What does Positive Psychology tell us about Organisations?

One of the biggest challenges facing psychology practitioners is taking the many theories and models and applying them to daily life in a useful and applicable way. It’s great being able to discuss things like the ethics of the Milgram experiment where people could have caused severe physical pain to (allegedly) unwitting participants. It’s fascinating to learn how taking drugs affect our mood and help regulate our thinking. It’s interesting to learn how children develop language and learn lexical knowledge.

By the way, worth saying that although my background is in psychology, I don’t necessarily class myself as a practitioner. More a pseudo-practitioner.

It’s not all easily transferable to everyday life though. Some of these models and theories need to be interrogated further to uncover and break through to the heart of the matter. In education for instance, how do we apply what we know about cognitive development to the purposeful act of learning and teaching?

And so it is with positive psychology. Here’s a school of thought which ia dedicated to helping people improve their personal sense of wellbeing and happiness. And, at an individual level I’m totally there. I know what interventions are useful. I’m learning how people apply them. I’m keeping open mind about what else is useful for people. And there’s a lot being shared about how to help people.

What remains a challenge, though, is how to help embed this knowledge in organisations to help them improve their organisational health. There’s an odd concept, right?

There are a few things which I think are useful to help thinking and planning, although not necessarily about actions.

Positive psychology tells us that when we show appreciation and gratitude to others, we feel better about ourselves for longer, and it helps others feel good about themselves. It also creates a lasting memory which we can draw on for feeling good. What would the application of that look like in an organisation without ir becoming a trite or false event?

Lots of people are aware of focusing on strengths as a way of developing others. Where possible we should totally do this. But where and how do we identify those strengths? Does this happen at recruitment? If so, are we hiring people for a strength in a skill or a strength in their attitude? Does it happen during performance reviews? If so, how is their strength measured? And is the strength relevant to the job?

One thing which I find fascinating is that in the modern world of work, we are tied to people staying in a lengthy contract of employment. I get it, but what happens when a person outgrows the organisation and is ready to move on? Do we actively and purposefully help them move on in the same way we would put them through a disciplinary procedure intending to exit them?

How do we help people build resilience? Positive psychology helps us to understand that we have to have personal capacity for dealing with bad events. It’s only through dealing with reality that we can make things better. If a process is broken, do people feel they have the personal power to make it change? If a project fails, do people feel safe that they can be expected to carry on with their job without it having detrimental effect on their career? If there are redundancies being made, how are we supporting the survivors to help them readjust and realign so that they can be their best?

How do we use people centred approaches to work? Things like believing in co-creation as a way of working. Not working groups or committees, but allowing things to emerge and be flexible in how they happen. Providing a set of principles as opposed to policies abd procedures. When rolling out a new initiative, inviting people to define for themselves what the roll out plan needs to look like instead of a uniform execution of the same thing. Give people parameters for what needs to happen and they will be amazing all on their own.

These are just some thoughts I’m trying to make work better. I’m not advocating everyone should act in these ways. And clearly some organisations will actively rail against a lot of what I’ve written because of the heavy regulatory frameworks they have to work in. So, I invite you to keep with me on this journey of application and discovery.

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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