Positive emotions in the workplace

Wellbeing in the workplace is a hot topic right now with the growing realisation that feeling well equals doing well – and not just for individuals but for teams and your broader business. A growing body of scientific research also supports the fact that when employees experience high levels of wellbeing there’s a significant impact on productivity, engagement and ultimately the success of the business (Harter et al, 2002, Cameron et al, 2011).

And while most workplaces have good intentions in implementing wellbeing or wellness initiatives, it’s too easy to take a piecemeal approach. But if you’re really serious about creating a culture of wellbeing in your business (and ultimately improve its the success), what you need is a strategic and sustainable approach to wellbeing. In the first of her five-part wellbeing series, Clinical and Coaching Psychologist and CEO of The Positivity Institute, Suzy Green, will take a look at one of the most commonly used wellbeing models PERMA.

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Understanding the PERMA model

The PERMA model was created by Professor Martin Seligman, the founding father of the science of wellbeing, and commonly known as Positive Psychology. Professor Seligman identified five key components of wellbeing and overall human flourishing. This model is currently being used by an increasing number of businesses across Australia and the world. In fact, the South Australian government is also using PERMA to support its strategic goal of being the “wellbeing state of the world”.

In Part 1 of this series, we’ll take a look at P for Positive Emotions. What are they and how do they impact your business? We all know positive emotions feel good, however research has now shown that positive emotions also have a significant impact on our thinking and behaviours and how we function on a daily basis – especially our performance at work.

The Top 10 Positive Emotions

Psychological research has identified 10 different positive emotions including joy, gratitude, serenity, awe, inspiration, hope, pride, amusement, interest and love. Research suggest that when we experience positive emotions, we experience positive impacts such as improved immune functioning increased levels of creativity and greater levels of resilience when adversity hits.

This “broaden and build effect”) is absolutely crucial for peak business performance. Particularly for small businesses, where the daily challenges often take a toll on you and your team stress levels and can grind levels of positivity and creativity to a new low - leading to greater levels of negative emotions such as frustration, disappointment and fear. Now, while these so-called negative emotions are important for our survival, they can weigh us down too heavily and prevent positivity. They affect how we think and then how we behave – which translates into to a reduction in our engagement, productivity and performance at work and in our daily lives.

Why business owners should prioritise positivity

If you’re a business owner, there’s even a greater case as to why you should prioritise positivity. Research has shown that positive leadership is contagious! This means that the positive energy of the leader powerfully impacts the energy levels of their teams. So if you’re in a bad mood, that negativity will affect the wellbeing of your people and the emotional climate of your business. Positivity also has personal benefits for your employees, such as better relationships in and outside of work, and better overall physical and psychological health and wellbeing.

How to implement positivity in the workplace

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So where do you start? Firstly, put together a small team of people at work who have an intrinsic interest in health and wellbeing – this can just be you and one other person, or a separate dedicated group if your business has more employees. They’ll become your “wellbeing champions” and help you to identify opportunities to improve wellbeing in your workplace. Work with your champions to capture some creative ideas and quick wins that could make an immediate big difference to = the culture of wellbeing in your workplace. This might include implementing flexible work practices, a lunch time walking group, a regular fruit or healthy lunch delivery, increasing employee decision making capabilities (as increased levels of autonomy support wellbeing) or implementing a rewards and recognition program.

One of the simplest strategies you can implement, which has been shown to have a significant impact on work wellbeing is recognising and expressing gratitude at work. This might include starting your morning team huddle with each person identifying one thing that’s going well at work right now or something positive that’s happened in their personal life. Other simple ways of expressing gratitude are letting people know when they’ve done a good job and what it means to you as a business owner or the impact their actions have on the broader business outcomes. Everyone wants to feel valued and recognised for their contribution at work. The positivity that’s gained from focusing on the good is contagious and you’ll discover that a focus on what’s working well creates the opportunity for people to start seeing more of the good even in the face of the regular daily challenges of running a small business.

It’s also important to walk the talk, as a business owner, so it’s important you prioritise and invest in your own wellbeing – remember you can’t pour from an empty cup! Spend some time this month creating a personal wellbeing action plan, and/or engaging a professional to support you – whether that’s a personal trainer or a professional coach. And remember everyone’s different, so what works for you might not work for your team. Invest in the time to talk to your people and get their input before you head any further down the path to workplace wellbeing.

Next in the series we’ll take a look at E for Engagement and the important of knowing and using our strengths at work.

Dr Suzy Green

Dr Suzy Green is a Clinical and Coaching Psychologist (MAPS) and Founder of The Positivity Institute, a positively deviant organisation dedicated to the research and application of Positive Psychology for life, school and work.
Suzy is a leader in the complementary fields of Coaching Psychology and Positive Psychology, having conducted a world-first study on evidence-based coaching as an Applied Positive Psychology. Suzy was the recipient of an International Positive Psychology Fellowship Award and has published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Suzy lectured on Applied Positive Psychology as a Senior Adjunct Lecturer in the Coaching Psychology Unit, University of Sydney for ten years and is an Honorary Vice President of the International Society for Coaching Psychology.