Tag Archives: positive psychology

Job satisfaction is not enough

You would expect that if employees have high job satisfaction then organisations would experience high job performance and staff retention.  This is only part of the story.  Thomas A. Wright (Professor of Management at Kansas State University) and his colleagues reveal through their research that psychological wellbeing is the critical factor.

In reviewing the history of research on this topic, Wright found that early organisational theorists found inconsistent results between the ‘job satisfaction leads to job performance / staff retention’ theory. Yet years before that, in the 1920s and 1930s, a rare few researchers noted that employee wellbeing was a greater contributor to labour turnover than was commonly realised.

It’s only lately that researchers such as Wright and his colleagues are again interested in the relationship between employee wellbeing and job performance. Their recent findings support the early theories that there is a significant relationship between employee wellbeing, psychological wellbeing and job performance and staff retention. That is, job satisfaction alone is not enough to predict performance and retention.

Wright points out that the positive states which characterise psychological wellbeing also help people to “thrive, to mentally flourish and psychologically grow.” He suggests that employees with high levels of psychological wellbeing and who are satisfied with their job are “more easily able to ‘broaden and build’ themselves…and as a result these satisfied and psychologically well individuals will reap such additional benefits as being more creative, resilient, socially connected, physically healthy and derive more meaning from their work”. Such people also have the resources to “initiate, foster, facilitate and sustain high levels of job performance”. In summary:

  • Job performance is highest when employees have high levels of psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction
  • Job satisfaction predicts job performance but only if the employee also has high psychological wellbeing
  • The relationship between job satisfaction and retention is also stronger when employees have high levels of psychological wellbeing

“The promotion of employee psychological wellbeing is an intrinsic good for both individuals and organizations; one toward which we should all work” (Wright)

“Happiness is a broad and subjective word, but a person’s well-being includes the presence of positive emotions, like joy and interest, and the absence of negative emotions, like apathy and sadness, Wright said.  An excessive negative focus in the workplace could be harmful, such as in performance evaluations where negatives like what an employee failed to do are the focus of concentration, he said. When properly implemented in the workplace environment, positive emotions can enhance employee perceptions of finding meaning in their work. Happiness is not only a responsibility to ourselves, but also to our co-workers, who often rely on us to be steadfast and supportive.” (K-State media release)

Employee Engagement and Wellbeing

The Gallup Organisation recently reported similar findings to Wright’s.  They undertook a global study of 47,361 employees.  Gallup notes that employee engagement is significantly impacted by employees’ personal wellbeing. Wellbeing is measured by reference to how people rate the quality of their lives overall, and how they rate their emotional states.
Among the workers studied, the wellbeing component shows up in these statistics:

  • 95% of the engaged workers said they were treated with respect
  • 88% said they experienced enjoyment for much of the day
  • Actively disengaged employees are more likely that engaged employees to say they felt stressed for much of the day (this impacts physical and emotional health)
  • Actively disengaged employees are twice as likely as engaged employees to say they experienced anger in their day.

“Happy workers are not magic, but they can give a workplace that extra boost” (Ed Diener, quoted in Gallup Management Journal)

Implications

Wright makes a number of recommendations which can help enhance psychological wellbeing:

  • Put people into appropriate work situations which maximize psychological wellbeing
  • Train people to help improve job fit
  • Adapt the work conditions as best as possible to help employees maximize psychological wellbeing
  • Put people who are psychologically well, socially responsible and ethically strong into leadership positions; in turn they contribute to creating healthy organizations
  • Provide stress management training
  • Emphasise social support at work
  • Implement family friendly policies
  • Provide training and implement policies which emphasize the broaden and build theory

Gallup points out “Ideally, high employee wellbeing creates a virtuous cycle: workers who are happier and more content with their lives make for a more productive workplace, and that greater productivity leads to successes that boost their wellbeing even further. Too often, the reverse seem to be a vicious cycle: low worker productivity is accompanied by high levels of pessimism and physical health problems, which, in turn, lower productivity.
In environments like these, employers must be concerned with doing whatever they can to help workers avoid ‘negativity traps’.”

Like Wright, Gallup suggests that employees are placed in the right job and they feel supported and appreciated.

References:

Wright, T.A. (2010). More than Meets the Eye: The Role of Employee Well-Being in Organizational Research, In Linley, P. A., Harrington, S. & Garcea, N (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 143-154). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

“K-State researcher says happy employees are critical for an organization’s success” (February 2009)  http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/feb09/wellbeing20309.html

“A Good Job Means a Good Life” (Gallup Management Journal, May 2011): http://gmj.gallup.com

Managing Positive Change

I wrote the article below earlier this month for Positive Psychology News Daily.

Leaders and managers often face the task of implementing organisational change, a complex process which is frequently experienced as difficult to get right and which requires sophisticated and flexible management styles. What insights can leaders gain from Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry to help them lead successful change? This question is addressed in two chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work edited by Alex Linley, Susan Harrington, and Nicola Garcea:

  • Chapter 6: “Change and Its Leadership: The Role of Positive Emotions” by Malcolm Higgs
  • Chapter 7: “Working Positively Toward Transformative Cooperation” by Leslie Sekerka and Barbara Fredrickson.

These chapters reinforce the idea that leaders can influence the environment in which transformation efforts can succeed. Below are some of the key points from these chapters.

Change Doesn’t Have to be Viewed as a Problem

“Managers are trained to view change as a problem which can be analysed and solved in a linear or sequential manner.” (Higgs)

“Scientific management-based programs….which tend to employ functional and structural solutions… are unlikely to improve organisational performance over time. In part this is because they are not intended to be transformational, but are reactions to dysfunction.”  (Serkerka & Fredrickson)

In these quotations, the authors refer to the complexity of change and the limitations of linear processes. However, their main focus is on how leaders influence their own and others’ orientations towards a change initiative. Are they solving a problem, or are they creating transformation? Are they creating fear or enthusiasm? The leader’s mindset is critical.

