Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing and wellbeing. Positive psychology studies the elements of human flourishing and investigates what works to increase those elements.
From good to great; Positive psychology has a very different focus from traditional psychology. Positive psychology investigates, not the negative things in life (anxiety and depression), but the things that make life worth living; - happiness, strengths, joy, intimacy, meaning, motivation and achievement.
The goal is to make good lives great.
Evidence based; Positive psychology is scientifically ‘hard-nosed’. It ignores assumptions, folk lore and common sense about what makes people’s lives better in favour of properly controlled outcome studies and peer reviewed research.
In the Workplace; Positive psychology is the study of what makes teams thrive and flourish. It therefore has a great deal to offer a person working in an organisation to promote resilience and wellbeing and make people’s working lives more satisfying.
How does Positive Psychology make teams flourish?
We all want staff to be happy and positively engaged. Engaged staff are positive, enthusiastic and committed to their organisation.
Positive Psychology creates the conditions in which people and teams flourish.
There is enough information below for you to begin implementing Positive Psychology strategies with your teams. This will also help you decide if you want to investigate the potential of Positive Psychology further.
1. Positive emotions
The first way Positive Psychology promotes team building is to increase positive emotions.
When workplaces are happier people experience more motivation, resilience and self-efficacy. They also like their colleagues more and perform better on goal achievement and problem solving tasks.
Business author Shawn Achor called this ‘The Happiness Advantage.’ People assume they’ll be happy after they achieve their goals (weight loss, career promotion, financial security). However studies show happiness creates achievement and success, not the other way around.
Positive Psychology introduces happiness building strategies at all levels of the organisation’s structures, from the individual level to the broader organisational culture.
2. The shift toward strengths.
Another way Positive Psychology makes teams flourish is to shift the focus away from fixing what’s wrong towards building strengths.
Building staff strengths is a much more effective approach to team building and wellbeing. When managers focus on strengths their people become more engaged, perform better, and are also more likely to find work as a calling. They’re also less likely to leave the organisation
The business case for the strengths approach is well demonstrated. In a recent study of 10,000 New Zealand employees, staff who had an awareness of their strengths experienced more wellbeing at work, while workers who were actively applying those strengths in their role were 18 times more likely to be flourishing (Hone et al., 2015).
These findings confirm previous studies across the UK (Crabb, 2011),the USA (Littman-Ovadia et.al. 2010), and Switzerland (Harzer & Ruch 2012, 2012a) and are now influencing leadership practices around the world.
There are several on-line assessment tools people can undertake to identify their particular strengths (some of the best are free of charge). Then, regular staff catch-up sessions, performance plans or team meetings are transformed into opportunities to explore more ways to make use of each person’s strengths towards team goals. Once the language of strengths is incorporated into the team’s culture it provides a new basis for approaching supervision, professional development and quality improvement procedures.
3. Work as a calling?
Business professor Adam Grant has shown staff motivation and commitment are dramatically influenced by the degree of meaning we find in our work.
Grant found when staff participated in a five minute meeting with a stakeholder, just long enough to appreciate first-hand how the person had benefited from the teams’ efforts, productivity, motivation and loyalty increased dramatically.
It seems we find work more meaningful when we see how our efforts make a difference in the lives of others.
This finding has been replicated in studies where team members simply share brief examples and stories of clients/stakeholders benefiting from their efforts, making this a very easy strategy to introduce to team meetings, or via technology around the organisation.
Positive Psychology makes people and teams flourish. What are you waiting for?
Hone, L. C., Jarden, A., Duncan, S., & Schofield, G. M. (2015). Flourishing in New Zealand workers: Associations with lifestyle behaviors, physical health, psychosocial, and work-related indicators. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(9), 973-983.
Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012a). When the job is a calling: The role of applying one's signature strengths at work. Journal of Positive Psychology.
Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012b). The application of signature character strengths and positive experiences at work. Journal of Happiness Studies.
Littman-Ovadia, Hadassah and Steger, Michael(2010) 'Character strengths and well-being among volunteers and employees: Toward an integrative model', The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5: 6, 419 — 430
Crabb, S. (2011). The use of coaching principles to foster employee engagement. The Coaching Psychologist,7 (1), 27-34.
Meyers, C. van Woerkom, M. Bakker, A. (2012). The added value of the positive: A literature review of positive psychology interventions in organizations. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 22:5, 618-632.