Using Positive Psychology to Create a Positive Culture at Work

By |2019-04-17T13:52:01+11:00September 11th, 2015|Comments Off on Using Positive Psychology to Create a Positive Culture at Work


A positive workplace culture can go a long way toward helping people feel happy, engaged and committed at work.

Employee satisfaction, engagement and wellbeing are all factors that drive business outcomes and performance. When people feel happy, valued, satisfied and purposeful at work they typically do far better than those who do not, leading to a more positive, thriving and sustainable business culture.

The happiness advantage

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, makes a compelling case that the greatest competitive advantage in today’s economy is a happy and engaged workforce. Some of the business outcomes he cites are increase in sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%.

Researchers such as Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King and Ed Diener, who brought together over 200 studies conducted on 275,000 people worldwide, have found that a positive mood predicts success in many domains of life. In another review, organisational scholars Sigil Barsade and Donald Gibson found that positive emotions are critical to business outcomes, impacting job performance, decision making, creativity, turnover, prosocial behavior, teamwork and leadership.

Barbara Fredrickson, who originated the Broaden and Build Theory, helps explain why:

“Positive emotions do more than make us feel good, they also expand our thinking, help us generate new ideas and encourage us to consider other possibilities.”

Her research found that positive emotions reset negative emotions, allowing us to broaden and build our repertoire of thinking and action as well as our social and psychological resources. This creates a positive upward spiral effect that can have lasting impact.

These are among the findings of the new fields of Positive Psychology and Positive Organisational Scholarship. While still in their infancy, they are providing meaningful insights and tools to help organisations create a culture where people want to come to work and give their best.

Applying a positive lens

Positive Psychology applies a fresh lens to help people flourish and succeed—focus on what is working well and how it can work even better. A focus often lacking in workplaces today.

One of the key concepts to arise is Positive Deviance. Striving to be exceptional, daring to go against the grain, and looking for solutions that may not be accessible from a problem or deficit focus are all part of a positively deviant approach.

Why is this so necessary or advantageous?

Our brains have a bias toward the negative. We are geared this way for our own survival. Humans have more negative emotions that positive; their intensity is often stronger and we respond more powerfully to negative events. Neuroscientists call this the ‘walk towards, run away’ theory. We want to act first and fast to minimise perceived threat, yet we approach situations and people that will reward us more leisurely.

In many cases our negative focus is an evolutionary hangover that leaves us with an opportunity cost and keeps us from devoting energy, time and effort that could be better spent building resources and moving toward success.

Our brains have a bias toward the negative. Positive psychology primes people and business to focus on the positive.

Resetting the balance

My goal is to equip people and organisations with a smorgasbord of strategies to prime people toward the positive. These are geared to enable them to handle challenges positively, learn, grow and thrive over time. This is why I focus on teaching tools to boost positive emotions, engagement and meaning at work.

It does not mean we should ignore the negative emotions and experiences of people in the workplace or the reality that bad things happen. Positive psychology, when applied in a balanced and integrated way, does not suggest people should aspire to being happy or even achieve specific levels of happiness. Researchers agree that a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions is beneficial. The exact ratio has been debated (Barbara Fredrickson advises a 3:1 positivity ratio, others say more).

I advise my clients and students to find ways to increase the intensity and duration of positive emotions and decrease the intensity and duration of negative emotions.

There are many ways to do this in the workplace.

For example, the Positive Leadership framework developed by Kim Cameron, allows leaders to create a positive culture by cultivating four factors: a positive emotional climate, relationships, communication and meaning. By adopting a positively deviant mindset and applying positive tools, they can actively create the outcomes they and others aspire to, becoming energisers and enablers of organisational performance and transformation.

You can explore more positive psychology tools and techniques in our free eBook below.

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Free eBook: 7 ways to apply positive psychology

We all want to live happier, more engaging and meaningful lives. This free eBook introduces practical, proven ways to increase happiness, wellbeing and effectiveness in your life and work.
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