The rat race is over. The daily 9–5 grind has ended. Employees now labor with love and find work fulfilling!
Does this sound like science fiction to you?
Actually, it is not. In fact, ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a strong movement of workers searching for a job aligned with their values, instead of the age-old yearning for “job security.”
Between quiet quitting and the Great Resignation, employees have reported the lowest job satisfaction in 20 years. More and more employees are willing to sacrifice job security to find something more aligned with their values (Dhingra et al., 2022; Gallup, 2022b).
So where does this put your organization?
Maybe it is time to reconsider your company’s approach to employee wellbeing, resilience, and work–life balance.
In this article, we will explore how, as an owner, leader, or manager, you can use positive psychology in your workplace to adopt science-led practical tips to improve employee flourishing.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Work & Career Coaching Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients identify opportunities for professional growth and create a more meaningful career.
This Article Contains:
- Positive Psychology at Work: Is It Important?
- The Benefits of Positive Psychology in the Workplace
- Examples of Positive Psychology in Organizations
- PERMA in the Workplace: A Quick Overview
- How to Apply Positive Psychology at Work
- 16 Practical Implementation Tips
- Additional PositivePsychology.com Resources
- A Take-Home Message
Positive Psychology at Work: Is It Important?
One of positive psychology’s key aims is to help individuals, groups, and organizations flourish. And this is vital, now more than ever before, as explained above—that is, if you wish to keep your best employees.
According to the “paradox of influence,” while developed nations are increasingly affluent, life satisfaction and mental wellbeing are not improving (Seligman, 2011; Day et al., 2014).
This phenomenon is particularly true in the workplace, where once an employee’s basic needs are met, additional income and benefits do not usually increase happiness, fulfillment, or meaning (Gallup, 2022b; Day et al., 2014).
The world faces tough challenges: record inflation, pandemics, war, and work trends such as employees quitting their jobs at record rates. Positive psychology recognizes that it is crucial to promote factors that enable individuals, organizations, and communities to thrive.
When built into the workplace, these factors have the potential to support broader business initiatives aimed at the following (Boniwell & Tunariu, 2019; Achor, 2011; Day et al., 2014; Seligman, 2011):
- Improving employee engagement and satisfaction while increasing productivity and profitability for the organization
- Building a culture of positivity and wellbeing, leading to lower turnover rates and higher employee retention
- Improving communication and collaboration among team members, resulting in better decision-making and problem-solving
- Helping leaders develop a more resilient and adaptable workforce, better able to navigate change and uncertainty
- Enhancing creativity and innovation, leading to new products and improved service offerings
- Supporting managers as they develop a more positive and empowering leadership style, boosting employee performance and motivation
- Helping organizations build a more positive brand image and reputation, which can attract top talent and improve customer loyalty
- Reducing employee stress and burnout, leading to improved physical and mental health and lower healthcare costs
- Improving employee wellbeing, resulting in increased job satisfaction and engagement
Embedding the principles of positive psychology in the workplace can show an organization’s commitment to the wellbeing of its employees, which can improve employee loyalty and commitment (Achor, 2011).
Positive psychology is much more than a one-dimensional view of positive thinking and positive emotions; it is “focused on what makes individuals and communities flourish, rather than languish” (Boniwell & Tunariu, 2019, p. 2).
The Benefits of Positive Psychology in the Workplace
Several key theories have influenced the successful application of positive psychology-led interventions in the workplace, including the following (Day et al., 2014):
- Broaden-and-build theory
Positive emotions broaden staff cognitive and social resources, encouraging novel thoughts and responses and long-term wellbeing and success.
- Orientations to happiness
Employees can pursue happiness through three different approaches: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.
- Psychological capital
An individual’s level of optimism, self-efficacy, hope, and resilience can lead to greater wellbeing and performance.
- Sustainable happiness theory
To maintain happiness, employees should focus on self-care, social connections, and meaningful activities.
