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workplace positive psychology

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Workplace positive psychology is a subset of Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology that seeks optimization of the work experience  from the employee’s perspective. The area applies principles and practices from positive psychology to improve employee wellbeing and, as a consequence, enhance productivity, profitability and sustainability in the organization.

Positive psychology is the study of human happiness and wellbeing and how those qualities can be fostered to help people self-actualize and flourish. A central concept of the area of study is that happy people function at a higher level than unhappy individuals and have a beneficial effect on their environments. In the workplace, that higher level of functioning is likely to lead to greater creativity, innovation and productivity.

Elements of workplace positive psychology

Employee experience is affected by a company's physical workspace, the work-life balance the company supports, corporate culture and management style. Improving employee experience tends to pay off and may not require any expense. Positive reinforcement, for example, can involve simply making a point of recognizing individual or team achievements so that people feel their contributions are valued. Other elements common to nurturing work environments include the option to telecommute, flexible hours, wellness initiatives such as mindfulness training and yoga classes. A results-only workplace (ROWE) provides motivation for high levels of efficiency by rewarding efficient employees with more free time.

Martin Seligman, considered the father of positive psychology, emphasized the pursuit of meaning, rather than the pursuit of happiness, as its essence. Seligman believed that much of the human capacity for a cheerful disposition is genetically predetermined but that living a life of meaning and purpose brings fulfillment to those who seek that path. Workplace positive psychology expands that concept into the lives of individuals on the job.

This was last updated in July 2019

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