Positive Psychology and Work

By: Mark Wickliffe, VP of Sales and Marketing

A central tenet of Birkman International, its founder Dr. Roger Birkman, and The Birkman Method® assessment is that job well-being is attainable and necessary for optimal human functioning and organizational health. This is positive psychology, which should not be confused with self-help or self-affirmation, no matter how good these may make us feel. Instead, they are the processes and techniques that encourage people to identify and foster positive emotions, experiences, and character traits. They are not “soft,” because they contribute to the bottom line of the organization.

Research in positive psychology suggests that job well-being – defined as pleasure, engagement, resilience and a sense of meaning or purpose – can improve revenue, profitability, staff retention, customer loyalty, and workplace safety. While many positive psychology studies remain in the early stages of findings, they strongly suggest that “positive emotions” can increase creativity and problem-solving ability while aiding in stress management and health.

Practically speaking, “positive thoughts” aren’t for every person in every job. Some jobs require a degree of anxiety, pessimism, and even fear. Airline pilots who face the possibility of icing on the wings shouldn’t be optimistic in their approach to this danger. And, neither should accountants tasked with investigating nefarious financial activity or doctors reviewing patient tests for potentially life-threatening diseases. However, no research suggests that a forbidding, pessimistic outlook will increase the probabilities for success. Simply put, for a great many jobs, negativity and pessimism aren’t productive.

The application of positive psychology in the workplace for enhancing human potential and improving organizational effectiveness has been increasing over the past decade. You see it now in areas such as:
• Maximizing the person-to-job fit
• Maximizing the person-to-organization fit
• Developing optimal team performance
• Developing emotionally intelligent leaders
• Providing effective mentoring and coaching
• Supporting career development and planning
• Fostering and capitalizing on diversity and cross-cultural relationships
• Optimizing work and life balance
• Creating healthy work environments through comprehensive wellness programs
• Promoting organizational learning and continuous improvement
• Inspiring positive organization development and strategic change

With the recent recession, and still recovering economy, many organizations are competing through practices that attempt to reduce costs and increase productivity – a “do more with less” approach that favors profits over the welfare of people. It goes by different names such as reengineering, downsizing, or lean production. This approach provides a picture of organizational efficiency to the outside world, while placing greater demand (and stress) on those inside.

With positive psychology, and instruments like The Birkman Method® that are based in positive psychology, the opportunity is there to improve the work experience through creating more meaningful connections between jobs and workers and workers and the work environment. From the Birkman perspective, it includes understanding ourselves, managing ourselves across different situations, and more clearly understanding those we must interact with to achieve personal, team and organizational goals.