Such positive psychology approaches have wide-ranging benefits, with research findings confirming various benefits to organizations, leaders, and employees, including the following (Day et al., 2014; Martin, 2005; Lupsa et al., 2019):
- Increased positive emotions
- Boosted creativity
- More effective coping strategies
- Reduced effects of stress
- Better resilience
- Heightened engagement, exploration, and learning
- More goal-directed behavior
- Increased inclusivity and flexibility
- Increased meaning in everyday tasks and events
- Boosted motivation
- Increased happiness and pleasure
- Higher life satisfaction
- Improved performance
- Increased self-awareness in leadership
- Better staff morale
- A broader range of attention, thoughts, and actions
Simply put, employees engaged in positive psychology-based programs and interventions at work typically tend to “flourish” more. Flourishing is “a state where employees prosper, thrive, learn, engage, self-motivate, express themselves, and experience happiness” (Day et al., 2014, p. 56).
Such interventions frequently result in improved employee wellbeing and business performance outcomes (Achor, 2011).
Examples of Positive Psychology in Organizations
Several approaches have surfaced to apply and embed the principles of positive psychology in organizations and the workplace.
Luthans et al. (2015, p. 20) adopted the term “positive organizational behavior” to mean applying positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological capacities to “stimulate and transform organizational behavior, leadership, and human resource management.”
Their research suggests that each person has “psychological capital” (PSYCAP) that they can build upon through interventions, learnings, and training. These four components—referred to by the acronym HERO—are as follows:
- Hope – Positive motivation based on goal-directed energy
- (Self-)Efficacy – Self-belief in one’s ability to mobilize motivation, cognitive resources, and actions and work toward something
- Resilience – The capacity to rebound or bounce back from adversity
- Optimism – A generalized positive outlook or expectancy
While only a subset of the elements of positive psychology, PSYCAP and its four components are considered “renewable, complementary, and synergistic” (Luthans et al., 2015, p. 35). And they can be used flexibly and adaptively by employees to meet the demands of their job while maintaining high levels of competence and wellbeing.
A review of 41 studies in 2019 confirmed the importance of PSYCAP. Findings identified various interventions to enhance employees’ resources and strengths that significantly improved workplace psychological health and performance (Lupsa et al., 2019).
Let’s take a specific example.
The US Army may not seem like a typical workplace, but it employs millions of people, from front-line soldiers to office staff. When Seligman (2019) implemented interventions to increase hope in soldiers deployed to the front line, the effect was staggering.
It significantly improved relationships at home and positively impacted how they performed in active and stressful situations during training and deployment.
In fact, in one study of over 6,000 soldiers, those who received positive psychology training were more emotionally fit and optimistic, better at coping, and showed better resilience (Seligman, 2019).
Strengths-based leadership focuses on identifying and developing the strengths of individuals and teams to improve their wellbeing and performance. “Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and build on each other’s strengths” (Rath, 2017, p. 21).
When leaders adopt a strengths-based approach, they focus on the positive aspects of their staff rather than just addressing weaknesses. Such a change in focus can increase employee engagement and job satisfaction, leading to improved organizational performance.
When employees feel valued and appreciated for their strengths, they are more likely to be motivated, productive, and remain with the company.
Strengths-based leadership also benefits organizations by creating a culture of positivity and wellbeing. When employees feel that their strengths are recognized and used, they are more likely to experience a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their work, leading to increased creativity and innovation and improved collaboration and communication among team members (Rath, 2017).
Several research studies have confirmed the positive effect of strengths-based leadership on employees’ overall wellness, psychological wellbeing, innovative behavior, and organizational performance (Ding & Yu, 2022; Rath, 2017).
Here’s another specific example of how such positive psychology interventions can boost organizations’ success and employee satisfaction.
When Southwest Airlines implemented strengths-based training, its goal was to enhance employee experience by creating a culture focused on individual strengths. And it worked.
