In 2020 we faced rapid and unexpected changes to how we work. As a result the role and responsibility of the workplace in supporting employee mental health is now more widely recognised and also more widely scrutinised than it was before the pandemic. Workplaces are looking for the tools to support their staff and Positive Psychology has gained awareness as one of those tools - so what is it and how can it help?
Positive Psychology is the scientific, evidence-based, study of human flourishing. In the workplace it is about understanding how we can help employees (ie. people) thrive - how might we help people enjoy being at work, feel good about the work they do, and who they do it with/for.
To clarify - Positive Psychology is not about being happy all the time, it does not promote ‘toxic positivity’, nor does it seek to undermine/replace traditional psychology in any way, and it is not about dismissing ‘negative’ emotions and experiences. It is also not just about free yoga classes and abundant fruit bowls - which are lovely, but alone will not allow people within an organisation to thrive. All the free bananas in the world won’t compensate for a lack of positive leadership, psychological safety or meaning in your work.
Positive Psychology (which I’m just going to call ‘PosPsych’ from now as it’s getting cumbersome to type!) is often based on what is known as the PERMAH Theory of Wellbeing developed by leading Psychologist Dr Martin Seligman which breaks Wellbeing down into the following lived elements:
P: Positive Emotions
H: Physical Health
The importance of each of these elements in contributing to our Wellbeing (at home or at work) is well researched and we can think of these elements as the building blocks of our individual and collective wellbeing. It’s unlikely that one element alone will make you bounce out of bed each day to get to work (as great as those bananas are), but taken together we can measure ( head over to www.permahsurvey.com for a free individual assessment) how we perform as an individual, team or organisation on each of these elements. We can then design a positive Workplace Wellbeing program that incorporates all the building blocks, with a focus on specific elements, to help an organisation & its employees thrive. Research has shown that employees who are thriving at work are more engaged, more creative & innovative, more productive, less likely to burn out and less likely to quit. Who’d have thought? What’s good for the employee is also good for the business.
Importantly, we also need to normalise the idea that not thriving ie. struggling at work, is ok too. As Michelle McQuaid (a well known Australian PosPysch practitioner) notes…
‘...we need to also make struggling an important part of wellbeing conversations.”
Struggling can feel very isolating and we should work to make it easier to share these feelings within any Workplace Wellbeing program so that we don’t risk accidentally isolating people.
As a Workplace Strengths Coach who studies Positive Psychology but also absolutely struggles & languishes at times (I like to refer to myself at those times as being ‘positively f****d’), I couldn’t agree more.
There is so much more to Positive Psychology at work - if you’d like to know more about how to support the Wellbeing of your team or organisation please get in touch ...