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Applying Positive Psychology at Work: Your Ultimate Guide

Looking to put a positive spin on your workplace? This ultimate guide combines research and resources into an actionable toolkit you can use to embed the principles of positive psychology in your office tomorrow.

Positive psychology in the workplace is an approach and method focused on building on what is working well and strengthening that, rather than focusing on “fixing” what is not working. In a workplace context, it’s an approach that can be applied to individuals, groups, and whole organisations.

Positive psychology is an area of psychology focusing on helping people build happy, meaningful, purposeful lives. Implementing positive psychology in the workplace is about building a positive and healthy work environment that is enjoyable, productive, and engaging. When positive psychology is applied in a workplace, it can be a powerful tool to help people thrive and perform at their best. And the boost can be quite significant. A study from the University of Oxford shows that happy employees are up to 13% more productive.

How to apply positive psychology in the workplace?

Positive psychology is all about turning the attention to what is working well, in order to enforce positive behaviours. It’s about using positive reinforcement and rewards, rather than negative reinforcement and punishments. So, how can this approach be applied in the day-to-day work, in order to increase work engagement and well-being? 

There are many different ways to apply positive psychology at work, and the organisations that have the greatest success are often the ones that manage to incorporate this mindset as an integral part of their culture.

Here are 7 ways to apply positive psychology in an organisation.

1. Celebrate wins–big and small

One way to apply this approach is by celebrating everything you’d like to see more of. This means acknowledging and celebrating wins: big and small, as well as on the individual, team, and organisational levels. Emphasising that each win is a win for everyone in the organisation helps foster a collaborative, supportive, and inclusive work culture.

2. Acknowledge behaviours, and not only results

Make sure to acknowledge positive behaviours, as well as results. It’s important to show that it’s not only “the what” that matters, but also “the how”. This message is essential in building a positive work culture. 

3. Adopt a growth mindset

You’ve probably heard about the value of adopting a “growth” or “abundance” mindset, as opposed to a “fixed” or “deficit” mindset. With a fixed mindset, abilities and resources are static and cannot be changed. This way of looking at things tends to hinder both personal and team development. Focusing on opportunities is a more fruitful attitude, and managers play an important role in leading by example and showcasing this mindset. 

4. Invest in learning and development

Investing in learning and developing is a great way to build on people’s strengths, and help them hone them even further. Noticing an employee is good at something or enjoys something, and offering the opportunity to develop that skill, even more, is an effective way to increase both engagement and performance. 

5. Make space for relationships and teambuilding 

Relationships in the workplace are important drivers of employee well-being and employee engagement. Strong relationships can also help reduce stress, increase employee retention, and improve overall performance. By monitoring the state of relationships and continuously working to facilitate them, organizations can create the foundation for strong teams and positive work culture. 

6. Avoid micro-managing

Managers play a crucial part in building positive work cultures and in applying positive psychology in the workplace. Micro-managing is the very opposite of positive reinforcement, and it's one of the quickest ways to undermine and eventually destroy job engagement and job well-being. 

7. Gamify work performance

Gamification can be an efficient way to automate positive reinforcement in the workplace. A typical example can be using screens in a sales office to show progress, and where high performance is celebrated and highlighted. 

Examples of positive psychology interventions in the workplace

Kindness boosters

Kindness is an infectious trait and behaviour closely connected to job happiness and job well-being, both for the person being kind and for the person experiencing kindness. There are many ways to make kindness an integral part of the work culture. For example.  be simple acts of kindness can be buying someone a symbolic token of appreciation, letting the team volunteer for a good cause, donating money or things, or participating in different types of CSR activities. 

Prosocial spending

Prosocial spending is a term describing the act of buying something as a gesture of goodwill. Outside of work, it can be things like taking your partner out for dinner or buying someone a present.  Prosocial spending in the workplace can be giving each team a budget for social team activities, or getting Christmas gifts for the staff. These are all tokens of appreciation that can go a long way, without breaking the bank. 

Final words

From the summary above, you’ll notice that applications of positive psychology at work can affect both subjective indicators of wellbeing and biophysical markers of health and stress.

And let’s not forget the human side of all this, too.

With our careers dominating much of our time and forming a central part of our identities, the consequences of a working life fraught with struggle are too great to ignore. Leaders, therefore, have a responsibility to create an environment where their employees can thrive, leverage their strengths, and contribute to something greater than themselves.

I hope this guide has given you the tools you need to create this reality for yourself, colleagues or your staff tomorrow.


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