Southwest leaders conducting one-to-one and group strengths conversations with their staff have seen increased engagement and better performance, leading to improved business outcomes. As a result, there is less staff turnover and higher productivity, and “employees have the opportunity to do what they love in a way that makes customers feel like family” (Gallup, 2022a, para. 11).
PERMA in the Workplace: A Quick Overview
The PERMA model is a framework developed by Martin Seligman (2011), the founder of positive psychology, and it describes the five essential elements of wellbeing:
- Positive emotions – the experience of positive feelings such as joy, contentment, and satisfaction
- Engagement – the experience of being fully absorbed and focused on an activity, often referred to as “flow“
- Relationships – the quality and quantity of social connections an individual has
- Meaning – the sense of purpose and direction an individual has in their life
- Accomplishment – the sense of progress and achievement in one’s life
The model is particularly relevant in the workplace because it highlights the importance of creating a positive and supportive environment that promotes employee wellbeing and engagement (Kenny, 2018).
By applying the PERMA model in the workplace, leaders can create an environment that aligns with employees’ needs and promote growth mindsets that lead to happy and engaged staff (Slavin et al., 2012).
A meta-analysis of over 200 positive psychology research studies found that happy workers are more productive, perform better, show higher sales, take fewer sick days, and are less likely to become burned out (Achor, 2011).
Now that it is clear how beneficial it is to apply positive psychology at work, let’s look at practical implementations.
Positive Psychology in the Workplace: Thank God It’s Monday!
How to Apply Positive Psychology at Work
So, how do we apply positive psychology at work and realize an environment that supports employee flourishing?
In line with the PERMA model, we must focus on building the psychological capital and resources needed to flourish by boosting each of the following (Seligman, 2011; Luthans et al., 2015; Boniwell & Tunariu, 2019; Hart, 2021; Kenny, 2018):
1. Positive emotions
Encourage feelings such as hope, joy, and gratitude.
Set clear expectations, give people a voice in meetings, and support work–life balance. Promote positive emotions, coping, resilience, and a reduction in stressors.
Feelings of attachment to and immersion in tasks can be encouraged in an environment that supports concentration and focus.
Create goals in line with values and interests to motivate. Engage in fascinating tasks to encourage the experience of flow.
3. (Positive) relationships
Encourage a connection with peers, managers, and leaders to promote better communication and collaboration.
Communication should be open and meetings active, where staff can connect and freely interact with one another. Partnerships and collaborations should be encouraged and rewarded, while support should be readily available.
Connect to purpose, values, and the promotion of reflection.
Regular reflection on the difference staff make to others within the organization, their customers, and the wider community fosters feeling valued and connected to something bigger than the self.
This should go beyond “employee of the month” by actively sharing customer feedback and expressing appreciation for employees going above and beyond.
5. Achievements and accomplishments
Set and work toward goals to create a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and capability.
Take opportunities to recognize and reward hard work and success. Support others as they develop their solutions or overcome the challenges they face. Share company growth milestones reached.
Building and maintaining each of the attributes above supports the employees, teams, and organization as they learn to flourish. What works will differ depending on the individuals and the context and must be tailored accordingly.
Other approaches, such as building on strengths; encouraging healthy eating, sleep, and exercise; and becoming more resilient, will also have far-reaching effects on wellbeing and boost performance (Seligman, 2011; Luthans et al., 2015; Day et al., 2014).
16 Practical Implementation Tips
Positive psychology is research led and offers many proven interventions, strategies, and approaches for promoting wellness, positivity, performance, happiness, and flourishing in your workplace.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify, regulate, understand, and express your emotions and recognize those of others. It is often considered more important than traditional intelligence for academic and career success, leadership skills, and overall wellbeing (Goleman, 2020).
Seven practical tips for improving EI in your workforce include:
- Encourage self-awareness among your staff.
Help them understand their emotions and how they impact their thoughts and behaviors. Encourage the use of mindfulness and journaling as valuable tools.
