Zest and Work

How’s your zest? Your vitality, energy, exuberance, vigor, engagement? Do you approach your work with “anticipation, energy, and excitement”?

These are important questions because zest is linked with enhanced psychological wellbeing and better physical health, which in turn affect such things as job performance, reduced turnover and absenteeism. “People who are zestful are more likely to pursue flow (engagement) in their everyday activities and to regard their lives as meaningful.”

Zest and Work is the title of an article in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior (Note 1). The researchers, some big names in Positive Psychology, already knew that zest predicts general life satisfaction. This was based on their extensive work with the VIA (Values in Action) classification of character strengths. Wanting to extend their research into workplace settings, the researchers were interested in how zest is related to work satisfaction, and how zest relates to the concept of work as a calling.

Work satisfaction
Work satisfaction and commitment is ‘not simply a function of the work itself’. Other factors include: safety, security, challenge, variety, and responsibility.  Further, what the employee brings to work is also important, such as their levels of happiness, enthusiasm, and ability to be socially engaged.

Work as a calling
Work which is defined as a ‘calling’ occurs when employees are motivated to work because it is fulfilling, is intrinsically rewarding, and is ‘central to one’s very existence’. Such workers have high work satisfaction and take fewer sick days, and work units experience higher morale and better communication.

Research Results

The study of 9,803 participants confirmed the hypothesis that ‘zestful individuals would be more likely to experience their work as a calling and [would be] more satisfied with their work and with life in general’. Of all of the VIA strengths, ‘zest was the single best predictor of work as a calling’.

Enhancing Zest

The researchers list some of the many ways to enhance zest.  For example, optimising health and fitness, having a hopeful and optimistic disposition, having a supportive supervisor and good social and work relationships, cultivating gratitude, and seeing where one’s work fits into the bigger vision.

What can we do?

Zest is within our personal control, and is also affected by our workplace settings. Executives can take an interest in the ‘psychology of energy’ that drives their organisations. They can deepen their understanding of how employees’ levels of zest are affected by such things as workplace culture, communications, conversations, policies and procedures.

This is where the practical application of Positive Psychology, Positive Organizational Behavior, Positive Organizational Scholarship and Appreciative Inquiry can help executives to build positive workplaces where people are zestful and thriving.

Note 1: Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., Seligman, M.E.P. (2009), Zest and Work, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol 30; Issue. 2, pp 161-172
All quotes above are drawn from this article.

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