Since my last posting, I have been busy integrating applications of positive psychology into HR consulting. I play the role of PP advocate – auditing work systems, energizing workplaces through culture change, ‘teaching’ positive communication, raising awareness of the impact of management style and habitual thinking on productivity, creativity and effectiveness. Let me share some of my observations and responses.
In many organizations, employees are feeling less than perky. First days for recruits may be fun and exciting but over time, work becomes routine and boring or hectic and stressful or a combination of all. There is so much discontent and the “too tired to work, too broke to quit” thinking seems to prevail.
Perceived helplessness is fueled by negative thinking.
It matters what happens on the floor.Take for instance, the office cleaner who complains sourly that people mess the place up. Hey! if the place never got messed up, maybe cleaners become redundant. The customer service personnel laments that customers are so picky and troublesome – guess what would happen if customers were angels and products and services were perfect? People make choices whether or not to wear their job roles comfortably and cheerfully, or ruefully and miserably. Some work environments are so toxic that the happy bees hum imperceptibly.
Change is a fact of life. In organizations, employees encounter the introduction of new gadgets, corporate takeovers, wireless, eco-friendly innovations, weather change, software upgrades, life events, etc. Sometimes change is welcome, sometimes not – because learning and making personal adjustments might be necessary. What irks people the most is when change is unexpected, unexplained or outside their control. Such change may be perceived as a violation of their right to choice.
When knowledge or understanding about change and its impact is scant, human beings tend to shy away from the unknown – some in less positive ways than others. The vacuum created by uncertainty is quickly filled with thoughts and expectations embellished by individual world view and past experiences, personal or vicarious. Particularly at workplaces where management and leaders are indifferent to the human need for clarity and open communications, much is left to employees’ imagination. Rumors abound and fear, anxiety, discord and suspicion take over.It Matters What Happens at the Top
Some form of pecking order exists in all organizations. Along with hierarchy appears to be a common unwritten ‘truism’ that the air gets rarefied further up the ladder and you need to shout – to get more air into your lungs – so that those below you can hear you. ‘Shouting’ is a metaphor for the times when people throw their weight around, insinuate superiority, assume that their rights and needs are more important than another’s, forget to be grateful and gracious, snatch a subordinate’s glory e.g., when we omit to acknowledge contribution or attribute praise and recognition, and more. We focus on errors and omissions, and overlook the need for recognition, acknowledgment, appreciation and encouragement.
Poor communications cause hurt, anger and anxiety, and hurt people respond in different ways. Some repress their emotive responses – allowing their hurt to fester, tearing at self esteem or stirring a cauldron of seething anger and frustration or anything in between – all self destructive and negative. The unresolved hurt is then passed on to others – whether unintentionally or deliberately – to release their own pain. No? Think of a time when you observed someone snap at another because someone else had just lambasted him/her unfairly. The negative bandwagon of negatives goes on a roll causing corrosive declines in morale and productivity. Yep! Soon the bottomline gets hit because #1 hit the roof.
I could go on and on in this vein. My intention is to pose a reminder that each of us can be a change agent and break the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Our choices reflect the value we place on each moment in our lives, and those same choices determine the positive or negative consequences and experiences that add up to our life stories.
Among my favorite reads are:
Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage.
Senge, P, Scharmer, CO, Jaworski, J, and Flowers, BS (2004, 2008). Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future. Broadway Books
Arbinger Institute (2000). Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box
Hanh, TN ((2001). Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. Riverhead Trade.
Dutton, J. (2003). Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Call center floor courtesy of Vitor Lima
Executive board room courtesy of SFO CP
I must have worked at those organizations! I can recognize every single symptom of helplessness. I used to work at an org that had the spoken philosophy: you are a cog in the machine and your thoughts/morale/actions really are irrelevant UNLESS they are something that management can punish.