- Lead by example.
Model emotional intelligence by demonstrating self-awareness, emotional regulation, empathy, and other skills in your behavior.
- Encourage self-reflection.
Encourage your staff to think about their emotions and how they impact their thoughts and behaviors through journaling or talking with a trusted mentor.
- Support emotional regulation.
Assist your staff in developing strategies for managing emotions, such as deep breathing techniques or taking a break to refocus.
- Foster empathy.
Encourage your staff to consider the perspectives of others and to show understanding and compassion toward their teammates and colleagues. Engage in activities such as role-play or perspective-taking exercises.
- Teach conflict resolution skills.
Support your staff in developing the skills needed to resolve conflicts and build positive relationships with others, such as effective communication, problem-solving, and negotiation.
- Create a supportive and positive work environment.
Foster open communication and celebrate the diversity of emotions and experiences of all employees. Encourage a positive work environment that boosts engagement and performance.
Our Emotional Intelligence Masterclass© will help you support your staff by teaching them how to understand, manage, and express emotions effectively. It can improve communication, relationships, and decision-making, increasing job satisfaction, motivation, and overall wellbeing. The training will also help you improve your emotional intelligence, making you more effective at coaching and leading your teams.
Positive relationships are a vital aspect of communication within teams. They improve employee engagement, productivity, and satisfaction in the workplace, leading to lower costs and improved performance outcomes (Cornelissen, 2016; Seligman, 2011).
Five practical tips you can try include (Geue, 2017; Ng, 2022):
- Manage conflict.
Proactively mediate disputes among your staff to minimize negative interactions and build a culture of open communication that fosters trust and positive relationships among employees.
- Lead by example.
Establish consistent patterns of behavior that exemplify the desired culture and promote an environment of inclusivity and positivity among your staff.
- Conduct face-to-face meetings.
Encourage face-to-face interactions to facilitate a better understanding of nonverbal cues and tone among your staff. Consider the layout of shared working environments to enable interaction.
- Include remote workers in your team.
Use video-conferencing software to foster positive social relationships among the team to ensure a relationship-centric workplace with remote workers.
- Plan collaborative events.
Set aside time for employees to interact and focus on shared interests to allow them to discover commonalities and relatedness, strengthening their bonds and fostering a positive work environment.
Our Positive Relationships Masterclass© builds on the “Six Pillars of Positive Relationships” to help you support your staff wellbeing, flourishing, and performance. It provides practical tools to improve communication, sustain healthy relationships, and enhance your coaching abilities.
Work coaching exercises
Work-based coaching can improve employee wellbeing, performance, and capacity to flourish by helping individuals develop the necessary skills and resources.
Coaching can also improve job satisfaction, motivation, and overall wellbeing and increase productivity, performance, and goal attainment (Grant & Cavanagh, 2007).
Here are four practical tips for implementing work-based coaching in your organization:
- Implement coaching.
Provide regular coaching sessions for your employees.
- Provide skilled coaches.
Train managers to coach or hire a professional workplace coach to work with your teams.
- Foster a supportive environment.
Create an environment that encourages and supports coaching by providing the necessary resources.
- Create an atmosphere of wellbeing.
Encourage your employees to seek coaching when needed.
Our 17 Work & Career Coaching Exercises will help you ensure your staff are on the right path toward being their best selves in the workplace by providing them with tools to better understand and manage their emotions in the workplace.
These exercises include identifying and managing stress, setting and achieving goals, and developing effective communication and problem-solving skills. Understanding and managing their emotions will better equip your employees to navigate challenges, build positive relationships, and excel in their work and career.
Additional PositivePsychology.com Resources
The following additional resources are powerful tools for you as a leader, manager, or business owner to improve employee wellbeing in your organization while increasing company performance.
For further guidance and insight into positive psychology in the workplace, check out the following four articles:
- In What Is Job Crafting? we learn more about creating meaning and happiness in our work lives.
