The lines between work and life are more blurred than ever. Post-pandemic, many workers are increasingly seeking jobs that offer more than just job security, but also happiness and fulfilment, according to a study by Indeed. At the same time, more organisations are realising that employee wellbeing and happiness are essential for long-term productivity and success.
For many organisations, applying positive psychology in the workplace offers a toolkit for transforming work environments. But what is positive psychology and how can it be applied in the workplace?
So, let’s dive in and explore why positive psychology interventions in the workplace are becoming increasingly important and how you can implement them in your organisation.
What is positive psychology?
Positive psychology focuses on improving wellbeing by helping individual employees develop skills like resilience, optimism and gratitude.
In 1998, psychologist Martin Seligman launched a revolution in psychology by establishing the positive psychology movement. This innovative field shifts the focus from treating psychological issues to fostering thriving individuals, communities and institutions.
A pivotal figure in psychology, Seligman paved the way for the “learned helplessness” theory in the 60s and 70s, linking it to depression. This groundbreaking work not only deepened our understanding of depression but also influenced numerous treatment and prevention strategies.
But Seligman was frustrated by psychology’s fixation on negatives like mental illness and trauma. He sought to shine a light on the brighter aspects of human experience, like happiness, wellbeing, resilience and personal strengths, areas often overshadowed by psychological pathologies.
Seligman’s positive psychology is “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living.” It champions building on people’s strengths rather than just addressing their weaknesses. And it can transform organisational culture and individual performance when applied in the workplace.
Positive psychology isn’t about forcing a happy facade. Instead, it equips individuals with strategies to tackle life’s challenges, cultivating resilience and optimism even in adversity.
Studies in this field have revealed fascinating insights:
- Experiences are better than material possessions in prompting joy.
- More gratitude significantly increases happiness.
- Physical affection boosts positive feelings by releasing oxytocin.
- Pretending to be happy is less effective than a genuine effort towards positive thinking.
- Acts of kindness enhance wellbeing while volunteering increases life satisfaction and may even reduce depression.
- Generosity has been linked with increased happiness.
- During crises, the release of oxytocin can act as a ‘‘social glue,’’ empowering group cohesion and collective problem solving.
Incorporating these principles of positive psychology in the workplace can lead to a more satisfied, motivated, and engaged workforce.
Benefits of applying positive psychology at work
Positive psychology in the workplace encourages teams to identify, develop and use their character strengths, fostering positive emotions, mindfulness, meaning and accomplishment. Rather than simply fixing workplace problems, it aims to build skills that increase job satisfaction, motivation and work engagement.
Applying positive psychology principles in the workplace fosters a supportive and motivated work culture. Positive leadership, a key aspect of this discipline, creates a space where employees feel valued and inspired. Leaders practising positivity can effectively motivate teams, reduce workplace stress and increase overall productivity.
Several evidence-based studies show that positive psychology interventions in the workplace can benefit both organisations and employees:
A 2021 study found that small positive psychology interventions like gratitude journaling might effectively improve perceived stress and depression.
Reduced turnover and greater retention
A 2023 study suggested feeling more fulfilled, engaged and valued at work reduces employee turnover and helps retain talent.
A 2023 review reported that positive psychology programs reduced depression, stress and anxiety while improving happiness, resilience, health, self-efficacy and wellbeing.
Positive people tend to be more proactively creative at work, according to a 2022 study.
Employees with higher wellbeing miss fewer workdays, according to a 2019 study of 33,000 American workers.
Reduced economic cost
Poor mental health at work is estimated to cost the economy billions. According to The Black Dog Institute in Australia, the Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry of 2020 estimated the direct economic costs at between $43 billion and $70 billion. Additionally, there’s an estimated $151 billion cost related to disability and premature death.
“Given these figures, it makes perfect sense to address mental health and wellbeing in each and every workplace,” the Black Dog Institute report concluded.
How to apply positive psychology at work
Creating a productive, happy, healthy and positive workplace is no small feat. But with the right strategies in place, it’s entirely possible. One way of doing this is the PERMA model, an integral part of positive psychology.
The PERMA model in the workplace
The original PERMA model, formulated by Martin Seligman, revolves around five core elements:
- Positive emotions
According to Australian researcher Michelle McQuaid, some researchers also add “Health” to this model, creating PERMAH, which further enriches its approach.
So what are these elements in more detail?
In the workplace, fostering positive emotions isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about performing better. These emotions are contagious, helping reduce stress and fatigue and leading to a more optimistic and collaborative team environment.
