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Leading Your Workplace With Hope Through COVID-19

Leading Your Workplace With Hope Through COVID-19

Story Highlights

  • Generating hope in the workplace can keep employees engaged
  • Hope is more than sentimentality; it ties to work and life outcomes
  • Leaders and managers can increase hope through new goals, energy and ideas

A Gallup study of over 10,000 employees found that followers have four primary needs of their leaders: trust, compassion, stability and hope. They're all critical, all the time. But since the outbreak of COVID-19, hope is more valuable than it's ever been. Because hope is what will get us through this.

That's not sentimentality -- hope has been well-researched and is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes, from higher levels of income and greater personal savings to better health and longer life expectancy.

Gallup finds that employees who strongly agree that their leader makes them feel enthusiastic about the future (Gallup's measure of hope in the workplace) are 69 times more likely to be engaged in their work compared with employees who disagree with that statement. And hope is also strongly associated with student success -- 85% of K-12 school superintendents say student hopefulness is a "very important" way to measure the effectiveness of public schools.

Employees who strongly agree that their leader makes them feel enthusiastic about the future are 69 times more likely to be engaged in their work.

As the late Dr. Shane Lopez, a Gallup senior scientist who dedicated his career to studying hope, said, "It's hard to be successful without being hopeful. When you think the future will be better than the present, you start working harder today."

We need hope to believe the future will be better than our disrupted, socially distant, fearful present -- we need hope to make the future better, full stop. That may be why hope is one of the fundamental needs of followers, which leaders can fulfill, Dr. Lopez found, through:

  • Goals: When you explain what you specifically want to achieve, you give people direction. Hope needs an object.
  • Energy: People need to see your engagement to generate their own. Hope needs engagement and motivation.
  • Ideas: Leaders who can think of many different ways to reach a goal will find more ways around the inevitable obstacles. Hope needs strategy and creativity.

So whether you need to steer your organization through the disruption of new work styles, health concerns, greatly increased work or the alarming lack of it, you need to set goals, enthusiastically communicate them, and share every pathway you can think of to help your people find an approach that works for them.

That's the background of hope. The foreground is your managers.

The Manager's Role in Generating Hope in the Workplace

"Managers have great potential for positive psychological capital in every person they work with and every idea they generate," Lopez said. "They … have an infinite resource -- hopeful thinking -- in every one of their employees and fellow managers." Right now, managers can generate a great deal of psychological capital by coaching strengths and fulfilling the basics of engagement.

Gallup research conducted during the Great Recession showed that people felt threats to all five elements of their wellbeing -- career, social, financial, community and physical -- just as they do now. People are most likely to overcome barriers and be energized when they operate in areas of natural ability. Giving them the chance to do what they do best every day builds employee engagement. And this positive momentum can have a cascading effect on overall wellbeing.

So whether your employees are nurses treating patients over the internet, or salespeople reinventing their customer contact methods, or perfumiers making hand sanitizer (like luxury brand LVMH employees are), they'll find new, unique ways to succeed if your managers coach them to use their strengths. Positive momentum lifts wellbeing up as it cascades down through every level of the company. As Dr. Don Clifton said, "The more you do what you do best, the more hopeful you are."

Managers also need to focus on the basic elements of engagement. For example, newly remote workers may be confused about what's expected of them now that they're not in the office all day. Managers need to explain in detail the work that they're accountable for, as well as the work style they're expected to follow. Think about all the children who have been making surprise visits in their parents' videoconferences lately -- employees need to know if that's acceptable under the circumstances, and if not, how to make amends. (Incidentally, compassion is one of the four needs of followers, and "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person" is one of the 12 elements of engagement. A little slack now can do manager-employee relationships a lot of good later.)

Or, consider workers' materials and equipment, another foundational element of engagement. Employees operating under unusual conditions may not have or know how to get the technology, networking platforms, access to company systems, protective gear or supplies they need to do their work right.

Indeed, Gallup Chief Scientist Dr. Jim Harter recently reported that only 55% of full-time U.S. employees strongly agree that they feel well-prepared to do their job right now. Employees have always turned to their manager for the materials and equipment they need to be productive -- but especially now, having the right equipment helps people contribute to a better future, which is a major component of hope. Managers, therefore, need to be diligent about asking their people if they have what they need.

They also need to be diligent about having frequent conversations with their employees, although conversations don't have to be lengthy or in person. IMs and emails can boost engagement, provide strengths coaching and demonstrate care. The format doesn't matter as much as the connection that managers make -- in particular, connecting each employee's work with the company's goals, energy and ideas. These frequent connections can provide hope for your employees -- and for you too.

Because if social distancing continues for the foreseeable future, maintaining strong connections with your people will be a critical source of hope for the whole company.

Face Reality to Create a Brighter Future

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the near-term future for most leaders. Growth was the common goal a few months ago; now, maintenance -- even survival -- is the objective. That's a difficult reality to face, but there are strategic advantages to facing it boldly. As Dr. Lopez explained, "Unfortunately, too many leaders are afraid of looking weak or wrong, so they won't go back to their employees and admit they need to recalibrate. They won't re-goal. And re-goaling is where hope meets courage."

"It's hard to be successful without being hopeful. When you think the future will be better than the present, you start working harder today."

So, goal and re-goal. Communicate and overcommunicate. Think up wild new ideas and use the best of them. What leaders need to do -- whether as leaders of countries, workplaces or families -- is to help us all contribute to a brighter future.

That will help sustain your managers' and employees' hope -- and make them agents of it themselves. They'll stay productive and engaged. They'll help you create a better, brighter future. And they'll help you -- help all of us -- get through this dark time as we always do, with hope.

Lead with more hope right now:


Ken Royal is a Partner at Gallup.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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