Positive Psychology at Work

How many of your employees do you think are going to get out of bed tomorrow morning, looking forward to coming to work for you?

If you read the Sunday Times last week you’d be forgiven for thinking that you probably need to offer a few more employee benefits. According to this article, positive psychology at work is all about whether you provide foot massages during office hours or organise awards ceremonies so you can pat your staff on the back once a year. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially when referred to as ’employee well-being’. Organisations want tangible measures and quantifying how many employee benefits they offer, as well as how much they’re worth, is a relatively straightforward exercise.

Using positive psychology in the workplace is very little to do with the value of employee benefits though, which means that charities and not-for-profit organisations can apply the principles, in many cases doing a better job than cash-rich companies. And it’s not about providing 24/7 counselling to those who might need it either. So what is positive psychology at work, you might be wondering?

In short it’s about enabling all employees to flourish, play to their strengths and reach their full potential. Sounds great but why would you want to do this? Well, there is growing research* which shows that it’s good news for the bottom line, as well as an increasing number of forward-thinking companies (e.g. Ikea, Norwich Union, Royal & SunAlliance, Microsoft) who are using strengths-based approaches. It’s not about being problem-focused, but neither is it about being solution-focused. It’s about trust, respect and honesty, and developing an organisational culture where

i) the espoused values are the same as the values in use,
ii) leaders are role-models of confidence, optimism and resilience
iii) leaders inspire their teams to action
iv) leaders are transparent about their weaknesses, and open to being questioned and challenged about the direction in which they’re heading
v) leaders see the task being accomplished and developing their people to lead as equally important.

So you can see that having a positive psychology approach at work is a million miles away from whether you have a company gym or not. And as with most organisation change, there are no short-cuts. You need vision, commitment and courage to create a positive organisation. So, as a business leader, are you up for the challenge?

Thanks to Hilary Jeanes for the ST article

* e.g. Lyobomirsky, King & Diener (2005)

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