Managing With Positive Psychology: 7 Powerful Ways to Promote Productivity and Wellbeing

de | 18 décembre 2016

Managing With Positive Psychology: 7 Powerful Ways to Promote Productivity and Wellbeing

“The purpose of life is to discover your gifts and the meaning of life is to give them away.”

 Remarkably, up to less than 20 years ago, psychology concentrated largely on the negative side of the human experience. Mental illness, in all its forms, was the central focus of its scientific investigations.

The last two decades have seen a dramatic change. There has been an explosion of empirical studies in positive psychology, accumulating a wealth of scientific information on what helps us to thrive and flourish in our life (Seligman, 2012). Research in neuroscience, furthermore, has revealed the brain’s plasticity, its capacity to evolve as a result of cognitive, emotional and behavioral changes. We are not stuck with a given set of genes, we are capable to rewire our brains and become more positive, content and resilient (Hanson, 2013).

Even more recently, the science of positive psychology has turned its attention to our experience at work trying to discover ways to make it more successful and enjoyable. Seven of its major contributions, are described below.

1. Happiness

“The majority of people in the world, across vast continents and cultures, profess that being happy is one of their most cherished goals in life.”           Sonja Lyubomirsky

One of the topics most intensively studied by positive psychology has been happiness. Numerous investigations have been devoted to identify the factors that enhance, and those that impede happiness.

Contrary to the widely held belief that hard work leads to success which in turn brings happiness, empirical evidence suggests that it is the other way around: it is actually happiness that motivates hard work and fuels success (Achor, 2010).

Lyubomirsky’s (2008) extensive research has shown that happiness, rather than being a by-product of good results, is one of the major sources of positive outcomes in the workplace, it boosts energy and creativity and fosters better relationships and higher productivity. Success and accomplishments, in turn, generate happiness, creating a virtuous cycle.

Some of the ingredients that promote happiness on the job include (1; Achor, 2010):

–a manager who inspires trust, is approachable and strengthens employees’ confidence

–being able to disconnect from work and have a reasonable work-life balance

–finding meaning in your work

–knowing what your goals are and being committed to them

–getting support for your work and recognition for your contributions

–team spirit, favoring social relationships and collaboration.

The feeling of happiness is highly individual. It is based on our subjective experience of positive emotions, pleasure, self-acceptance, and the sense of purpose in our life.

2. Emotions

The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative.”     Barbara Frederickson

We all need to experience positive emotions, such as peace, inspiration, hope, love, kindness, joy and satisfaction, to have a sense of wellbeing.

As numerous studies have shown, organizations that find ways to increase employees’ positive feelings at work, thereby enhancing their performance, engagement, energy and wellbeing, experience significantly less turnover, absenteeism and lower healthcare expenditures, attract and retain talents, are more innovative, achieve better customer care and improve their bottom line.

Positive emotions are cumulative over time, their overall benefits often becoming apparent later. They motivate people to broaden their repertoire of things they pursue and lead to learning new aspects about themselves and to new connections with other people (Frederickson, 2009).

Nevertheless it is important to accept our negative emotions, such as anger, sadness or anxiety, and recognize their value. They are part of the human experience just like positive emotions.

“If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago.”   Martin Seligman

Our emotions are contagious. Research has demonstrated that the managers’ mood, for example, is quickly perceived by their teams and influences their feelings (2; Achor, 2010 ).

Mindfulness, meditation and relaxation have also been shown to contribute to positive emotions and diminish stress (Tan, 2016).

When we reflect on our emotions and their consequences, we should remember the negativity bias, an evolutionary tendency to focus on negative emotions. We respond to negative inputs like a frown, criticism or blame much more intensively than to positive expressions, such as a smile, praise or reward (Hanson, 2013).

 3. Work Environment

Using research data from positive psychology, it is possible to conceive of an organizational culture that is both result-oriented and humanistic: Moving business from just functioning or surviving to a thriving mode where employees are no longer motivated only by financial returns or fear, but by positive emotions and enriching experiences (Seppala, 2016).

Characteristics of a positive work environment include:

–valuing individuals as human beings over “workers”

–caring for your colleagues, providing support for one another

–offering kindness and understanding when others are struggling

–avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes

–treating each other with respect, dignity and integrity (3).

Managers play a critical role in modeling and fostering these principles: Taking a personal interest in their employees, expressing gratitude and recognition for their contributions, favoring positive social connections, showing empathy and compassion, offering their help, encouraging employees to talk to them about their problems, and promoting experimentation and new initiatives (3).

Google, one of the most successful companies in the world, is well known for their intense care of their employees. They have understood the strong connection between wellness, productivity and the bottom line. The happiness of their employees is under continuous scrutiny and all is undertaken to make sure that they are content and satisfied with their workspace and working conditions.

“Upending traditional leadership theory, which directs organizations to squeeze as much out of people while paying them as little as possible, Google holds an authentic reverence for its employees and seeks to not just appeal to their ueber-developed minds in motivating performance, but also to their very human hearts (4).”

4. Social Relationships

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.  Dalai Lama

The relationship between employee and immediate supervisor, “the vertical couple” as Goleman (2007) termed it, is most critical. The strength of their bond predicts both employee productivity and how long they stay with a particular job.

Toxic managers can have a devastating effect (5; 6). For example, 75% of employees report their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job; 50% of employees who don’t feel valued by their boss, plan to look for another job in the next year; U.S. companies spend 360 billion each year for health care as a result of bad bosses, and employees with bad managers are among the least productive workers (7).