- The Importance of Positive Relationships in the Workplace explores how to enhance positive employee interaction.
- Learn the importance of emotional awareness and regulation and how to boost them in How to Improve Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace.
- In the article, What Is Coaching in the Workplace, and Why Is It Important? we explore how to use workplace coaching to grow your organization.
Other free resources include:
- Satisfying Achievements at Work
Use this worksheet with staff to focus on their accomplishments positively, boosting self-esteem and identifying skills for later use.
- Strengthening Ikigai in the Workplace
This powerful ikigai worksheet helps you balance the organization, employees, and customers’ needs, values, and passions.
- Workplace Mindfulness
Mindfully combine clear intention, attention, and attitude to adopt a state of loving-kindness within the workforce, boosting its ability to handle stress.
A Take-Home Message
As a manager, it’s crucial to understand that the workplace can be a place where your staff find meaning and fulfillment. However, many employees today report dissatisfaction with their jobs and are even willing to give up job security in search of something that aligns more with their values.
Positive psychology offers a solution to this problem. Incorporating its principles in the workplace can improve employee wellbeing, resilience, and work–life balance. This can lead to increased employee engagement and satisfaction, a culture of positivity, and enhanced communication and collaboration among team members.
Ultimately, you will build a more resilient and adaptable workforce, more empowering and positive leadership, and a better brand image and reputation.
While this will benefit your employees, it will also lead to increased productivity and profitability for the organization.
Therefore, consider using positive psychology in the workplace to improve employee flourishing and the organization’s overall success. Why not share this and other articles within your organization and identify opportunities for adopting the principles, theories, and tools of positive psychology?
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Work & Career Coaching Exercises for free.
- Achor, S. (2011). The happiness advantage. Random House.
- Boniwell, I., & Tunariu, A. D. (2019). Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. Open University Press.
- Cornelissen, T. (2016). Do social interactions in the workplace lead to productivity spillover among co-workers? IZA World of Labor, 314, 1–10.
- Day, A., Gilbert, S., & Kelloway, K. (2014). Positive psychology and the healthy workplace. In A. Day, E. K. Kelloway, & J. J. Hurrell, Jr. (Eds.), Workplace well-being: How to build psychologically healthy workplaces (pp. 50–71). Wiley-Blackwell.
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- Geue, P. E. (2017). Positive practices in the workplace: Impact on team climate, work engagement, and task performance. Emerging Leadership Journeys, 10, 70–99.
- Goleman, D. (2020). Emotional intelligence. Bloomsbury.
- Grant, A. M., & Cavanagh, M. J. (2007). Evidence-based coaching: Flourishing or languishing? Australian Psychologist, 42(4), 239–254.
- Hart, R. (2021). Positive psychology: The basics. Routledge.
- Kenny, N. (2018). The PERMA model: Strategies for promoting workplace flourishing. TI Connections. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from http://connections.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2018/01/21/the-perma-model-strategies-for-promoting-workplace-flourishing/.
- Lupsa, D., Virga, D., Maricutoiu, L. P., & Rusu, A. (2019). Increasing psychological capital: A pre‐registered meta‐analysis of controlled interventions. Applied Psychology, 69(4), 1506–1556.
- Luthans, F., Youssef, C. M., & Avolio, B. J. (2015). Psychological capital and beyond. Oxford University Press.
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- Ng, G. (2022). How to build real relationships at work. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2022/08/how-to-build-real-relationships-at-work.
- Rath, T. (2017). Strengths based leadership: Great leaders, teams, and why people follow. Gallup Press.
- Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and well-being and how to achieve them. Nicholas Brealey.
- Seligman, M. E. (2019). The hope circuit: A psychologist’s journey from helplessness to optimism. Nicholas Brealey.
- Slavin, S. J., Schindler, D., Chibnall, J. T., Fendell, G., & Shoss, M. (2012). PERMA. Academic Medicine, 87(11), 1481.