One View: Resistors are Bad People

For example, leaders might perceive that people are the problem, and resistors to change are bad people to be coerced. Another example is the use of the famous burning platform image popularised by John Kotter. Leaders can also deplete energy by engaging in conversations about change which rest too much on the organisation’s limitations, focusing on what’s wrong with its people, systems, and processes. This can lead to a collective sense of “We are not good enough.” Overall, more negativity can be created than is needed to generate the positive energy required for sustained change.

A Shift in Perspective

In helping leaders to create an alternative context and mindset, both chapters suggest that a shift in perspective can be achieved by:

  1. Understanding Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory of positive emotions and how a climate of positivity (a ratio of considerably more positive than negative) can be the foundation for sustainable organisational change. The benefits of positive emotions include: creativity, connectivity, resilience, cooperation, collaborative inquiry, enthusiasm, energy, meaning, appreciation, psychological health, growth, flexibility, respectfulness, empathy, motivation, willingness, openness, less fear, less narrowed thinking.
    “Positive emotions coupled with collaborative values can help an organisation thrive, in that its members are motivated to create new organisational forms.”
    (Serkerka and Fredrickson).
  2. Shifting the emphasis so there is a greater understanding of the individual and organisational strengths, in addition to an understanding of the key problems. Analyse what is being done well and how to leverage this for future change.
  3. Seeing the change as an opportunity to energise people so they feel they are a part of the change, rather than feeling they are the subjects of the change.
  4. Expecting that when people are energised and enthusiastic, the behaviours required in the post-change context will emerge and can be learned.
  5. Having a mindset that change is not bad. Change is natural, is part of organisational growth, and offers new potential.
  6. Incorporating Appreciative Inquiry as a way to “find elements in the organisational system which are well and find ways to deploy these strengths in a way which supports the goals of the change,” according to Higgs.

“If transformative cooperation is desired, the power to create deep and sustainable change resides in the emotional dimension of the workplace enterprise.” (Sekerka and Fredrickson)

Doing Change To or With People?

In his chapter, Higgs refers to research which he and colleague undertook in 2005 to 2008. In successful change programs they found that change leaders set the tone and overall direction, yet they allowed people to become responsible for the change and to adjust the plan as the implementation unfolded. That is, leaders were doing change with people, not to people. Analysis revealed that these leaders had four change leadership behaviours:

  1. Attractor behaviours: connecting, tuning in, building the story, seeing patterns, serving the higher purpose, self awareness, sense-making.
  2. Edge and tension behaviours: establishing reality, constancy, and persistence, challenging assumptions, creating discomfort, setting a high bar.
  3. Container behaviours: setting boundaries, expectations, and values, expressing confidence, affirming, encouraging, showing empathy, creating trust and ownership, making it safe to have hard conversations and to take risks, creating alignment at the top.
  4. Movement behaviours: creating systems of possibility, learning, and difference, supporting creativity, freedom to be open and vulnerable, freedom to break established patterns, and powerful inquiry.

Higgs points out that these four change leadership behaviours are supported by the use of Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry, for example, by collaborative, appreciative inquiry into what is working well, by an understanding of the Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotions, by a focus on strengths together with a balancing use of rules, by creating challenging goals, and by having hard conversations.

A more integrated approach

The information above by no means provides the silver bullet for successful change. However it does provide change leaders with questions for productive reflection:

  • Are they creating climates in which there is energy and enthusiasm for the change?
  • Do they tend towards the fear and deficit mindset that can underpin some change programs?
  • How can they bring strengths-based and deficit-based theories together to create a more balance approach?
  • What are the foundations they can create and on which they to build their change and transformation programs?

Stomping on Humanity

1. Stomping on humanity

Let’s start this great quote from a McKinsey article by Bob Sutton, ‘Why good bosses tune in to their people’ (Aug 2010): “Bosses who ignore and stomp on their subordinates’ humanity sometimes generate quick gains. But in the long run, such short-sightedness usually undermines their followers’ creativity, efficiency, and commitment.”

2. Can teams be depressed?

Over the years I’ve sent a few emails about mindfulness and meditation, the earliest being in July 2004 where I quoted: “According to Chin-Ning Chu, in her 1998 book, ‘Work Less, Do More’ both Harvard Business School and the leading European business school INSEAD have concluded from research that the two most effective new business tools for 21st century executives are meditation and intuition.”   (http://www.amandahorne.com.au/pdf/Jul04MediationMedicationMeditation.pdf)

Meditation and mindfulness are clearly topics which are capturing broader and broader attention, not just 21st century executives but everyone. I recently read “The Mindful Way Through Depression” (2007) by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindal Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I became interested in this because I’d heard from many people that the book is one of their recommended reads.  I was curious about this:

“Thus we find ourselves compulsively trying over and over to get to the bottom of what is wrong with us as people, or with the way we live our lives, and fix it. Caught up in this way, how on earth could we possibly contemplate switching our attention away from these pressing and understandable concerns to focus on other topics or approaches, even if doing so might contribute to a lightening of our mood? Sorting things out and forcing a solution will always seem like the most compelling thing to do – figuring out what it is that is not good enough about us, sorting out what we need to do to minimize the havoc that our unhappiness will wreak in our lives if it persists.  But in fact focusing on these issues in this way is using exactly the wrong tools for the job. It simply fuels further unhappiness and keeps us fixated on the very thoughts and memories that are making us unhappy. It is as if a horror story were being enacted in from of us: we hate looking, but, at the same time, we can’t turn away.” (pg 39)

This is written for the individual, yet I couldn’t help but read those words again, this time imagining it’s written about teams of people in organisations, working on day-to-day organisational problems. Can team discussions become too fixated to the point that they are detrimental to the health and well-being of the collective team and its individual participants?

