Do your organisation’s policies focus on what employees shouldn’t do? Positive language in HR processes improves productivity and engagement and employee health.

Sue Langley spoke to HR Daily. Here is an excerpt of the article.

HR professionals should be working to incorporate positive language into everything from advertising and recruiting to induction, policy writing and performance management.

“We’re trying to get people to think of HR holistically,” she says. “If you look at what we think of as ‘positive HR’, it includes the entire employee lifecycle.

“We help clients look at all their forms, all their procedures and processes, and say: Are they written from a positive psychology perspective? Can we remove the negative language so it’s really creating a positive culture from the minute an employee joins the business?”

The benefits of a more positive workplace go far beyond increased productivity, she says.

According to the ‘broaden and build’ theory, experiencing more positive emotions also broadens a person’s way of thinking and builds their resources. This includes physical resources (for example, there is evidence to suggest it can boost the immune system and reduce stress), social resources (“because people more likely want to connect with you”), and intellectual resources.

“If you’re in a more positive emotional state, more of your brain is active, which means you’re more likely to think of new ideas, be more creative and innovative,” Langley adds. “If you’re positive and happier, people more likely want to be around you, [which] helps things like collaboration.” There is also a lower incidence of conflict and presenteeism.

Langley is quick to point out that positive psychology isn’t about “pretending everything’s OK”.

“It’s about being able to challenge yourself and say, ‘Is it really as bad as I think it is? Is everybody out to get me at work? Am I really going to be in this mess forever?'”

She says that even employees who don’t love their jobs can, with the right attitude and environment, enjoy them.

“If I’m in a job that I don’t like and I’m positive and optimistic, I am more likely to find the good in the job while I’m there; I’m more likely to perhaps work with my boss to reconfigure my role or get a sideways move; or I’m more likely to believe in my ability to get a job elsewhere.”

Those with a negative mindset, however, can ruin things for everyone.

“If I’m in a job I don’t like and I have a more negative, pessimistic explanatory style… I’m going to be miserable and grumpy, and I’m probably going to make your life miserable and grumpy if you work with me. I’m going to whinge about my job and more importantly, I’m less likely to leave because I won’t believe I’ll get a job elsewhere.”

Anger’s normal. Joy’s, well, weird. Even HR professionals who think the work culture at their organisation is generally pretty positive might find that negative attitudes and emotions are more ingrained than they think, Langley says.

A global study that examined which emotions are acceptable and unacceptable at work found that in 70 per cent of cases, expressions of anger were considered acceptable, Langley says.
Joy, however, was only deemed acceptable in 30 per cent of cases.

“Imagine the person sitting next to you suddenly slams their phone down and says ‘Oh my God, I get so frustrated with that person! Every day I get a call from them – I’m so fed up’,” she says by way of example. Most people would probably murmur something sympathetic and think no more about it, she says.

“But if the person on the other side of you suddenly stood up and went, ‘Oh my God I love my job, I’m so excited I just can’t wait to come in every day!’ everyone would look at them like they’d gone completely mad.

“That’s an example of anger being acceptable to be expressed but joy not necessarily being as acceptable. I don’t think we intend to be negative but it’s more acceptable,” she says.

Click here to learn more about the Langley Group’s Positive HR Toolkit. The Positive HR Toolkit gives leaders and HR professionals the solutions to implementing positive people practices in the workplace.  Built on research from Positive Psychology and neuroscience, the solutions provide simple and easy to use tools for every stage of the employee lifecycle.