Business leaders seem to be reluctant to talk about the value of positive psychology in the workplace during tough economic times. On the one hand it's understandable not to be discussing happiness and positive things when people are losing their jobs. One the other hand, this is exactly the time for positive psychology to be used, to dispel the myth about "fluffy happy thoughts."
In my Financial Post article, "At Work, Feeling Good Does Matter," and my National Post articles, "Put On a Happy Face, Pile on the Profits," and "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off To Work We Go," and "Positive Leadership Pays Off," I argued that leaders need to take advantage of the findings in positive leadership to more effectively manage their organizations for better results. And while it may appear to be easier to do so during good economic times, it is even more critical now.
A new study from ComPsych found that more workers are suffering from high stress levels than in 2009. Among the findings:
And what were the causes?
Workload was blamed by 35% of employees, "people issues," came in a close second at 33% and a lack of job security stressed out 20% of respondents. These levels of stress can hurt business, with 44% of workers saying that it costs them at least an hour of productivity a day.
All too often during tough economic times, the response by management is to "bear down and tough it out," often giving the message to employees that they're lucky to have a job and have nothing to complain about. All too infrequently, those same managers neglect to examine the principles and strategies of positive psychology.
Positive psychology, championed by psychologist Martin Seligman, and others, demonstrates research that shows that having a healthy sense of control over one's life, work and environment is important for well-being and the absence of it results in anxiety, depression and lowered performance.
Business leaders manage their enterprise by setting goals and achieving them. Recent findings from positive psychology research identify factors such as character strengths, optimism and resilience playing significant roles in how well those goals are managed. Jill Hamburg Coplan, in an article in BusinessWeek, "How Positive Psychology Can Boost Your Business," argues that positive psychology can help leaders manage the bad times much better when they focus on employee strengths, praise, liking rewards to performance results, helping employees become better self-managers, and maintaining a cheerful, positive and optimistic attitude regardless of what is happening.
Our values are at the heart of what is important in life and work. A commitment to core values takes place in three forms: First, leaders need to be clear about the values they hold; second, they must effectively communicate those values to key stakeholders, and third, leaders need to ensure their actions are in alignment with their own personal values.
In applying the positive psychology principle of resilience, both managers and employees need to develop coping strategies to maintain or regain their sense of control over their lives. This means either they change their environment and start resolving issues causing their stress or they change their perspectives on what is within their control and what lies outside of it.
Ray Williams is President of Ray Williams Associates, a company based in Vancouver, providing executive and leadership training and coaching.