3. Multipliers or Diminishers…. Dream Converters or Dream Killers

At the recent TEDx Canberra event (October 2010), we heard from creative artist and founder of Kulture Break, Francis Owusu, who talked about whether we are dream converters or dream killers.  In Harvard Business Review, May 2010, the article ‘Bringing Out The Best In Your People’ uses different language, but a similar sentiment. Are we a multiplier or a diminisher?

Diminishers drain people, they stifle their intelligence, ideas, energy and capability. Diminishers like to be the smartest person in the room, they hoard resources, create a tense environment, make decisions without collaboration, and micromanage.

Multipliers like to enhance the ‘smarts and capabilities of the people around them’. People feel engaged, energised, inspired, respected and have a desire to stretch themselves. Multipliers use the strengths of their people, create a safe environment where people can flourish, challenge people so they are inspired to stretch, engage in collaborative debate, and give people ownership and responsibility.

4. A reminder for your diaries…..

Put 15, 22 and 29 November 2010 in your diaries, and settle down at 8.30pm to watch a new series on ABC TV: Making Australia Happy.

It’s about the role of mindfulness, physical well-being and positive psychology in enhancing happiness: “In a groundbreaking experiment, the science of positive psychology is put to the test – what does it take to make Australia happy. Eight unhappy people offer themselves up to science – their brains are scanned, their lives examined, their saliva swabbed and their blood tested. Can they improve their happiness and wellbeing in eight weeks? This is not self-help TV. There’s no tree hugging, stargazing or standing in circles singing kumbaya. It’s an opportunity for 8 ordinary Australians to road test the new science of happiness. And to prove that it works.”

This series was created by Heiress Films, the organisation behind the award winning “Life Series” about child development. Some of you might recall the ABC TV series Life at 1, Life at 3.

The Good Life according to JK Rowling

Below is an article I wrote for PPND earlier this month (see reference at end).

Two weeks ago a very good friend wrote to me, “This is wonderful – perhaps some grist for your newsletter?” She included a link to J. K. Rowling’s June 2008 Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination” delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. Although over two years old, the speech continues to inspire. My friend stumbled across the link in an article written just last month by a respected journalist, Leigh Sales, who responded to a question: “What would you read if you only had three months to live?” J. K. Rowling’s speech made it into Sales’ top 10. The Harvard Magazine has posted both a video and the transcript of the speech.

Looking for grist for this month’s article I noticed how much of J. K. Rowling’s real-life experiences are mirrored in recent positive psychology research. It then occurred to me that a speech such as this must have already caught the attention of other PPND writers. Sure enough Caroline Adams Miller wrote a PPND article here in June 2008, having attended the speech in person. She said, “Although I knew she’d be entertaining, I had no idea how profound Rowling’s talk would be, nor how tightly entwined her speech would be with the themes and message of Positive Psychology.” I recommend Caroline’s article, which summarizes the key themes in Rowling’s speech.

In this month’s article below, instead of repeating what Caroline observed in 2008, I share with you what inspired me.

Strengths-spotting

J. K. Rowling’s speech was about sharing lessons learned. She had two key themes: the benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination in finding empathy. I wanted to discover what else we could learn from Rowling, so I engaged in bit of strengths-spotting and found that there are far more than just the two lessons. From Rowling’s experience we learn that a good life involves many things including the following:

  • Determination
  • Humor
  • Humility
  • Grit, determination, discipline (Persistence)
  • Drive and passion
  • A deep sense of meaning, purpose, being intrinsically-driven
  • Intuition
  • Forgiveness
  • Perspective
  • A clear sense of personal responsibility
  • Hope and optimism
  • Faith
  • Friendships and relationships
  • Openness to learning and curiosity
  • Wisdom and strength
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Gratitude
  • Courage
  • Love
  • Finding flow
  • Having a growth mindset

In J. K. Rowling’s Own Words

To give you a sense of some of what she writes, here are some of my favorite quotations from the speech about living well and wisely. (The subheadings are my interpretation.)

Reach for a growth mindset: “Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.”

Living life fully includes failure: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Empathy: “The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives and frees prisoners.”

Finding one’s own path: “I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.” “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”

Hope: “Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the Press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.”

Humility contributes to happiness: “… personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

Courage and imagination: “Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.”

From the inside out: “Quoting Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

Having an impact: “We touch other people’s lives simply by existing…that is your privilege, and your burden.”

Failure is not always failure: Rowling explains how she ‘failed on an epic scale’ before her life turned around yet perhaps it’s not failure at all “… rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

“I wish you all very good lives. Thank you very much.” (J. K. Rowling’s closing words)

References

J. K. Rowling speech, available in transcript and video form

For more about mindsets, see Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

For more about character strengths, see Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This article was written for and posted on Positive Psychology News Daily on 3rd October 2010: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/amanda-horne/2010100313686

Letting Go – Part 2

Hello Everyone,

Almost two years ago, I emailed “Letting Go”. I then posted that article on Positive Psychology News Daily in June 2010.

To continue sharing information about forgiveness at work, Part 2 below highlights some key points from two recent articles about workplace forgiveness. This article also includes some practical tips from people who practice forgiveness at work. The article below was originally posted on Positive Psychology News Daily in July 2010.

Leadership and forgiveness

The two articles, one by Charles Kerns and the other by Susan Madsen and colleagues, emphasize that the benefits gained from practicing forgiveness at work are so compelling and persuasive that all good leaders and managers could benefit from creating cultures of forgiveness.

“Forgiving requires the manager to accept the responsibility and challenge in accepting others as human persons with and without their faults, and learning to live together without sustained anger and resentment.” (Madsen et al).

