. By encouraging team members to develop “pockets” of specialized knowledge, their own anxiety may be reduced while ensuring company-wide vigilance from one “pocket” of operations to the next. You can have a sense of humor about this -- designate a “break room czar” for a bit of levity.

Other research sheds more light on promoting vigilance. Researchers found that handwashing increased in environments that individuals perceived to be dirtier. This suggests that perceptions of the need for vigilance make a difference in behaviors. Workers may benefit therefore from education about the need for safety practices, beyond just directives to engage in those safety practices. Explaining how soap kills a virus can be informative, or providing an infographic about areas that are the most prone to the accumulation of germs.

Why vigilance?

But why might vigilance boost morale? A long-standing psychological principle is the idea of “learned helplessness.” When people feel that their efforts aren’t having any impact, they give up -- even if giving up is unpleasant. Practicing vigilance can help individuals feel like they’re being proactive and having an impact. That may in turn help them continue to be productive, rather than becoming passive and resigned.

Finally, awareness of personality can again be useful. Let’s return to the Big Five personality framework for insights. The personality dimension of Conscientiousness is associated with greater vigilance. People who are high in Conscientiousness tend to keep their homes and workspaces neat and tidy and have naturally high standards for objective measures of quality. Leverage these qualities among your workforce. Workers high in Conscientiousness will enjoy keeping track of details more than others, while those who are lower can utilize other talents.

Here’s where workplaces can benefit from recognizing everyone’s strengths, and valuing diversity in personalities. While high Emotional Stability brings value as discussed above, lower Emotional Stability is associated with being keenly tuned into one’s surroundings and ready to respond. So the collaborative effort of two contrasting approaches can be beneficial. One employee helps the team move forward and get work done; another acts as the “lookout” to ensure that problems aren’t glossed over and prudent practices are in place. One avoids overreacting; the other prevents underreacting. An important component of Workforce Morale is utilizing everyone’s strengths.

When the going gets tough, as it has in 2020, employers can fill gaps by ensuring that their workforce is well equipped to withstand the challenges. These strategies for building Workforce Morale will help you move your organization in the right direction.

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To learn about other principles that can improve Workforce Morale, follow the links below:

 

To learn how you can boost your Workforce Morale through the power of personality, connect with Traitify.

 

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