Managers not only need to bond with their employees, they must also take care to foster an environment where relationships among colleagues are nurtured and enriched in meetings, projects and teamwork.

People we can count on at work also play an important role in our capacity to create and innovate. Most inventions and breakthroughs or even gradual improvements and progressive moves are most often the result of a collective rather than an individual effort (Achor, 2010).

Meaningful social connections have also been found to enhance motivation. How team members feel about each other is an important predictor of their accomplishments and success.

5. Mindset

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”   Carl Jung

People’s mindset, studied extensively by positive psychology, is another concept that has critical implications for life in general (Dweck, 2012), as well for wellbeing and productivity at work (8).

People with a negative or fixed mindset view their potential as innate, much like their talents or intellect. They are convinced that they are born with a certain skill set that they cannot change. They are held back by engaging only in activities where they know they can do well. They do not easily admit their errors and are reluctant to correct their deficiencies. Criticism will easily make them insecure and defensive which in turn hinders their capacity to engage in constructive dialogue and positive relationships.

People with a positive or growth mindset believe that they can develop their natural qualities through hard work, good strategies and input from others. They relish new challenges and are willing to venture into unknown territories. They don’t easily get discouraged by their failures and are able to learn from past mistakes. They recognize that their potential achievements are linked to their internal motivation. Their confidence and optimism helps them establish positive relationships and inspire others.

Managers need to be aware of their own mindset and the impact it can have in their work environment. Managers with a growth mindset are more likely to inspire their team members, help them and praise them for their efforts, not only for the results they obtain.

“When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation. In contrast, people at primarily fixed-mindset companies report more of only one thing: cheating and deception among employees, presumably to gain an advantage in the talent race (8)”.

6. Strengths

 Quite naturally, the study of strengths has been central to positive psychology since it deals with the plus side of human existence.

Knowing and applying your strengths generates optimism, confidence and a sense of direction, vitality and fulfillment, as well as helping to achieve your goals (Boniwell, 2012).

Working with your talents empowers you, leading to greater creativity and more productivity, whereas struggling continuously with your weaknesses is stressful and depletes your energy.

It must be noted, however, that some weaknesses, for example those that may block or hinder your desired career trajectory, need your full attention, even if a great effort is required to overcome them.

 Flow, a state of peak performance has received particular attention from positive psychologists. When we concentrate intensely on the present, are completely engrossed in a task, have clear goals and play to our strengths and talents, when the challenge is sufficiently high, but not too high, we experience a state of flow in which we are highly productive and feel happy (9).

Job fit is crucial: Matching your individual competencies with work requirements and professional activities, finding opportunities to use your qualifications and exert control over your actions, enables you to make optimal contributions to the organization.

7. Meaning

 Meaningful work contributes to a deeper level of wellbeing that is more enduring than pleasure derived from momentary, short-lived circumstances. Employees who find work meaningful, besides being more engaged and reporting higher job satisfaction, also stay longer with their organizations.

For most people, meaningful work represents a high priority, often even beyond financial rewards, promotion or job security.

Studies of the antecedents of meaning have revealed a number of factors contributing to a sense of purpose (10):

–being able to use your unique talents and acquire new skills

–opportunities to grow and develop your intellectual and personal competencies

–close, fulfilling and enriching personal relationships

–work that is intrinsically motivating and matches your personal values

–making a difference, impacting others

–being respected for what you do and contributing to the greater good

–working for an organization that is perceived as fair and that can be trusted

“Givers”, those who tend to share with others without necessarily expecting a return, experience more meaning than “takers”, who strive to obtain as much as possible from others.

Bringing it all together

“The good life is best construed as a matrix that includes happiness, occasional sadness, a sense of purpose, playfulness, and psychological flexibility, as well as autonomy, mastery and belonging.”   Robert Biswas-Diener

Scientific evidence indicates that companies that incorporate the principles of positive psychology in their work environment are flourishing. They profit in terms of greater employee commitment and innovation, less turnover and absenteeism, reduced health costs and significantly improve their bottom line. 

Seven key dimensions of positive psychology have been shown to have a major impact in the workplace:

–Happiness fuels success and enhances performance

–Positive emotions encourage explorations of new paths of growth and learning and generate confidence

–A positive workplace where employees are valued as individuals and treated with respect, generates engagement and innovation

–Positive relationships at work are critical for wellbeing and productivity. The rapport with the immediate supervisor is particularly important

–A growth mindset, contrary to a fixed mindset, is based on the belief that through your efforts, strategies and input from others, you have the ability to develop and enrich your potential

–Knowing and regularly using your strengths enables you to reach a high level of productivity and satisfaction

–Finding meaning in your work provides enduring joy and represents an inestimable source of energy


 Achor, S. (2010), The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Crown Business.

Boniwell, I. (2012), Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: The Science of Happiness, Open University Press, 3rd edition.

Dweck, C. (2012), Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential, Robinson.

Frederickson, B. (2009), Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral that Will Change Your Life, Harmony.

Goleman, D. (2007), Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, Bantam.

Hanson, R. (2013), Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, Harmony.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008), The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Penguin Books.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2012), Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Atria Books.

Seppala, E. (2016), The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success, Harper One.

Tan, C-M. (2016), Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering The Happiness Within, Harper One.

  11. Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, PhDDirector of MTC