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5 areas of accelerated personal growth during the pandemic

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In many ways, the pandemic put our personal lives in the slow lane, but for many it accelerated the pace and degree of change in our work lives; from new tools to new skills to new ways of operating the business. With so much thrash and distraction, we might expect leadership or personal growth to have slipped since the pandemic began. 

But, despite the massive disruptions we have faced and continue to face, for those with personalized support, we continue to see positive trajectories of growth and development. In fact, the average learning hours for those with BetterUp has increased –by 53%– relative to when the pandemic began. The pandemic interfered with a lot of things, but growth isn’t one of them. 

Seeing continued growth in the face of remarkable challenges, our science team was curious: is this growth qualitatively different from growth in times of normalcy? Specifically, are there certain mindsets or skills that have accelerated disportionately during this time? And if the pandemic catalyzed distinct aspects of our personal growth, in what ways?

To find the answers, we looked at growth rate data across 32 leadership and thriving mindsets and behaviors over the past several years from people with access to BetterUp. We compared the average growth achieved within 4 months of working with a coach during non-pandemic times to that during the pandemic. 

We found several aspects of human thriving that had outsized pandemic growth. 

The top five areas of accelerated growth in the pandemic: 

  1. Self-awareness: up 14% over pre-pandemic growth rate

    Self-awareness is the extent to which we are conscious of our strengths, motives, and desires. For many, the pandemic brought challenges and changes that sparked deep re-evaluation. Do I want to go back to traveling so much? Have I been operating from my values? It appears that coaches have been using this moment to guide people toward greater clarity and insight about what they want–and don’t want–in their lives and careers. 

  1. Authenticity: up 18% over pre-pandemic growth rate 

    Authenticity is the extent to which we are open and honest in our relationships. For many, the lines between work and non-work life have never been so blurred. With coworkers having windows into our personal spaces and with the intense emotional challenges many have been facing, the pandemic seems to have made people more comfortable showing up authentically at work and elsewhere.   

  1. Empathy: up 28% over pre-pandemic growth rate 

    Next, we have seen outsized growth in empathy. Empathy is our ability to see outside of our own perspective and walk in another's shoes. It’s no secret the collective stress has been high (see here). Adding in racial injustice and political unrest, we’re in greater need of empathy, compassion, curiosity, and understanding. Coaching has really helped people improve their perspective taking skills and approach others with patience, kindness, and the benefit of the doubt. 

  1. Stress management: up 62% over pre-pandemic growth rate 

    Stress management refers to our ability to control or productively work through stressors and tension to improve our everyday functioning. Uncertainty is one of the most stressful conditions for humans, and we’ve had mega doses of it in the last eleven months. We’ve seen people more focused on how to maintain wellbeing in their coaching sessions than ever before (see here and here), and growth in managing personal and work stressors has skyrocketed. 

  1. Locus of control: up 78% over pre-pandemic growth rate 

    Locus of control is the extent to which we believe that we have control over our lives. The massive jump compared to normal times illustrates the degree to which people have benefited from coaching to help regain and redefine a sense of control in a time when so much feels out of control. We learn most and best from visceral experience, and the helplessness that many periodically experienced over the past eleven months was anything but hypothetical. For me, the pandemic has taught me the importance of distinguishing between what I can and cannot control, and consciously focusing on the things I can control, even if it is simply how I react. In the face of compounding challenges, a sense of control, and a realistic assessment of what we control, can be the antidote to a spiraling sense of helplessness. And what we see is that coaching has been there to restore it. 

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Great challenge brings great opportunity, if we can see it. People are achieving outsized gains in clarity of self, how they show up for others, how they manage their stress, and how they approach challenges. These data show that accelerated learning during the pandemic has occurred not just in the hard skills needed for new work, but, for those with personalized support, also in key mindsets and behaviors that help us navigate change and achieve personal thriving.

About the author: Erin Eatough, PhD is a researcher, author, consultant, and occupational health psychologist with expertise in the promotion of employee and leader well-being. Erin received her PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida. At BetterUp Erin translates from science to practice to bring the insights from BetterUp’s research to life, and at home she grills a high volume of cheese quesadillas. Erin lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband and two young children.