Positive psychology is not about using psychology in positive ways at work. Instead, it's a particular branch of psychology that focuses on identifying and using a person's strengths and virtues to help her create a more meaningful and fulfilling life, function at her highest level and enhance her life experiences. Positive psychology is used to improve the quality of a person's work life, enhance her job performance and productivity and make companies more effective.
The tenets of positive psychology help to explain why human resource departments select candidates in the ways that they do. If a hiring department is using positive psychology, the staff would interview you using four specific areas, including identifying your positive work experiences in the past; giving you employment and achievement tests to identify your enduring psychological traits; asking you about positive relationships you have had at work; and getting your feedback on what makes a company pleasant to work for. If you aren't a good fit for the open position, an HR representative using positive psychology wouldn't just throw your resume in the trash, but would instead keep it on file, matching your strengths with a more suitable position in the future.
Facilitating and Managing Change
Managers and directors wanting to help employees adjust to changes at work may rely on positive psychology models, such as Lewin’s force-field analysis. One of the theories of positive psychology, force-field analysis helps managers to identify the forces that either drive or block movement toward a goal. By strengthening driving forces, a manager can counteract resistance to change, leading to successful, necessary changes. If staff need to be laid off, for example, a company might use this theory to counteract resistance -- a blocking force -- by explaining to the remaining workforce that a driving force for the lay offs was the need to keep the company in business, and thus keeping more jobs over the long term.
Beginning in 1992, hiring coaches who use positive psychology to develop an executive's leadership skills became a state-of-the-art trend. The coach takes a look at the executive using psychological measurements, hypothetical scenarios, experiential exercises, peer feedback and feedback from subordinates. This assessment is used to outline an executive's strengths, and the coach and the executive develop a plan to make best use of these strengths. Once the plan is implemented, the coach will follow up to see how well it's working.
Improving Occupational Health
Your company might also use positive psychology to improve your well-being, work-life quality and safety. A consultant using positive psychology might coach your company to enhance its strengths in areas such as equal employment opportunities, affirmative action, training, counteracting workplace stress and promoting mental health in the workplace. Examples might include allowing employees to work from home, flexible work schedules, on-site yoga or free employee day care.
- University of Pennsylvania: Positive Psychology Center
- Applied Psychology New Frontiers and Rewarding Careers: Rewarding Careers Applying Positive Psychological Science to Improve Quality of Work Life and Organizational Effectiveness
- Employment Relations Today: Employee Coaching: The Way to Gain Commitment, Not Just Compliance
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.