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Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

Have you ever noticed that individuals are more innovative, energetic, stimulating, and engaging than most corporations? That is because the systems in place at most companies are not conducive to developing human potentialemployee-survey.jpg.

Let’s take a closer look at one such system: companies spend considerable amounts of money surveying their employees through some unbiased third-party services to find out about job satisfaction. Yet, this may not be the best measurement to use. To date, only weak evidence relates job satisfaction to work productivity while much stronger evidence shows a positive correlation between psychological well-being and work performance. To cite a few:

  • In a two-year longitudinal study published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science in July 2002, it was found that while there was no clear correlation between job satisfaction and productivity, psychological well-being did predict job performance.
  • Ed Diener’s research shows that workers who report higher psychological well-being also get higher performance reviews.
  • Empirical studies conducted by Martin Seligman et al show that using our signature strengths increases psychological well-being. Further studies conducted at Gallup also demonstrate that using our strengths at work increases engagement and results, thus positively correlating the two. As Marcus Buckingham puts it, “our strengths are what Mother Nature gave us to make us competitive and successful.”cyclist-racing.jpg
  • In an article titled Toughness published in the Handbook of Positive Psychology, authors Richard Dienstbier and Lisa Pytlik Zilling explain that toughening interventions – such as aerobic exercise – improve the central nervous system’s resistance to depletion under stress. Toughness corresponds positively to performance in challenging tasks, enhanced learning abilities, and positive physical and psychological health – so performance and psychological health are again related.
  • Earlier this week, during an International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) conference call, Dr. Ruut Veenhoven cited reliable experimental evidence that happiness activates people and makes them more creative and independent. Whether these advantages translate into work results depends on whether employees use creativity and independence to benefit their boss or not. In other words, a good employer is more likely to stimulate a productive staff member.

For employees to meet today’s performance challenges, they must be treated as human beings; not just as workers. I am not suggesting here that staff members should be pampered everyday of the week, but I am suggesting that managers need to cultivate stamina – that includes appropriate concern for employees’ minds, bodies, and emotions.performance-review.jpg

This is not fluffy stuff. This is The Future of Management, and the direction about 75% of the largest US companies have already headed. So ask yourself: is your company fit for developing human potential? Maybe it’s time to let go of the narrow job satisfaction approach and integrate psychological well-being measurements in your enterprise.




Hamel, G. & Breen, B. (2007). The Future of Management. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Buckingham, M (2007). Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance. NY: Free Press.

Diener, E. (2008). Conference call for the International Positive Psychology Association.

Dienstbier, R. & Pytlik Zillig, L.M. (2005). Toughness. In Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 515-527). New York: Oxford University Press.

Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: Gallup Press.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.

Veenhoven, R. (2008). Conference call for the International Positive Psychology Association.

Wright, T.A., Cropanzano, R. Denney, P.J. & Moline, G.L. (2002). When a Happy Worker is a Productive Worker: A Preliminary Examination of Three Models. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science.

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Senia Maymin 24 September 2008 - 2:22 am

I LOVE THIS ARTICLE! Concrete, lots of images, lots of references and links to information. And it’s so interesting how you’ve uncovered so many varied sources that say that psychological well-being and performance are related.

Wayne Jencke 24 September 2008 - 4:31 am

Marie-Jo, You might find this research interesting http://www.innate-intelligence.com.au/blog/?p=77

Marie-Josee Salvas 24 September 2008 - 11:18 am

Thank you, Senia! I knew you would relate well to this article as you are yourself a great example of someone with high PWB resulting in high productivity!

Thank you Wayne for this contribution. Your article and mine complement each other very well! You and I having reached the same conclusion via different methods confirms the validity of the argument. Let’s keep increasing awareness!



SteveM 24 September 2008 - 12:32 pm


Great, insightful article. I noticed that you used the term “toughening”. I’m an ex-athlete (The older I get, the better I was), so adhere to the “Toughness Training” paradigm in my own life management.

