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Positive Psychology in the Workplace

written by Lisa Sansom 25 April 2014

Lisa Sansom, MAPP '10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

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The Canadian Positive Psychology Association is pleased to announce its second conference on Positive Psychology will be held this July 16-18 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at the historic Chateau Laurier. We are very excited to have keynote speakers such as Sonja Lyubomirsky, Tim Kasser, Michael Steger and Bob Vallerand. However, while these big names garner considerable attention in the world of positive psychology, the CPPA is pleased to provide a forum for emerging researchers and practitioners to come to the fore.

This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight some of the presenters who will be sharing their work at the CPPA Conference. For more information about the conference, please visit the CPPA website. You can also follow us on Facebook or on Twitter @CdnPosPsych.

One important area for the application of positive psychology is in the workplace. Typically, we spend about half of our waking hours getting to and from work, and actually being in the workplace. Yet according to Gallup research, employee disengagement is at very high levels and employee trust is declining. Positive psychology researchers and practitioners are bringing new empirically-based ideas to solve these and other workplace problems.

Andrew Soren on Workplace Empowerment

Empowerment has been thrown around as a term for a long time on how to generate high performance at work, but there is no clear sense about what that means. The research shows there are four major pillars of employee empowerment:

  1. “I find work meaningful.”
  2. “I have confidence that I can do a good job.”
  3. “I’m given the choice as to how I achieve the goals.
  4. “I have a genuine belief that I can track my impact / measure progress.”

The next question is then, how do we build empowerment? What are the characteristics or traits we need in employees? Not everyone wants to feel empowered, and it is entirely possible that not everyone can be empowered. We need to examine contributors such as the required systems and the role of leadership. Contrary to what you might believe, leaders play a very active and important role in an empowered organization. Furthermore, we need to consider the active role of the employee. Not all employees want to be empowered, and this is fine because we need solid followers as well.

Andrew works at one of Canada’s largest banks and muses, “What if 47,000 empowered employees took it upon themselves to enact the mission: to define great customer experience? That has to happen one employee, one customer at a time. Each employee has to see that they are making a difference, and feel that way and to act that way. It would transform our entire business, and that’s just our bank. What about all businesses? What about all citizens in their community?”

Pam Teagarden on measuring organizational positivity

In order to ensure that you have a positive organization, it’s important to measure it. While many of us think we know how to do that, Pam Teagarden says that we may actually be measuring the wrong things. There are missing metrics which are damaging the corporate world, and without those metrics, positive business is not sustainable.

According to Pam, there are two perspectives that we’re dealing with: individual and organizational. Organizations (e.g. the senior leadership, Boards, shareholders) want productivity while individual employees want engagement. Yet when we get engagement going, we don’t necessarily end up with sustainable productivity and vice versa. So far, positive psychology does a great job at the individual level, but it doesn’t necessarily meet organizational needs.

These two perspectives need to be considered simultaneously before positive psychology comes in.

How do you get to that common language? We have to speak the language of productivity in a way that enhances engagement as a bridge from the organization to the individual. Pam’s research indicates that there are 9 things that need to exist to achieve productivity without sacrificing engagement, and there is no existing tool or program that tackles all nine. At least there wasn’t until Pam created one.

Pam will share her dynamic model that shows changes over time, not just a snapshot, and provides that necessary link between productivity and engagement as a solid foundation for positive psychology interventions in the workplace.

Natalie Wolfson on building social intelligence

Natalie is from the TRACOM Group, where she and her colleagues are developing training programs and assessments to build the social intelligence competencies of workers across a wide variety of organizations. They have programs around employee resiliency, behavioral EQ, and social style, and more training programs in the works.

Organizations today are operating in a rapidly changing environment, so the capacity to manage stress, adapt to unexpected challenges, and build productive work relationships is more important than ever. TRACOM helps employees thrive in this complicated and ambiguous business climate.

What really excites Natalie about her work is the evidence-based approach as well as their basis in neuroscience. Researchers are finding that our brains are much more flexible, much more plastic than previously thought. This means that even if we have low stress tolerance, interpersonal skills, etc., we certainly are not doomed. These kinds of social intelligence capacities can be developed. Natalie teaches learners about biases that hold them back from being as effective as they can be, as well as research-based strategies that have been shown to have a profound impact on individual performance and organizational functioning.

For this conference, Natalie will be discussing the development and validation of a workplace resiliency scale, and the formative evaluation of a resiliency training program delivered in China. The validated scale is theoretically consistent with previous research on resiliency in the broader context, but is more narrowly focused for the workplace.


More Previews

Teagarden, P. (2011). TEDx Great Wall. TEDx talk.

Wolfson, N. (2013). Resiliency and the advantages of disadvantages. The Tracom® Group

Soren, A. & Graiko, S. (2013). #esoQUAL ‘Positive Psychology’. YouTube.

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