Thriving at work through forgiveness

The nature of work is such that perceived transgressions, annoyances, interpersonal conflict, arguments, disagreements, and mistakes are bound to occur. It can be hard work to find ways to move beyond these situations in order to work productively together. When employees practice forgiveness, the benefits at work include:

  • productive interpersonal relationships
  • thriving teamwork
  • job satisfaction, high morale, and employee retention
  • innovative problem solving
  • flexibility when facing change
  • productivity
  • resilience
  • physical, mental, and emotional health

“Forgiveness has been shown to motivate employees to ‘extend acts of conciliation and goodwill toward the offender and to overcome social estrangement’, which makes the working relationship between individuals more effective and productive. Forgiveness is actually a type of ‘problem-solving coping strategy in that it reconciles conflicting parties and salvages the social relationship for future interactions’. When resentment and other negative feelings between co-workers exist, it is very difficult to maintain current levels of job performance let alone improve it.” (Madsen et al)

Forgiveness takes strength

Repeating a theme introduced last month, forgiveness is not a weakness. It is not about condoning poor behaviour or offences. According to Madsen and colleagues, it is not about “letting someone off the hook, forgetting, giving up or giving in, or being soft. Authentic forgiveness is none of these.” To forgive takes great power. Strengths we can use to help to be more forgiving include: self discipline and self-control, courage, compassion, empathy, creativity, open mindedness, perspective, kindness, and leadership. And humility….

Humility and forgiveness

“When people do not see beyond their own needs and desires, it becomes difficult for them to practice forgiveness. They are not disposed to forgiveness, and expect things to go their way in most organizational encounters. Egotistical people are more likely to perceive transgressions and transgressors in unforgiving ways.” Charles Kerns

I asked Kathryn Britton, who wrote a recent PPND article on Humility, for her views on how humility helps to build forgiveness:

“Humility means not setting yourself apart from others, not believing yourself specially deserving or endowed. It means being open to new information that contradicts previous opinions. Humble people are probably less intense about the perceptions of injury in the first place and more open to perceiving the other person’s point of view. They may also be more likely to think, “There but for the grace of God go I”.”

Real examples

How do people achieve forgiveness? A number of clients and friends shared their insights:

  1. Person 1 had some angst about an ex-colleague who broke his trust. They no longer work together nor see each other. Person 1 has a valuable item of stationery which was given to him by the ex-colleague during better days. Not wanting to be petty (he thought about throwing it away in anger), when he uses the object he thinks only of the good times he had at work with his ex-colleague.
  2. Person 2, in the face of another’s transgressions, stays focused on the future and works very hard on staying true to her values, strengths and integrity. This prevents her from falling into unhelpful thoughts and vengeful behaviours.
  3. Person 3 was the recipient of verbal abuse by a colleague who was jealous of Person 3’s success. Worthington’s REACH process was very powerful and effective in helping Person 3 to eliminate her own anger and to remain open and constructive to everyone, including the abuser.

    Recall the hurt
    Empathize with the one who hurt you
    Altruistic gift of forgiveness
    Commitment to forgive
    Hold on to the forgiveness“The reason I was able to get to this point was because I was humble enough to recognize that I could react in the same way. We’re all capable of unpleasant behaviours.”

  4. Person 4 uses breathing and mindfulness. The goal of this was to find calm in the storm, and he realised in hindsight that it also helped him to forgive and find empathy.
  5. Person 5 practices self-forgiveness. He re-judges, stands back, and accepts that it is ok to make a mistake. He asks, “Am I going to let this thought affect me?.” He practices being less judgmental of himself, and this lessens his guilt and regret. The outcome is greater self-confidence and learning.

Letting Be

The final perspective to leave with you is this one offered by Sue Hays at the Canberra Mindfulness Centre about the emotions we harbour when we hold a grudge. I explained that many discuss the notion of letting go of those emotions. Sue offered this alternative: “Forgiveness can be easier if you don’t try to let go of the emotions that arise when holding grudges. Instead, practice ‘letting be’. Notice, accept, and then turn your attention to growing something new. Growing the new means turning attention away from feeding the past. Let the old just wither away with non-attention”.

References

Kerns, Charles D. (2009). Forgiveness at Work: Managing the Dynamics and Reaping the Benefits,. Kravis Leadership Institute, Leadership Review, 9, 80-90.

Madsen, Susan R., Gygi, J., Plowman, S. F., & Hammond, S. C. (2009). Forgiveness as a workplace intervention: The literature and a proposed framework. Journal of Applied and Behavioral Management, 10(2), 246-262.

Stratton, S. P., Dean, J. B., Nonneman, A., Bode, R. A., & Worthington, E. (2009). Forgiveness interventions as spiritual development strategies: Comparing forgiveness workshop training, expressive writing about forgiveness, and retested controls. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27(4), 347-357.

Information about Everett Worthington: http://www.has.vcu.edu/psy/people/worthington.html

Keeping Us Grounded

Hi Everyone,

What keeps us grounded? Many things keep us grounded, for example, mindfulness, humility and meaning.

The main content in this email is about meaning and purpose. See further below. First, I want to draw your attention to mindfulness and humility.

1) Sue Hays has recently launched the Canberra Mindfulness Centre.  I recommend you take a look.

2) Kathryn Britton wrote a great article on the strength of humility.

3) Meaning and Purpose

Meaning and Purpose
“Work matters – serving the greater good”

In all the stories I have heard from people who describe their memorable and positive experiences at work, i.e. those in which they had high job satisfaction, at some point I hear such words as ‘passion’, ‘committed’, ‘drive’, ‘I believed in what I was doing’, ‘it’s just what I do’. They realise they derived great meaning from that work.

Having meaning in one’s life is important to the quality of our life satisfaction and subjective well-being. (Refer at end for two journal article references and see here for further information: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/amanda-horne/200908034634)

But what do we know about finding meaning at work?

This is the subject of a chapter in a newly published book, The Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work, edited by Linley, Harrington and Page.

In this chapter the authors, Michael Steger and Bryan Dik, review the literature on this topic, the historical background, the factors which could contribute to meaning at work, and the known and proposed benefits of meaningful work. They acknowledge that there is more research to be done in this area.