Engaging in work where you can apply your strengths leads to more validation, satisfaction and effectiveness. Managers should proactively create opportunities for team members to use their strengths and interests.
Positive relationships in the workplace are vital. They make people feel connected and supported, enhancing collaboration and interaction.
A shared sense of purpose can significantly boost job satisfaction. Understanding how one’s role contributes to the organisation’s vision and impacts others adds meaning to your work.
Thriving workplaces are those where achievements are recognised and celebrated. Setting and accomplishing goals contribute to a sense of success and fulfilment.
The added ‘‘H’’ emphasises the importance of physical health in mental wellbeing. Eating well, regular physical activity and quality sleep are foundational for mental wellbeing, influencing workplace performance and satisfaction.
By integrating the PERMAH model into workplace practices, organisations can create environments where employees excel in their roles and enjoy a high level of wellbeing and satisfaction.
Other models for positive psychology in the workplace
Other positive psychology strategies for promoting healthier, happier and more productive workplaces include:
Highlighting wins and achievements builds confidence and morale. Celebrations don’t need to be extravagant – simply acknowledging team accomplishments can boost positivity and significantly enhance employees’ psychological wellbeing. By celebrating wins, we acknowledge efforts, inspire continued hard work, and foster a sense of community.
Understanding your workplace’s level of employee engagement is crucial. Conduct regular surveys to gauge employee satisfaction and identify areas for improvement. Use metrics to track the impact of initiatives over time to implement targeted strategies that improve job satisfaction and productivity.
Investing in learning and development
A 2020 study found happiness depends on learning rather than rewards.
Investing in training programs gives employees a sense of growth and progress in their careers, strengthening motivation. Continuous learning opportunities can lead to increased job satisfaction and overall wellbeing. By fostering an environment of growth and development, companies can inspire their employees and enhance job performance.
Providing coaching and feedback
Training managers on how to give constructive feedback that is positive, strengths based and forward looking can significantly boost job satisfaction and engagement. Employees who feel a sense of control over their work are more likely to be motivated and productive.
Fostering social support and connections
Arranging team outings, lunches and events to build relationships that support wellbeing, better teamwork and increased performance.
Leading mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga breaks can improve focus, stress management and mental resilience. A 2021 study found mindfulness training leads to greater wellbeing.
Cultivating mental health awareness
Speaking openly about mental health and normalising support decreases stigma and improves help-seeking behaviours. Workplace mental health initiatives can play a significant role in overall employee wellbeing. Such support systems create a safety net for employees, fostering a healthier, more productive workforce.
Recognising and encouraging character strengths
Employees thrive when they apply their character strengths at work each day. Managers can help staff identify and utilise their top talents, boosting their confidence and job performance. By using these strengths, companies can foster a sense of fulfilment and engagement amongst their employees.
Rotating work tasks
Varying an individual’s job responsibilities maintains challenge and motivation over time.
Offering flexible work
Flexible arrangements allow staff to integrate their personal and work lives, reducing stress and increasing engagement.
Promoting work-life balance
A healthy work-life balance can boost employee happiness and productivity. Encouraging time for personal pursuits and rest reduces burnout and creates a more engaged and energetic workforce.
Resilience helps employees navigate workplace challenges and stressors. By encouraging resilience, companies can build a productive and motivated workforce, even during tough times.
Encouraging gratitude and appreciation
Promoting a culture of gratitude can significantly enhance the workplace environment. Simple acts of appreciation can boost morale and forge stronger team bonds.
Positive psychology in the workplace examples
Many organisations are already implementing positive psychology in the workplace through programs led by Chief Happiness Officers:
- Google offers meditation sessions, manager training on mental health and an app to log gratitude.
- Unilever provides its employees with mindfulness training and leadership development focused on wellbeing.
- Salesforce implements programs to enhance resilience and empowerment as part of its corporate culture.
- ANZ Bank supports positive psychology through staff training on work-life balance, resilience and gratitude.
- Atlassian has a simple formula for happier, healthier and more productive employees: a positive work culture of support and mutual respect that allows every member of a team to feel their best and makes each person better equipped to do their best work, take risks and push big ideas while fostering collaboration.
In summary, positive psychology interventions in the workplace are about creating a workplace that resonates with positivity, where engagement and individual strengths are recognised and celebrated. These seemingly simple initiatives are the building blocks of a transformative corporate culture, one that promises substantial benefits for both individuals and organisations.