Promoting morale in the workplace has long been believed to boost productivity, though the benefits may have a broader reach than simply the bottom line. Experts today suggest that positive psychology can impact everything from talent retention to better employee health. Recent studies have shown workplaces that embrace each employee as an individual--and train these individuals to identify and enhance their own strengths--are poised to not only get more done, but also may dramatically improve corporate culture. In today's economy of ever-tightening job markets and increased workplace stress, focusing on the positive may soon be essential.
In decades past, office dynamics were rarely given a second thought: there was a job to do, and people to do it. Employees who were dissatisfied or found the work unfulfilling either bore it quietly or, in rarer instances, found new jobs. Most corporations today take a more enlightened view, treating employee well-being as not just important, but also intimately connected to overall corporate health.
Positive psychology emphasizes individuals over tasks and work-related skills, and trains managers to see employees as people with specific interests and abilities. When employees feel valued as unique individuals, they give more of their energy and attention to their jobs, often subconsciously.
Getting started with positive psychology is not always easy, however. Most of the time, it involves extensive training for leaders and managers, as well as a re-focusing of what the workplace is all about. "What's needed is a deep-rooted conviction, among business unit heads and line leaders, that people really matter--that leaders must develop the capabilities of employees, nurture their careers, and manage the performance of individuals and teams," Forbes magazine said in an article on developing and retaining talent. The article went on to recommend five "keys" for striking the right balance in the workplace, which included serving as a role model, reinforcing shared values, and leveraging problems as opportunities.
"To be successful, it seems that interventions must achieve a substantial change in team-based behaviors that inform the way people work together," the Australian Psychology Society said in a research article outlining how to best achieve positive psychology in the workplace. "Ultimately, we have come to believe that there are two major pathways towards achieving sustainable organizational improvement: fundamentally changing the cultural pillars underpinning work team climate and/or substantially altering the organization's selection and recruitment profile."
Most of the time, positive psychology comes into play as early as the interview process. Human Resources departments are increasingly trained to look not only at an employee's paper-based skills, but also at personality and non-work related assets. The idea is to cultivate a workplace of diverse ideas and personalities, where employees are valued for who they are as well as what they contribute.
Companies that have experimented with positive psychology have largely found the initial time investment well worth the cost. Employees are typically happier when they feel valued and respected, and this usually translates into better mental health, as well as better productivity. The corporate bottom line also tends to benefit when workers actually enjoy being in the office--though this is rarely ever the ultimate goal. Companies that embrace positive psychology typically do so to create balanced and harmonious office environments, where individuals and to-do lists work seamlessly together. The financial gains are a benefit, certainly, but must never be seen as more important than the employees actually doing the work.