Below I present some of the highlights from the book chapter.

Historical context….

‘Vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning ‘to call’. In religious history there was a belief that ‘people were called by God to engage in a religious vocation.’ A number of historical scholars noted that beyond a religious calling, anyone could be engaged in ‘good work’ which ‘served a greater purpose and a greater good’. Work could be a call to ‘love one’s neighbour through the duties that accompany their social place or station’. They note that there is a dignity that comes from such work which is directly or indirectly a social service. The authors note that in modern days, the complexity and variety of work roles can sometimes lead to people becoming disconnected from their sense of service and meaning.

…and now

Referring to current research and thinking, ‘calling’ often refers to how work contributes to one’s own sense of purpose and that it contributes to the greater good. ‘People have been summoned to meaningful, socially valued work by a transcendent call….the common core of these concepts includes both the sense that one’s work is meaningful and purposeful and that it serves a need beyond one’s self and one’s immediate concerns’.

The components of meaning

The authors suggest that meaningful work comes from:

(1)   Comprehension – people develop a sense of identity which comes from knowing ‘who they are, how their world works and how they fit in with and related to the life around them’. Forming social connections with co-workers and understanding their organisation and its role in society adds to a person’s comprehension.

(2)   Purpose – ‘people’s identification of, and intention to pursue, particularly highly valued, over-arching life goals’.

Benefits of meaning

The authors draw on research and on their theoretical understanding of this area to propose benefits to suggest that engaging in meaningful work can result in enhanced:

  • motivation
  • work performance, effort, efficiency
  • self-efficacy
  • understanding of the organisation
  • psychological and physical well-being
  • satisfaction with work
  • happiness
  • faith in management
  • team functioning
  • attitudes at work
  • intrinsic motivation to work
  • mentoring and motivational skills
  • sense of self-transcendence

Implications and suggestions for leaders

Drawing from the commentary in the chapter, here are some suggestions for leaders and managers:

  • help people to understand how their role is important in contributing to the purpose of the organisation
  • help people to see how their individual purpose can be achieved by contributing to the organisation’s purpose, and thus use the organisation as an ‘instrument’ to find meaning at work
  • ensure the organisational purpose is clearly connected to the greater good, and that organisational goals align with that purpose
  • encourage social circles to thrive where workers see meaning as not just contributing to the work, but also to cultivating strong social connections
  • help workers to more deeply understand themselves and when they work at their best
  • get to know employees and what drives their meaning and purpose; put them in places where these needs can be met

“People and organisations prosper when they are engaged in meaningful work”.

References

Steger, M. F., & Dik, B. J. (2010). Work as meaning: Individual and organizational benefits of engaging in meaningful work. In Linley, P. A., Harrington, S. & Page, N (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 131-142). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25–41.

Vella-Brodrick, D. A., Park, N. A., & Peterson, C. (2008). Three ways to be happy: Pleasure, engagement and meaning – findings from Australian and US samples. Social Indicators Research, 90, 165-179.

(This article also appeared on PPND, 3rd May 2010:  http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/amanda-horne/2010050310825 )

Little Drops of Quiet

Hi Everyone,

“I was talking with a friend recently who asked me a question. I paused to think for a few moments, and my friend interrupted ‘are you ok? Is something wrong?’.” Told by Jenny Fox Eades, March 2010

Jenny (Note 1), my friend, colleague and fellow traveller in Positive Psychology, has been working in Canberra and Melbourne these past three weeks. She and I had an interesting discussion about pausing, taking time, and using silence to consider what to say or do next.

Jenny is a great supporter of little drops of quiet.

Our chat had particular resonance because I have attended Jenny’s Celebrating Strengths program and experienced first hand how she works with (and more importantly how she role models) pausing, quietness, silence and mindfulness.  Further, I have just returned from a fabulous retreat for executives and leaders: ‘Cultivating Leadership Presence through Mindfulness’ where the facilitators, Saki Santorelli and Janice Marturano (Note 2) helped us to learn the value of pausing and making space.

These ideas, which are not new, have also begun to be reported on in a number of positive psychology articles, books and other literature.  For example,

  1. Tal Ben-Shahar suggests that “We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze more and more activities into less and less time. Consequently, we fail to savor, to enjoy. To become a life connoisseur, to enjoy the richness that life has to offer, we need to take our time.”
  2. Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté offer a range of calming techniques to help build strength, health and resilience
  3. Barbara Fredrickson reports on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness to help build positivity
  4. Todd Kashdan writes about taking time to be open and curious: “The more we automatically and mindlessly categorize thoughts, feelings and other people, the more we suffer. Well-being stumbles when we go on auto-pilot.”
  5. Oberdan Marianetti and Jonathan Passmore argue that “only by slowing down, can one be at once more effective and more satisfied.  In fact, it is the engaging in moments of inner stillness that creates opportunities to step out of this overwhelming flow, regain composure, strength and clarity of thought, to rejoin the flow and follow it harmoniously.”

Decompressing Time

Back to my conversation with Jenny, I asked her talk more about her thoughts on pausing and taking time:

“Of all the strengths, I think it is gratitude that most requires us to pause.  We need to stop and think ‘this is good’.  Gratitude is the first casualty of stress.  If you don’t stop, you don’t have time to feel grateful. I am particularly struck by the work of David Steindl-Rast who wrote Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and who is behind the wonderful website www.gratefulness.org.  He suggests that if you pause before and after actions it decompresses time. Interestingly, I find there’s a parallel here with an Alexander Technique concept known as inhibition, that before you take an action, you inhibit, you pause, and then take an action mindfully and consciously.  Alexander Technique helps us to embody pausing.

For parents and teachers, applying this with our children is the most important thing we can do: pausing, thinking before acting or speaking, asking and waiting patiently for them to respond.  Children need more time; we need to create space for them.  Pausing opens up that space and results in authentic communication. It shows respect and shows we know they have something worth saying and that it’s worth waiting for.

