The Power of Positivity

One key area that I am super excited to research and post about in this blog is how to create a positive work culture and how to apply the principles and research from positive psychology to working in a non-profit organization.

I love the idea of spending time and energy looking at what we can do to be happier and more fulfilled in our lives, including how we can do this at work. There are many reasons why I see this topic as an invaluable one to be looking at right now. Currently, the rates of depression and unhappiness have never been higher and the overall dissatisfaction at work seems to have sky rocketed. According to research, 71% of Americans are unhappy and unmotivated in their jobs and the World Health Organization has just deemed ‘burnout’ an official medical diagnosis. We have never worked harder or longer than right now. Indeed, the average American works at least 47.5 hours per week, which means we typically spend more hours interacting with our work colleagues than our own families (or our own cats, if that’s more your style). If people are not happy and satisfied at work, then chances are they are not happy in life overall.

I definitely see a lot of negativity and stress running rampant in work cultures, including non-profit organizations. Indeed, it often seems to be the case that being burned out, stressed out and overwhelmed is commonly perceived as a badge of honor and something to be proud of. When someone is asked how work is going, the typical response is very often something negative. Indeed, if someone answers that it’s going well or, heaven forbid, great, the majority of people probably think they’re delusional (or not really doing any work). Negativity is contagious – if you spend a lot of time in a negative culture and around ‘toxic’ people, it is virtually impossible not to be affected by it. We are all tremendously affected by the opinions and moods of the people we spend time with and, unfortunately, negativity is especially powerful. Indeed, the influence of a negative person is shown to be 4-7 times greater than the influence of a positive person. So it takes an inordinate amount of positivity to balance the effects of just one negative person.

I try to make a conscious effort to be a positive influence in my team and promote a positive culture. It’s not that I pretend things aren’t busy or stressful, but I am mindful that the way I present myself can greatly influence those around me. I would truly love it if it was ok to say that we actually like, or even love our jobs and what we do. Sure there are challenges and stressful situations, but handling these situations is often what makes us feel really good about what we do and what keeps the work interesting.   

I have been a Mental Health Counselor for nearly 15 years and during this time I have shifted from adopting a more traditional approach to psychology to being much more focused on the work of Positive Psychology. Traditional psychology focuses on ‘dysfunction’ and how to treat it to make the person ‘normal’ (or average). Positive Psychology focuses on what people can do to be happier and more fulfilled in their lives; how they can be ‘above average’. Positive Psychology has a lot of research that shows us how our lives can be improved, and much of this can be applied directly at the workplace. This research clearly demonstrates how a positive approach can lead to tremendous benefits to the individual, those around them and the organization as a whole.

One of my favorite writers and researchers on this topic is Shawn Achor. His Ted Talk ‘the Happy Secret to Better Work’ has had over 20 million views to date. The talk is only 12 minutes long and is jam packed with great information (Shawn talks really fast, so he can fit in a lot of ideas in a short time frame – but there is a transcript if you have a hard time keeping up).  If you have 12 free minutes in your day or need a quick break from whatever you are currently working on, then I highly recommend this. His book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ goes more in-depth into the ideas and shows how having a positive mindset leads to big advantages at work. These include feeling healthier and taking significantly less sick days, an improvement in relationships, significantly better performance ratings, higher pay and also a 40% increased likelihood of being promoted within 2 years. Whereas we traditionally see happiness as a goal that will be achieved when we get the next promotion, or a newer car, or a bigger house; Sean’s research shows us that happiness and a positive mindset are actually the precursor to success. There may be some successful people who are happy, but nearly all happy people are successful.

Furthermore, from a management, leadership and business perspective, the ramifications of workers being more positively engaged are a game changer. Workers with a positive mindset will have a 37% increase in sales, a 31% increase in productivity, and will be 10 times more engaged in the organization they work for.  Barbara Fredrickson writes about the ‘Broaden and Build Theory’. This shows that a negative mindset tends to result in a fight or flight response to stress, where as a positive mindset broadens the number of responses and possibilities we process; making us more thoughtful, creative and open to new ideas. Positive emotions also increase activity in the learning centers of our brains, meaning that we can think more quickly, be more creative and have vastly improved problem solving.

Fortunately, having a positive mindset is not preset by genetics or totally influenced by environment. While we may have a tendency that is inherent, people can also significantly change their outlook in a number of quick and easy ways. As a leader, finding ways to promote a positive mindset in your team can lead to huge results. Many for-profit companies like Yahoo, Google and Virgin spend a lot of time and resources making the work environment fun and positive. Sure having table tennis (that’s ping-ping to my American friends) and bringing your pet to work may seem may seem like a gimmick, but in reality the rationale is that a positive workplace vastly improves business.

I really look forward to sharing and learning lots of ways that we can improve our own positive mindset and also promote positive work cultures. If we can make a difference in people’s overall happiness then that in itself is worth the effort; however, when these changes will likely lead to significant improvements in the work we do, then the ramifications are limitless.

One Reply to “The Power of Positivity”

  1. Loved the post. I understand that there are many reasons for pessimism in this world and, at times, in the nonprofit industrial complex in particular. That being said, I would like to add that if you work in the field of disability services and you choose to have a negative attitude or approach challenges with a problem instead of a solution orientation, you are likely further disabling the people you are called to serve. In that sense, choosing negativity is truly contra mission.

    Like

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