Sports Psychologist James Loehr wrote a great book about the Toughness Model called “Toughness Training for Life”.

The premise is that we go through cyclic periods of stress and recovery throughout the day. And the key is to make the different stress-recovery cycles complementary. I.e., engaging in positive stress in one dimension is actually a recovery mechanism in another.

That relates to your “productivity friendly” work environment I think. An understanding management policy would allow employees to structure their workday schedules and activities around the Toughness model.

The result would be a win-win for both the employer and employee.



Wayne Jencke 24 September 2008 - 2:06 pm

SteveM and Marie Josee – exercise increases parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)activity – as do all other forms of stress management. The PNS is one part of the autonomic nervous system. PNS activity is what allows us to recover from stress. PNS activity also correlates strongly with emotional regulation – perhaps the connection with toughness.

Dan Bowling 24 September 2008 - 3:19 pm

Marie-Jo, this was a great article and of great interest to me given my background in HR. I would be very interested in your thoughts as to PWB as a part of the hiring and succession planning processes in corporations.


Margaret 24 September 2008 - 5:39 pm

Marie Josee – I so enjoyed your article and the research you cite. Most of my corporate clients have made the switch from measuring job satisfaction to employee engagement — it’s nice to know that 75% of US companies are doing the same. You’re right, this is NOT FLUFF STUFF. I like to say it’s the “soft” stuff that’s the “hard” stuff. Sharing this kind of evidence with key decision-makers (who tend to respond to facts, data, logic) is a great way to positively influence the system. Thanks for a writing a very thoughtful piece! Margaret
P.S. – the Capstone project I did with fellow MAPPster Dana Arakawa also found a strong correlation between both manager and employee engagement and productivity. It’s available at Penn’s Scholarly Commons. You can access this paper at the following URL:

Marie-Josee Salvas 24 September 2008 - 10:22 pm

Steve, you are absolutely right, cycles of stress and recovery do relate to my “productivity friendly” environment. It is win-win, because it’s the best way to make full engagement sustainable over the long term. Passion certainly helps, but as I like to say, no one can run a sprint after a marathon. If your work ethic makes your routine resemble a marathon, you’ll crash when there’s a need for a sprint. Instead, if you go through periods of stress and recovery like the toughness model suggests (I haven’t read the book yet and it’s on my to-read list – thanks for bumping it up a few weeks!), extra challenges can be handled as a real opportunity for growth rather than turn into an energy-killer.

Wayne – again, thank you for this addition. I think that an understanding of the brain is fundamental for psychology practitioners. For me, changes in brain activity or plasticity is what confirms we are having real, literally tangible impact. That’s what enables me to say with confidence “it’s not just fluff”!

Dan – Good to hear from you on PPND! How about I tackle your question next month? Would that be a fair deal?

Margaret – We are on the same page. You say “it’s the soft stuff that’s the hard stuff”; I say “soft skills for hard results!” On another note, I’d like to bring a clarification. 75% of the largest US companies have started to pay attention to their employees’ psychological and physical well-being, but I’m not sure they all switched from measuring job satisfaction to measuring PWB! It will come with time I’m sure, but there’s work for you and I between now and then!!!

Only the best everyone!

Christine Duvivier 24 September 2008 - 10:41 pm


This article is terrific– thank you! I learned a lot (including the new book) and you did a beautiful job of summarizing all the varied research. You made it clear and succinct– easy to understand. I’ll share your article with business clients– I know they’ll find it valuable.


SteveM 26 September 2008 - 9:35 am


A couple of final thoughts and then I’ll check out of this thread.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Toughness model, it stresses balance, not aggression. Loehr’s example cases are everyday people.

The biggest challenge to implementation is the possible need for an unconventional work day. E.g., longer lunches in order to work out. Maybe pad that on the front or back end of a day. Allowing people to close their doors and disengage for 15 – 20 minutes. Stuff like that. Most managers are pretty button down. So a fair amount of awareness and convincing may have to be done first.



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