We can all find moments throughout the day to create little drops of quiet. It changes the quality of the day and it changes the quality of our relationships”.

Changing the quality of our relationships

Jenny’s final thought reminded me of a pleasing experience at the Cultivating Leadership Presence retreat.  A number of us found that it was in the silence and the moments of pausing that relationships deepened and strengthened.  We learnt we can connect deeply in our silence.

An invitation

How can we find moments to create little drops of quiet in our days? And, perhaps even more importantly, how can we help others to have their little drops of quiet?

~~~~~~~~~~

Note 1:

Jenny Fox Eades is a UK education advisor, works in schools with students and staff and runs training days and master classes in colleges and schools. She trained as a special needs teacher, has qualifications in counselling, group therapy and a Masters in Psychoanalytic Observational Studies. She is a graduate of Ben Dean’s and Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness Coaching Program and is a founder member of Positive Workplace International.  Jenny was in Australia to run her Celebrating Strengths Program, a whole school and community coaching program.

Note 2:

Saki F. Santorelli is Executive Director, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Janice L. Marturano is Director of Leadership Education, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.  She is also Vice President, Public Responsibility and Deputy General Counsel, General Mills, Inc.

Book references

Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York: McGraw Hill.

Fox Eades, J (2008). Celebrating Strengths: Building Strengths-based Schools. CAPP Press

Santorelli, S. (2000) Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine. Three Rivers Press

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. Three Rivers Press. Now out in paperback.

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.

Marianetti, O, & Passmore, J “Mindfulness at Work: Paying Attention to Enhance Well-being and Performance” (2010) in Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work edited by in Linley, P.A, Harrington, S, & Garcea. Oxford University Press

Reivich, K. & Shatte, A. (2002). The resilience factor: how changing the way you think will change your life for good. New York: Broadway Books.

Steindl-Rast, D & Nouwen, H.J.M. (1984) Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. Paulist Press

Our Mind and Our Strengths

In this last article for 2009, I bring to you a series of odds and ends, mostly about mindfulness and strengths.

Mindfulness

You know how it is, when you turn your attention to something it appears to be everywhere.

I have written before about mindfulness and meditation:

April 2008  – Wellbeing, Meditation and Mindfulness

May 2006 –  Mindfulness

July 2004 –  Meditation, Mediation or Medication?

There are increasing amounts of information and research supporting this very powerful practice.
Here are just some bits of information which I think will interest you.

1. Time affluence and employee well-being:

There are numerous references to mindfulness research on a Positive Psychology discussion list of which I am a member.  One of the articles concerned “Time Affluence”.  The researchers, Tim Kasser and Ken Sheldon, two well-known names in the Positive Psychology world, suggest that time affluence is a topic worthy of consideration by business executives when considering how to improve employee wellbeing. Time affluence is an important predictor of subjective well-being.  This is not simply about the time needed to just ‘chill out’, it’s the time required to invest in meaningful work, to do a job well, and to cultivate meaningful and supportive relationships.  These are essential to our wellbeing. Time affluence enables us to stay in the present (“a psychological characteristic demonstrated by past research to benefit well-being”), to be mindful and to be fully aware of our experiences.  Time poverty affects “physical health, civic engagement and family involvement” and can lead to cognitive overload.

The authors conducted studies and found that time affluence related positively to subjective well-being, job satisfaction and satisfaction with life. They reported that “individuals who experienced more time affluence apparently report higher levels of subjective well-being in part because they experience more mindfulness and greater satisfaction of their psychological needs”.  They also found that “the benefits of time affluence also occur for people who want to be busy”.

“People higher in time affluence reported experiencing more autonomy, competence and feelings of intimacy with others and reported spending more time pursuing activities related to personal growth, connections to others, and physical fitness; such experiences and activities apparently helped to satisfy people’s psychological needs, to the benefit of their personal well-being.”

(Reference: “Time Affluence as a Path Toward Personal Happiness and Ethical Business Practice” by Tim Kasser and Ken Sheldon, published in Journal of Business Ethics, 2009, 84:243-255)

2. Mindful Leadership:

This is the name of a book written by Michael Carroll who was in Australia recently.  The Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine attended his mindfulness workshop in September 2009 and wrote about this experience in last week’s Boss Magazine  “Carroll talks of mindful meditation as “another different muscle altogether; one that has grown profoundly flabby in the modern world”. Carroll argues that we should meditate because it can preserve our sanity”.  (Nb – Boss Magazine, free with the Fin Review, is published on the second Friday each month from Feb-Nov, and the first Friday in Dec.)

I attended a workplace well-being conference in Sydney in September 2009 at which Michael Carroll also spoke. He had much wisdom to share, and many reminders of the dangers of speed, busy-ness and the pressure to achieve things fast. “Busy-ness suggests importance and relevance”; we want to get somewhere fast and we want to be someone fast: “in the effort to get somewhere we overlook the need to just be somewhere and to be who we are. Mind training helps to remember and learn how to simply be”.   “The speeding mind is the essence of fear, it’s just a form of panic”.

Carroll mentioned that mindfulness is taught in many professions including law and the military.  The military uses meditation to manage post traumatic stress disorder and “a diplomat in US Defence is combining Martin Seligman’s positive psychology practices and mindfulness”.

Carroll also mentioned that just 2-3 mins of silence and sitting quietly in the classroom radically improves childrens’ attention spans.

3. Jon Kabat-Zinn in Australia:

Another very well-known figure in mindfulness.  Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn & Dr Saki Santorelli visited Sydney in November 2009 and led 7-day Professional Training Retreat. Kabat-Zinn also conducted dialogues with clinicians and health-care professionals at Westmead Hospital, Sydney and delivered a public talk. I know a number of people who attended the retreat or talk, and were very impressed.

