Ryan M. Niemiec Psy.D.

What Matters Most?

5 Key Tips for Finding Happiness at Work

New survey highlights why employees should use their strengths.

Posted Mar 06, 2015

VIA Institute/Shutterstock
Source: VIA Institute/Shutterstock

Can you really improve each of the following at work by using your strengths?

Have you heard the phrase: An engaged employee is a happy employee? Or maybe it’s the other way around – an engaged employee is a happy one? Either way, these four outcomes above are some of the benefits that emerge when employees are asked to identify their highest character strengths and bring them into their daily work life. A new survey offers additional support.

Strengths pioneer, Michelle McQuaid, in partnership with the VIA Institute, recently conducted an independent survey of 1,000 people in the United States. The target was working men and women - managers and employees - who were asked about their strengths use. I will highlight several of the interesting findings in this article.

At the same time, I will share five of the key findings from the VIA Institute that are crucial for taking a strengths perspective at work.

1.) You will grow more from focusing on strengths rather than remediating weakness.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to overcome a weakness but research suggests it’s not as likely to get you as far as focusing on your strengths. For example, recent research in CBT has found that individuals with depression recover better if their therapists target what they are good at compared with trying to build up what they are weak in. This idea is permeating the workplace as well:

  • In the survey by McQuaid, 64% of employees believe building on their strengths will make them more successful at work, compared to 63% in 2006 who believed they’d grow most in their areas of weakness!

2.) Strengths awareness is the first step.

Unfortunately, many employers are mindless of their employees’ strengths. Busy managers struggling to meet a bottom line or lost in a litany of tasks and projects are not likely to give much attentiveness to their employees’ strengths.

  • Only 34% of managers can name the strengths of their employees.
  • 32% have had a meaningful discussion about their employees’ strengths in the last three months.

What’s even more appalling about these low numbers is that this survey is of “strengths in general,” not of character strengths. Thus, managers had a lot of leeway when asked to think about their employees’ strengths. In their minds, these managers could think about strengths in terms of their employees’ talents, their interests, their skills, and so on (we have many types of strengths). I would speculate that this already-low number would DECREASE dramatically if managers were asked to list their employees’ strengths of character…and the number would decrease even further if they were asked whether or not they appreciated their employees’ character strengths in the last 3 months.

3.) Schedule time to express appreciation for your employees’ strengths.

Strengths appreciation refers to expressing value for who your employees are – their core personality. It’s certainly a good thing to appreciate the unique talents of an employee but that falls under the category of what the employee is “doing.” When you appreciate an employee’s character strengths, you are acknowledging and valuing the employee’s sense of “being.”

  • 78% of employees who report having a meaningful discussion with their manager about their strengths feel that their work is making a difference and is appreciated.

4.) Connect character strengths with your everyday work tasks.

“Strengths alignment” occurs when an employee finds ways to express their signature strengths in their tasks at work. An employee high in curiosity will enjoy exploring key questions around each project while an employee high in gratitude will likely want to make time to connect with colleagues and understand and appreciate the various projects colleagues are doing for the company.

  • 79% of employees who have the opportunity to do what they do best each day feel like they are making a difference and their work is appreciated.
  • 70% of employees who have the opportunity to do what they do best each report they are flourishing at work.

5.) Make “flourishing at work” one of your goals this year.

The application of character strengths at work is accumulating mounting evidence across several studies. Research on strengths at work is showing that the use of signature strengths (employees’ highest strengths) is connected with greater work satisfaction, work engagement, work as a calling in life, more positive experiences at work, and greater productivity. Let’s return to McQuaid’s survey for additional support:

  • 71% of employees who believe their managers can name their strengths report feeling engaged and energized by their work.
  • These employees are the most likely to be flourishing (65%), rather than languishing or merely “getting by” at work.


Learn more about the work of Michelle McQuaid, click here:

Learn more about the work of the VIA Institute, click here:

Learn your top character strengths by taking the VIA Survey.


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