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Examining the impact of positivity at work is not new. In 1932
Hersey conducted a year-long study, considering the role of emotions
on ef ficiency. He observed an 8 per cent difference when workers
experienced positive emotional states, as contrasted with their
output when in a negative emotional state. In 2000, Daniel Goleman
reported that up to 20 to 30% of business performance can be
determined by the mood of employees, while a large body of this
research has been grounded in the concept of positive organisational
scholarship (POS) (Cameron, Dutton & Quinn, 2003), which
emphasises the importance of positive workplace practices more
broadly to produce desirable change in organisational performance.
Professor Kim Cameron and his colleagues at the Ross School of
Business, University of Michigan (2011), have fou nd that positive
practices in combination, including expressing gratitude, clarifying
the meaning of work, reinforcing an environment of respect, and
demonstrating compassion, have the most powerful impact.
Despite the hard science, the practical application of positive
organisational research to transform organisational culture and to
help individuals to flourish is still lacking as an every day practice in
many workplaces. Many misconceptions still exist mostly based on
taking a black and white approach to the use of strengths or from a
superficial ‘happiology’ perspective. The latest ‘positive’ approaches
in the workplace are nuanced, balanced and strategic with research
supporting increased uptake, such as Google’s ‘Search Inside
There is a growing consensus in business that strengths can
be overdone and potentially lead to derailment and poor
performance. There are a number of factors at play here that may
be influencing this relationship.
Firstly, the relationship between strengths and performance is
curvi-linear, with too much of a good thing adversely impacting on
performance. Imagine confidence becoming arrogance, or inclusive
decision making turning into procrastination.
Secondly, strength-based approaches can ignore the contex t
and system in which the individual is embedded. This is especially
true when strengths are assessed with inventories that measure
traits (for example, the commonly used VIA Scale) and then the
recipient is exhorted to use their top five strengths more without
qualification of adaptation to their local environment and role.
Thirdly, strength-based approaches can ignore or underestimate
the value and function of negative emotions. There is a reason why
we have evolved negative emotions like sadness (to cope with loss),
anger (to respond to an unjustified attack) and an xiety (to promote
Finally, positive approaches, including strength-based approaches,
can be used as part of a culture of happiness enforcement where
negative emotions are unacceptable in the pursuit of a culture of
happiology. The reality is that, as with all approaches, balance is key.
You will get a lot out of the mindful and measured development of
your strengths, but ignore those fatal flaws and red flags at your peril.
DR SUZY GREEN
FOR OR AGAINST?
TWO HR PROFESSIONALS TACKLE A TOPICAL DEBATE EACH MONTH.
Q CAN THERE BE TOO MUCH
POSITIVITY AT WORK?
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION? Continue the discussion on AHRI’s LinkedIn discussion group.
If you have a topic that you’d like to see debated, email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
15/07/2015 10:04 am
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