Today, as we find ourselves at the tail end of a worldwide health pandemic coupled with a recent global economic crisis, a migration crisis and escalating international instability, individuals and organizations are being forced to change abruptly in order to ride out this eruption of volatility. Citizens are being asked to ‘rethink’, ‘readjust’ and ‘realign’ in the face of massive uncertainty.
Organizational Psychologists acknowledge that uncertainty by itself is one of the leading causes of psychological distress in individuals, as well as in organizational systems which are subjected to the stress-strain of restructuring. The ‘survivors’ of such upheavals are those who come to grips with the new realities—and, in the case of individuals, this means being able to shield ourselves from stress to protect our overall psychosomatic wellbeing and simultaneously cultivate the necessary skills and mindset that allow us to rebound in times of adversity.
Organizational psychologists have produced a significant body of literature that emphasizes the individual characteristics that are needed to enhance wellbeing on the job. For example, it has been noted in organizations with employees who possess personality characteristics such as high self-esteem, autonomy, and optimism that these are, indeed, the characteristics which help us combat stress. Recently, given the twin impact of technology and the changing contours of the nature of work (e.g. post-pandemic hybrid work patterns), scientists are increasingly pointing to organizational factors that can be leveraged to alleviate stress.
For instance, psychologists attest to transparency in the workplace being a factor which leads to trust among employees. Employers have a moral responsibility to, and duty of care for, each employee, and this includes developing organizational structures and climates that are conducive to properly informing employees about necessary changes, subsequent adaptations, and the introduction of new work practices. Only with trust can there be a viable platform for overall enhancement and wellbeing on the job.
It is also important to ensure that a correct and healthy home-work balance is maintained, so that everyone’s ‘perception’ of work and non-work activities is compatible with an individual’s life practices and promotes growth within that context. This coincides with the need to ‘instill awareness’, which goes beyond the promotion of coping strategies to include the implementation of preventative strategies to limit stress. Our thinking strategies must adapt, and we all need encouragement to shift from our—often—consumption-led thinking and re-evaluate our true values and practices. This provides coping mechanisms and can be achieved with small tokens of happiness—such as a walk with the family, a stroll by the beach, socializing with friends, and generally shifting our habits to healthier and more essential foundations. Psychologists acknowledge that such improvements will not occur in leaps and bounds; small steps are necessary to make the important changes we all want to see in ourselves and those around us.
What is certain is that, as the world grapples with a series of changes which include the ‘great resignation’ or ‘quiet quitting’, it becomes imperative for organizations to confront questions such as “Are we doing the right thing?” or “What is it that needs to change?”
At the same time, and as citizens work on themselves to find the right balance between work and life outside of work, organizations can play a major role in fostering an environment in which people and their families find individual contentment and, in doing so, lay the foundation for a more robust workforce which can move beyond merely sustaining itself to genuinely flourishing in our turbulent times.
* Dr. Fotinatos-Ventouratos is Professor of Psychology at Deree – The American College of Greece
**Sir Cary L. Cooper is 50 th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at the Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.