WASHINGTON — Self-efficacy, optimism, hope, and resiliency help inoculate employees from the adverse effects of working through a pandemic, according to a new West Virginia University study.

The study “I’ll do it myself: self-leadership, proactivity, and socialization” is published in the “International Journal of Workplace Health Management.”

A management professor, Jeffery D. Houghton, studied how college students coped with stress through adaptive (i.e., exercise, meditation, social networking) and maladaptive (i.e., binge drinking, substance abuse, negative thoughts) behaviors before Covid-19 dramatically altered the world in early 2020.

It dawned on him to shift that focus to people working through the midst of the pandemic.

How were people working under the same roof they ate and slept — with some also home-schooling and rearing children?

He teamed up with two of his Ph.D. students, Richard Oxarart and Luke Langlinais, and Salisbury University researchers to see how “psychological capital” — or PsyCap, a positive state of mind characterized by self-efficacy, optimism, hope, and resiliency in the world of psychology — influenced employees.

The findings aren’t a total surprise — those lagging in PsyCap characteristics drifted to maladaptive behaviors and exhibited a high perception of stress.

“If you’re adaptively coping, you’re going to have less stress. If you have a lower PsyCap, you’re likely going to engage in maladaptive coping, which leads to even greater stress,” said Houghton.

“We wanted to see how these dynamics change if you’re working from home. We felt that working at home would increase the effects of maladaptive coping on stress,” said Houghton.

Workers relying on adaptive coping strategies fared better, though Houghton anticipated their stress levels would have been much lower.

“You’ve still got a strong, positive relationship between PsyCap and adaptive coping,” he said.

“But for the people working at home, that doesn’t seem to affect their stress. That’s interesting and maybe because of additional stressors at home. PsyCap tends to work more by reducing maladaptive coping instead of increasing the adaptive coping,” said Houghton.

Houghton and his team surveyed 378 full-time employees during the first week of May 2020, when many still worked remotely. The average age of participants was 35, and 52 percent of those surveyed were female.

A poll by the American Psychological Association released around that same timeframe found that 70 percent of employed adults said work was a significant source of stress in their lives, a substantially higher percentage than reported in prior APA surveys.

Houghton’s team found that many people view work as one of life’s stressors regardless of where you work. One possible way to change that is through PsyCap training, Houghton said.

He added that the four components — self-efficacy, optimism, hope, and resiliency — can be viewed together as a singular entity.

“Do they really hang together as a single concept? The research suggests that if you look at them as a package, you’ll get better outcomes,” said Houghton.

“A compelling concept from a practical standpoint is that unlike something like your personality, which is relatively stable — you can’t change your personality that easily, PsyCap is something that’s considered to be malleable. It can change and be improved,” he said.

Houghton said PsyCap is a relatively new concept but recommends organizations consider offering training to keep workers happy and healthy.

“Workshops to help people improve their level of this cognitive resource can, in fact, make them more adaptive with their coping styles,” said Houghton while concluding.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Nikita Nikhil

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