My last day there I breathed a sigh of relief. There were people who were technically very saavy but unable to relate well with others. There were hybrids that were skilled at teamwork and technical. Finally, there were people who didn’t have a clue about the machines we worked on but could make the hurt go away. I find myself missing the people-friendly but not the technicians.
I’d like to say that there is a golden path to better optimism, but I must say, I don’t fully know what it is. Many jobs could be virtual paradises if people could work together—play nicely—and do their jobs. Maybe cyborgs could get the job done better, faster, & cheaper…they could be virtual optimists.
What an eloquent description. It made me laugh to think of the cleaning lady who wants people to keep things clean. It’s the way I feel in my own home sometimes.
I see Jane Dutton’s Energize your Workplace is in your reading list. I love the way she faces right up to “corrosive connections” and why they should not be just endured because they damage both individuals AND organizations. “Low-quality connections eat away at employee’s capability, knowledge, motivation, commitment, and emotional reserves. Moreover, corrosive connections can spark revenge, cheating, and other destructive behaviors.” (p. 10). For those who haven’t seen her book, she has a whole chapter with strategies for dealing with corrosive connections, including an awareness that “… it is often the person with less power who must notice the corrosiveness of the relationship and take action to deal with it.” p. 111. That’s hard.
I have seen people in power cast huge negative shadows and not appear to have any idea they are doing it. I’ve helped pick up the pieces of broken confidence they left behind in other people.
I like your conclusion about being agents for change. I think sometimes people can’t imagine how to turn a negative situation around — until they see someone else do it. That helps them picture and then pursue an alternative.
Thanks for the discussion, Sulynn.
Hi Jeff and Kathryn.
I like ‘play nicely’:) Cyborgs can’t give warm hugs on bad days coz they don’t feel you need one 🙁 and if they were all cyborgs, the problem goes away but we have the depressed unemployed to worry about.
Let’s put our heads together and join hands in (Kathryn’s words) finding means for people to ‘imagine how to turn a negative situation around’ and help ‘them picture and then pursue an alternative’.
Perhaps the typo slip in the title of Dutton’s book is a sign of things to come – we ‘crate & sustain HQCs’ for the various levels of the organizational totem pole. Time to end the suffering at workplaces and humanize that major domain that takes up the best years of most of our lives.
Love & peace to all,
You might be interested in the research that shows that personal wellbeing mediates the relationship between job satisfaction and performance
However, I think it is a lo-o-o-ng leap from personal well-being being a mediator of job satisfaction and performance to a conclusion that investing in job satisfaction is a waste of money, as the article states.
Based on his work with disadvantaged communities, Isaac Prilleltensky has concluded that we spend too much of our ameliorative resources on trying to fix the deficits of individuals. We can get a lot further by accentuating the strengths of communities. Perhaps that is true in the workplace as well.
I would agree – thats what the research is saying.
Check out wikipedia for a definition of mediation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediation_(Statistics)
Life satisfaction is about the person – not the circumstance – a bottom up approach.
The question is how do you boost personal wellbeing. Personally I think positive psychology is a little obsessed with strengths – I think the research on strengths suggests ist about getting of your but and doing things (eg hope is about self efficacy). Which is the same conclusion being drawn in CBT – its the B in CBT that’s all important.
I think “strengths” is actually a red herring here. When I look at Dr. Prilleltensky’s stuff, the distinction he makes is reactive versus proactive, rather than weakness versus strength. So here’s the figure corrected — and with some of his examples.
shelters for homeless people,
prison industrial complex
affordable housing policy,
high quality schools and health services
personal improvement plans,
resistance to peer pressure in drug and alcohol use
He argues that most of our investment is in Quadrant III, where the investment would achieve much more in Quadrant I.
He also argues that well-being is about personal well-being, relational well-being, and collective well-being, all of which are interrelated. So working on the personal well-being of the individual is only part of the story.
Ah – the big picture
Absolutely agree with the proactive.
The question is what do you do while the collective is catching up?
The old green slogan “act locally think globally” comes to mind