HR Trend Alert: Are you supporting employee psycap?

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As scientists learn more about how people’s brains work – what motivates and inspires, what leads to success – these findings directly impact human resources. HR professionals  who keep up with these developments and can use them to their advantage will lead healthier, happier, more productive employees.

One of the latest developments is in the area of “psychological capital” – defined as a positive state of mind including optimism, resilience, hopefulness and self-confidence. Psycap, as those who study it call it, is indicative of an individual’s ability to cope with challenges, rebound from failures and solve problems.

“When you staff an organization with people who are full of psychological capital you have a super workforce,” Guelph University associate professor Jamie Gruman said. “Someone with psychological capital who believes in their abilities and believes they can think of and implement solutions to the problems they or the customer is facing, these are the kinds of employees that make for a flourishing organization."

Organizations want employees who are competent and who go above and beyond – traits that correlate with high psycap, added Gruman, who teaches part of the school’s MA Leadership course. Often when people discuss leaders who influenced them it’s the people who improved their psycap. They may not use that exact word, but they will talk about leaders who helped them build confidence and resilience.

So how can HR help improve psycap in their employees?

“The entire HR architecture of an organization  can and really should be designed to help build psychological capital,” Gruman said. “We could use this as a barometer of whether the HR architecture is built effectively. If you have an HR architecture that doesn’t lead to hope, optimism, resilience and self-confidence in your employees then that’s a problem and you want to assess where you can rejig to help build this personal resource.”

Programs such as buddy programs, mentoring, achievement-based compensation and job design can all contribute to better psycap.

When you start assessing situations by whether it will improve an employee’s psycap, you see that some traditional advice may not always be right. A stretch assignment to someone who feels unprepared or overwhelmed will do more harm than good, whereas the person who’s ready for that opportunity can stretch, achieve and build confidence.

“The potential is huge because the research shows that organizations that have employees who are higher in psychological capital perform better. The business case is there,” Gruman said. “The danger is that psycap becomes this very popular word that ends up meaning nothing. We have to make sure we’re faithful to the construct and that the things we do really build psychological capital so the word doesn’t lose its meaning. The potential is enormous because the evidence reveals that psychological capital is a genuine, real thing that has top line and bottom line impacts.”


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