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Senia Maymin, MBA, MAPP, PhD, is the coauthor of Profit from the Positive. Maymin is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Maymin runs a coaches network and is the founder and editor in chief of PositivePsychologyNews.com. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full bio.

Senia's solo articles are here, her articles with Margaret Greenberg here, and with Kathryn Britton here.

What can Positive Psychology say about being happy at work?  No, really, what can Positive Psychology definitively say about happiness at work?  For example:

  • Are there some people for whom happiness at work is easier?
  • Are there actual ways to increase happiness at work?
  • What if you’re too busy at work working to have time to worry about employee satisfaction and “all this feel-good stuff”?
  • Have there been actual hard-data research studies about techniques that can improve happiness at work?

Being interviewed

Being interviewed

Yesterday, a few of us authors from PositivePsychologyNews.com answered these questions on the one-hour radio show, Be Happy, Dammit with host and best-selling author Karen Salmansohn.   Here is a summary of the main research we cited and the main implementation steps we believe the research suggests. 

What Does Research Show about Work and Happiness?

  • To improve team performance, at work say at least 3 positive comments for each negative comment.  Margaret Greenberg, President of The Greenberg Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching practice, started us off with data on positive emotions at work.  Greenberg related 1) Barbara Fredrickson’s theory of Broaden-and-Build: the broadening of scope, attention, and creativity, and the building of psychological capital that occur with positive emotions, and discussed 2) the Losada ratio of approximately 3:1 positive to negative comments found in high-performing teams.
  • To improve operational results, say “thank you” and use gratitude.  David J. Pollay (Syndicated columnist with the North Star Writers Group, and President of TheMomentumProject.com, an international training and consulting organization) brought two studies about the results of gratitude – in restaurant tipping and in caregiver visits.  Pollay described that researchers had found that waiters who write “Thank you” on the check receive a 11% higher tip than waiters who don’t. 

    (Editor’s note: For more information on research about how to improve tips for waiters, you can read this thorough guide by Michael Lynn summarizing his research with Kirby Mynier – Mega Tips: Scientifically Tested Techniques to Increase Your Tips (pdf))  In another study, when case managers received thank-you notes, there was a 100% increase in repeat visits made by the case managers.

  • To improve corporate strategical planning, emphasize the following three related components – the desire to move forward, the goal, and the pathways to get from the desire to the goal.  Doug Turner (Vice President of HR for the Washington, DC division of Balfour Beatty Construction company) described these three components of Hope Theory.  Turner further said that to improve individual planning, it’s the same process of implementing this framework of desire, goals, and pathway. Turner described why this research on hope theory was core to his beliefs about how to move a company forward, “Turnover in an organization really occurs because people lose hope.”
  • To become more productive, structure more self-discipline into some part of your work.  Senia Maymin spoke about recent research in self-regulation, and how a long time ago, people didn’t even know whether self-regulation could be trained and increased, not to mention didn’t know that self-regulation works like a muscle.  New research described by Roy Baumeister of Florida State University suggests that when a person grows self-regulation in one part of life, iot tends to seeps into other parts of life as well.


What Other Studies Did We Cite?

  • Strengths.  I brought up how Gallup used strengths at Ann Taylor to create an additional nearly 5% in revenue if the results of the pilot study had been spread to the entire company.
  • Explanatory Style. Doug Turner cited explanatory style and self-talk, the stories that we tell ourselves, as one of his favorite concepts in Positive Psychology.  Turner was especially encouraged by the idea that we can change our own self-talk.
  • See Work as a Calling.  Margaret Greenberg spoke about Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale and her job-career-calling distinction, and Karen Salmansohn detailed how some of those jobs that were seen as a calling in the Wrzesnieski study were janitorial jobs, and may not have objectively been called a calling, so it really is in how people see things.
  • Loyalty is Dropping.  A steady job and a decent salary are not keeping employees, especially the younger under-40 employees.  David J. Pollay pointed out that Hudson Research Institute, Walker Information, and the Gallup Organization all point to the data that only about 25% of people are loyal to companies.


For some great suggestions on happiness at work and taking Positive Psychology to work, check out these past articles between May and now (for even earlier articles, look here):

Interviewer courtesy of Waldo Jaquith

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Sherri Fisher 26 October 2007 - 8:28 am

Hi, Senia–

Love the way you have organized all of this for those of us who couldn’t hear the real thing!!

I’d like to add that sometimes we are unhappy at work because of things that we cannot change there, and these can stress out even the person with a callin or who has a great explanatory style. The serenity prayer comes to mind.

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”
–Reinhold Niebuhr

Serenity (transcendence in the VIA?), courage and wisdom: These virtues are a lovely frame for using strengths in new ways at work. (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson)

What happens when the company now specializes in a product that you feel no connection to and you are staying because you’ve been there awhile, the money is good and you fear the unknown. And you have good friends. But you are miserable.

Or maybe you are very extroverted with no outlet for that, or very introverted with a job that now requires public speaking or chairing lots of meetings. Or maybe you are a soft-hearted “feeler” and find changing office politics wears you down, or you find that your work is all about putting out fires, not preventing them which is what you really like to do and have a natural strength for.

Personality, values and strengths matter, and lots of times harnessing what is really good about yourself–and that you really value, too–can make the other strategies you mention just take off.

And sometimes you are happiest at work when you have wisdom to know the difference…and you leave.

Will you be doing more of these interviews? Looking forward to it 🙂

Senia 29 October 2007 - 2:54 pm


I totally, totally agree with you. We write a lot on this site about using our strengths, and when to do it, and how to do it. I completely agree with you that at some point people start to feel not aligned with their jobs, and whether it can easily be traced back to strengths or to something else, it just starts feeling lousy.

And I totally agree that there have to be ways of getting out of that situation. Thanks very much for this comment!

I would love to do more shows! I’ll let you know if that starts to happen!



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