Most of you will now be familiar with the term ‘positive psychology’. But what exactly is it? Let’s start by what it is not. It is not the same as positive thinking which promotes the idea that a strong positive attitude enables anyone to achieve success in whatever they wish to have or do. There is no scientific evidence for this and it can have seriously negative effects – ‘it’s my fault, I didn’t wish hard enough or want it enough.’ Sadly, wishing is not enough to win the lottery and, so, the end result of positive thinking is, for most, negative.
What is Positive Psychology?
Positive Psychology is relatively new – it focuses on what is going right rather than what is going wrong. It has a strong academic base – and it can help you think more positively. It is a science which helps develop the positive aspects of life – happiness, wellbeing and flourishing. It is sometimes known as ‘the science of wellbeing’.
So, how can this help to improve performance in the workplace? It takes a rare and brave individual who will talk to a beleaguered CEO about increasing happiness amongst their employees. However, talk to them about improving the results of their sales’ team or enhancing productivity or getting groups to work more effectively together and, ultimately, improving the bottom line and there may be a spark of interest. Happiness is not just a fluffy, vague concept: it is beneficial in many ways. Happy employees have lower absenteeism, stay loyal for longer to their employers, are more helpful and co-operative team members and more creative.
Positive psychology in the workplace focusses on developing individual and team strengths. This may sound obvious but think about it. How much effort is expended on overcoming weaknesses which can be draining and test the motivation of even the most committed employee? A strengths’ based approach is so much more sustaining and rewarding – individuals and teams enjoy using their strongest assets. One of the most interesting areas of positive psychology study is that of character strengths. There are several tools available which enable the identification, assessment and fostering of character strengths. There is scientific data that demonstrates that capitalising on strengths is a surer route to success than attempting to develop weaknesses.
Positive Psychology in recruitment
Recruitment can be revised to look at natural strengths rather than purely past experiences or specific skills, which although necessary can be misleading as sources of motivation. When people are recruited to do what they love, less energy has to go into motivating them and co-workers benefit more from their positive contribution.
There is now a large body of literature available on Positive Psychology and Master’s degrees offered in the UK and US for those interested in exploring this further.
The author, Valerie Fairbank, was a headhunter for many years focusing on Board appointments. She has a degree in English and Philosophy, an MBA and an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology. Valerie acts as an informal adviser to Theron LLP – if you are interested in learning more, please contact Fiona Makowski.