For more information and for a recent radio interview, see: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/spiritofthings/stories/2009/2735241.htm

The ABC page includes links for the Center for Mindfulness and for Kabat-Zinn’s homepage.

4. The Dalai Lama and Martin Seligman:

It was a great joy last week to attend the Mind and Its Potential conference in Sydney week and to see the Dalai Lama, Martin Seligman, B. Allan Wallace and Marc Hauser on stage together for almost three hours, conversing about their areas of interest.  The discussion was moderated by Natasha Mitchell from ABC Radio National. No pun intended…it was a definitely a meeting of minds. This was the first time Seligman and the Dalai Lama had met each other.

5. Loving Kindness Meditation and Positive Emotions:

This is not so new.  Barbara Fredrickson, very well-known and highly respected in the positive psychology world, is famous for her research on positive emotions.  Over the recent years she has tested the ancient practice of loving kindness meditation.  She has found that it leads to improved happiness, enhanced positive emotions and enhanced personal resources. (Reference: “Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources” by Fredrickson, Coffee, Peck, Cohn, Finkel, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Vol 95)

Strengths and Acceptance

Here are two articles which you might like to read when you have a spare (!) moment.

Holiday Strengths”: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/amanda-horne/200912035888

“Tis the Season for Acceptance”: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/denise-quinlan/200912086227

Gottman on Relationships

In an article early last year, I referred to articles in the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine and Harvard Business Review about Dr. John Gottman’s work and how it can be applied to work relationships. Gottman recently visited Australia to run workshops. In the positive psychology world, he is well-known for his 5:1 ratio of positive to negative language and how it can predict successful relationships. But actually, much more than the 5:1 is important. More generally, John Gottman is widely known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations published in peer-reviewed literature (see Note 1).

John Gottman Workshop – Sydney, May 2009

Earlier this year, I attended John Gottman’s one-day workshop in Sydney “The Art and Science of Love.” He was entertaining, informative, funny, engaging, and knowledgeable. We were all absorbed every moment of the day, partly because in all his examples and anecdotes, we could see a little bit of our own lives. And he didn’t use a single powerpoint slide.

“A relationship is a contract of mutual nurturance. Relationships have to be a rich climate of positivity. For relationships to be strong, the ideal climate is one teeming with positive interactions.” John Gottman, May 2009

In this article, rather than summarise Gottman’s work, I have provided quotes and reflections gathered during his presentation. Here are some highlights.

1. It’s more than 5:1

From the printed workshop notes: “Couples who were in a stable, happy relationship – couples who reported liking one another – had a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1 when discussing an area of disagreement. Even when talking about an area of continuing disagreement, their relationships demonstrated a rich climate of acceptance, humour and interest in one another. In the Love Lab, [for] the relationships that were happy, the ratio was 20:1 of positive to negative expressions when simply conversing.” Gottman also pointed out that in relationships which are not going well, the positive to negative ratio is just 0.8:1.

2. What’s going right?

“Contempt is like sulphuric acid. Anger has to be channelled from the very beginning. It cannot be ‘catharted.’ In anger, you need to be very, very gentle.”

“Most arguments are about absolutely nothing.”

“When one is looking for mistakes, there is no such thing as constructive criticism.”

“Respect, gratitude, affection, friendship, and noticing what’s going right is a ‘habit of mind’ which creates a culture of appreciation.”

“Scan for things which go right, notice them more. This leads to more searching for positive things, to positive feedback, and therefore positive actions.”

3. Physiology and health

“When people stonewall, their heart rate goes up, and if it’s above 100 beats per minute, you can’t listen even if you want to. There is a shutting down and narrowing of attention. You can’t be empathetic and compassionate, can’t be creative or a problem solver. The physiology is restricting you. Soothing is essential to reduce the heart rate.”

“Relationships which work well lead to: healthier people who live longer and stronger; people who can cope better with adversity. Their well-being is higher.”

4. Mission, meaning and purpose

“Make it intentional how we move through time together. Those actions are about working towards shared meaning. The rituals of connection are very important.”

“Support each other’s roles, e.g. role of mother, father, friend. Let each other be who they are: this is what’s meaningful to them. Do we know our partner’s mission? Does the relationship support our separate missions in life?”

5. Friendship

Gottman explained that the basis of great relationships is a friendship built on strong emotional ‘bank accounts,’ fondness and admiration, and knowing one another. He emphasised the importance of knowing what is right about the partner, and showing an interest in them (“interest is the lowest level of positive affect”). Open ended questions are critical. Friendship is critical for repairing things after ‘regrettable events.’ How the receiver views her partner is critical when that partner makes attempts to repair the relationship.

6. The workplace

We can learn from Gottman’s work and how to apply it in the workplace: “We should build on what’s working well, rather than creating cultures which results in competition.” He also commented on the wonderful work of Marcial Losada: “Losada’s Lab is so much better than mine!”

7. Mindfulness

We learned that people need to enhance their sense of awareness and presence. Listen, tune in. Sometimes when people turn away, it can be because they lack awareness. Mindfulness enables people to become more aware of the other person’s needs and what it takes to bring out what is best in their partner:

“Every relationship is a cross cultural experience. There are two valid perceptions and realities which make a difference.”

8. Moving beyond gridlock

And finally some great words of wisdom:  “Many problems are not solvable, some are perpetual. They are inherited, they come with the relationship. We need to make relationships safe enough to move beyond the gridlock. Find the dreams within the conflict. Move from gridlock to dialog, but not to solve the problem. The problem is still there, but at least we’re now talking about the meaning behind the problem.”

A graphical version of this article first appeared here in Positive Psychology News Daily.

Note 1:
John Gottman, Ph.D. is widely known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations published in peer-reviewed literature. He is a Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, and with his wife Dr. Julie Gottman now heads a non-profit research institute. Dr. Gottman found his methodology predicts with 90% percent accuracy which newlywed couples will remain married and which will divorce four to six years later. It is also 81% percent accurate in predicting which marriages will survive after seven to nine years.
www.gottman.com

Permission to be an Optimalist

Think about your workplace:

  • Is there a climate of psychological safety in which workers are allowed to learn from mistakes, and there is an acceptance of human fallibility?
  • Is there a suffocating climate of fear of failure?
  • Is there micromanagement to eliminate possibility of mistakes being made?

“The perfectionist manager loses out, as do his employees and the organization: the best people leave, and those who remain fail to learn.” (p140)

The Pursuit of Perfect

Perfectionism at work is just one of the many areas Tal Ben-Shahar addresses in his latest book “The Pursuit of Perfect”.  Whether you’re a perfectionist or not, this book is highly recommended. Tal interweaves his wealth of knowledge of well-researched concepts with compelling personal experiences. The result is a very readable analysis of the dangers of perfectionism and an outline of a healthier alternative that he calls “optimalism.” In Part 2, he applies the ideas to specific areas of life that are dear to his heart: education, parenting, relationships and the workplace. Throughout Tal interjects practical suggestions and advice for how to reduce perfectionist tendencies. In Part 3, he offers ten meditations on specific topics.

The central idea is that being an optimalist, in the state of positive perfection, is adaptive and healthy, while negative perfectionism is a maladaptive and neurotic state. Tal draws a link between healthy optimalism and the goal of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning.

Continuum between Extreme Perfectionism and Optimalism

At one end of the continuum, extreme perfectionists reject reality, failure (and success) and painful emotions, and are rarely satisfied. At the other end of the continuum are the optimalists. They accept the realities of being human and the inevitable, mixed results that come with purposeful action. They’ve learned to appreciate “good enough.”

There are shades of grey between these extremes on the continuum. People can experience varying degrees of perfectionism and optimalism in different parts of their lives.

Reality for Extreme Perfectionists

  • Perfectionists reject the reality, constraints and experiences of the human condition.
  • They believe it is possible and desirable to be perfect, and constantly strive and expect to get there.
  • They set impossible goals and standards.
  • Unwilling to accept themselves, they are destined never to feel good enough.
  • In effect, they rarely give themselves permission to be human.

Failure/Success for Extreme Perfectionists

  • To the perfectionist, a good life is completely without failure.
  • Hurdles are unwelcome, mistakes are catastrophic, and criticisms are devastating.
  • So focused are they on the destination, they are unable to enjoy the journey.
  • Even though they might succeed, they never feel successful.
  • Since accomplishment is never perfect, they even reject success when it comes.

Emotions of Extreme Perfectionists

  • Because feelings can be so volatile and unpredictable, perfectionists do not permit a range of human emotions. They seek a constant and perfect tone, whether it’s positive or negative. There is no pleasure in accomplishment, and no pain allowed in failure.
  • Because perfectionists want to look good, they fear exposing their mistakes
  • They can be beset by procrastination and paralysis (“if I don’t try, I won’t fail”).
  • With high expectations they are hard on themselves and can be as hard on others.
  • They tend to be fault finders and pessimists.

Reality for Optimalists

  • They set high standards and ambitious goals that are attainable and grounded in reality.
  • Their goals are flexible and adaptable. They are willing to experiment, take risks, seek feedback, and see the benefits in criticism.
  • They are curious with a genuine desire to learn.
  • Optimalists value the journey, expect detours, and seek to learn from (not fear) failure: “learn to fail or fail to learn”.

Emotions of Optimalists

  • They permit a full range of emotions, accepting both the pleasant and unpleasant experiences.
  • Optimalists appreciate and savor success, and can find satisfaction in a less then perfect performance.
  • The “good enough” mindset results in more energy. Coping and learning increases self-confidence, encouraging optimalists to take on more challenges.
  • A rich emotional life of high self-esteem and self acceptance is the reward for being an optimalist.

Psychological health

In a recent email Tal explained to us, “Where we are on the continuum between optimalism and perfectionism is one of the better predictors of mental health. It doesn’t explain everything, but it explains a lot.” On curiosity and intrinsic motivation, Tal offered, “Optimalists tend to be more intrinsically motivated, and curiosity is a form of intrinsic motivation. Perfectionists are usually driven by their need to prove themselves, not by their desire to learn.”

Acceptance and mindfulness

Amongst the many practical ways to become an optimalist, Tal advocates active acceptance and reminds us of the importance of mindfulness:

“Active acceptance is about recognizing things as they are and then choosing the course of action we deem appropriate and worthy of ourselves.” (pp. 51-57)

“Accepting myself, sensitivity and all, is more likely to help me become more resilient. When I accept the emotion – when I accept myself – that’s when I am in the best mindset and heart-set to change.” (pp. 51-57)

“Permission to feel, to experience the experience rather than to ruminate on it; it’s about accepting emotions as they are, being with them rather than trying to understand and ‘fix’ them” (p. 68)

Finding peace

Tal’s practical “Time In” exercises, reflections, and meditations help the reader lessen the grip of perfectionism. However, Tal does not set up unrealistic expectations. No quick fix, no silver bullets. It takes time, hard work and regular practice.

This book reminds us to allow ourselves to have a good enough life and to give ourselves permission to be human. So begins the journey of moving towards optimalism, and to a place of peace, satisfaction, and happiness.

Acknowledgments:

Many thanks to Tom Weirich, colleague, friend and fellow member of Positive Workplace International (PWI). Tom is an Advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors, and helps people thrive and prosper by working at the intersection of money and happiness.

After recently reading and reviewing Tal’s book for our PWI team, Tom and I co-wrote this article for Positive Psychology News Daily (PPND): [Book Review] Permission to be an Optimalist .

A big thank you to Kathryn Britton, PPND Associate Editor, Consultant and Coach.  Kathryn refined and improved the final version of the PPND article.  More about Kathryn >>

Finally, thank you Tal for the great book, and for also conversing with Tom and me over email and answering our questions.

Reference:

Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill.