Positive psychology in the workplace

Implementing positive psychology in the workplace means creating an environment that is relatively enjoyable and productive. This also means creating a work schedule that does not lead to emotional and physical distress.


According to information provided by The United States Department of Labor, “In 2009 employed persons worked an average of 7.5 hours on the days they worked, which were mostly weekdays. [In addition to that], 84 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work at their workplace.[1]” [1] Therefore, this indicates that the majority of the population is spending their waking hours at work, outside their homes. Therefore, employers must do their best to create a low stress and inspiring work environment to yield greater productivity. Michelle T. Iaffaldano and Paul M. Muchinsky were one of the first people to reignite interest in the connection between job satisfaction and job performance. The meta-analytic research of these individuals impacted the way in which later research on the topic was conducted, especially regarding sample sizes.[2]

Positive psychology in the workplace is about shifting attention away from negative aspects such as work violence, stress, burnout, and job insecurity. Positive psychology can help create a working environment goal of promoting positive affect in its employees. Fun should not be looked at as something that cannot be achieved during work but rather as a motivation factor for the staff. Along these same lines, it is important to examine the role of: helping behaviors, team building exercises, job resources, job security and work support. The new emerging field of Positive Psychology also helps to creatively manage organizational behaviors and to increase productivity in the workplace through applying positive organizational forces.[3] In the broad sense traditional psychology has not specifically focused on the implementation of positive psychology methods in the workplace. The recent research on job satisfaction and employee retention has created a greater need to focus on implementing positive psychology in the workplace.

Major theoretical approaches

Martin E.P. Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi are noted as two individuals who mainstreamed the idea of positive psychology as an area of study. They state that “psychology has become a science largely about healing. Therefore its concentration on healing largely neglects the fulfilled individual and thriving community”.[4] According to Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, “the aim of positive psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities.”[4] Positive psychology hopes its necessity will diminish because it will eventually be incorporated to pre-existing areas of psychological study.

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers developed Humanistic Psychology that focuses on the positive potential of people and on helping people to reach their full potential.[5]

Peter Warr is noted for his early work on work well being. “Proponents of the well-being perspective argue that the presence of positive emotional states and positive appraisals of the worker and his or her relationships within the workplace accentuate worker performance and quality of life”.[6] A common idea in work environment theories is that demands match or slightly exceed the resources. In regards to the research regarding positive outcomes within the employment setting, several models (Demand Control, Job Demands-Resources, and Job Characteristics) have been established.

Demand control model

Robert A. Karasek is credited with this particular work design model. The Demand Control Model (DCM) has been used by researchers to design jobs that enhance the psychological and physical well-being.[7] This model promotes a work design that proposes high demand and high control, fostering an environment that encourages learning and offers autonomy simultaneously. This model is based on an assumption that “workers with active jobs are more likely to seek challenging situations that promote mastery, thereby encouraging skill and knowledge acquisition”.[8] This model also points out the role of social support, referring to the quality interactions between colleagues and managers.[9] However, there is some controversy over this model because some researchers [10] believe it lacks evidence for the interaction between demand and control. The DCM is commonly criticized for its inability to consistently replicate findings to support its basic assumption. The DCM has been criticized for “its simplicity, inability to capture the complexity of work environments.However there is evidence that supports the idea that “high amounts of job control is associated with increases in job satisfaction and decreased depression, however high demands with out adequate control may lead to increase anxiety”.[7]

Job demands-resources

The job demands-resources model (JD-R) is an expansion of the DCM and is founded on the same principle that high job demands and high job resources produce employees with more positive work attitudes. The difference between the JD-R and DCM is that the JD-R expounds upon the differentiation between demand and resources, as well as encompasses a broader view of resources. This model refers to demands as “ those physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job that require sustained physical and/or psychological effort.[11] This may refer to jobs that require contact with customers. Resources are regarded as “those physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job that are either/or: (1) functional in achieving work goals; (2) reduce job demands and the associated physiological and psychological costs; and (3) stimulate personal growth, learning, and development”.[11] Another difference between these two theories is that the JD-R postulates that resources can be predictors of motivation and learning related outcomes. The findings by Bakker and colleagues supports their hypothesis that many resources may be linked to job well-being. They also found that “task enjoyment and organizational commitment are the result of combinations of many different job demands and job resources. Enjoyment and commitment were high when employees were confronted with challenging and stimulating tasks, and simultaneously had sufficient resources at their disposal”.[11]

Job characteristics model

The job characteristics model (JCM) is “an influential theory of work design developed by Hackman and Oldham. It is based upon five characteristics - skill variety, task identity, task significance, task autonomy, and task feedback - which are used to identify the general content and structure of jobs”.[7] This model argues that employees with a personal need for growth and development, as well as knowledge and skill, will display more positive work outcomes. These include things such as: job satisfaction, lower absenteeism, and better work turnover. This model is based upon an idea that high task control and feedback are two essential elements for maximizing work potential. Stronger experiences of these five traits is said to lead to greater job satisfaction and better performance.[7]

Empirical evidence


In order to protect the physical and mental health of workers, the demands of the job must be balanced by easily accessible job resources in order to prevent burnout in employees yet encourage employee engagement.[12] The interaction between the demand and resources within a job determines employee engagement or burnout. Engagement signifies a positive employee who is committed to the safety within the workplace for self and others. In contrast, burnout represents a negative employee possessing elements of anxiety, depression, and work-related stress. Engagement increases as job resources like knowledge of safety are present. On the other hand, burnout increases when more job demands are present without the buffering effects of job resources.

Hazards in the workplace can be seen as a combination of the physical demands of the work and the complexity of the work. Job resources provide a buffering effect that protects the employees from job demands like high work pressure, an unfavorable physical environment, and emotionally demanding interactions.[13] Employees are better equipped to handle changes in their work environment when resources are readily available.[14] The resources a job can provide include autonomy, support, and knowledge of safety. Autonomy allows employees the freedom to decide how to execute their work. Support can originate directly from a supervisor or from other workers in the environment. And lastly, employees must have knowledge about safety procedures and policies. When the employee is able to work in a safe environment, workers are more satisfied with their jobs. A safe environment provides support and resources that promote healthy employees.

Emotion, attitude and mood

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, and interpret emotions that can be used to regulate emotions and assist cognitive processes which promote emotional and intellectual growth.[15] Emotional intelligence has been researched by Carmelli (2003) in order to see its effect on employees work performance.[16] Due to the social nature of the interactions of the employees, emotional intelligence is essential in order to work well with co-workers. When employees work well together their task performance improves and as a result the business benefits. With emotional intelligence, employees are better able to perceive others needing help and are more willing to help for intrinsic benefits.

Isen & Reeve (2005) proposed that positive affect led to positive intrinsic motivation for completing a task.[17] As a result of the intrinsic motivation, the employees enjoyed the task more and were more optimistic when having to complete more uninteresting task. The combination of having the freedom to choose tasks and maintaining positive affect results in better task performance. Positive affect promotes self-control to remain focused on any task and forward-looking thinking that motivates workers to look-forward to more enjoyable tasks.

Concepts of positive psychology like hope and altruism provide a positive work environment that influences the moods and attitudes of workers. Youssef & Luthans (2007) examined the effects hope, optimism, and resilience had in the workplace on employees’ job performance, job satisfaction, work happiness, and organizational commitment.[18] Hope and resilience had a more direct effect on organizational commitment whereas hope had a greater impact on performance. Hope allows employees to be better at creating more realistic plans for completing task so as not to focus on the failure that accompanies an incomplete task. Optimism strengthens the employee’s resilience to break through barriers and causes the employee to build social support and other strengths to overcome obstacle he or she may encounter.

Positive psychology also encourages maintaining positive mood in the work environment to encourage productivity on an individual level and organizational level. Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB) refer to behaviors like altruism and compliance that are not formal tasks in that the behaviors are not a mandatory of the workers job description. They are considered extra-role behaviors that help in gauging the workers commitment to the job and to the rules of the job in the absence of monitoring these behaviors. OCB have proven to improve the moods of employees and the moods in the workplace.[19] A helping behavior improves mood because the individual is no longer focused of negative moods; helping others acts as a distracter for the employee. Altruism is effective because it has more impact in a social setting like the workplace and is more extrinsically rewarding. OCB encourage positive interactions among workers and lead to better psychological health for employees.

According to Froman (2010), having a more hopeful perspective about life leads one to being more optimistic about responding to opportunities.[20] Workers are more resilient to adversity and are able to bounce back more quickly. When organizations encourage positive attitudes in their employees, they grow and flourish. As a result, the organization profits and grows from the human capital of productive employees and the monetary capital resulting from productive workers.


Chan (2010) studied fun activities in the workplace that created a positive work environment that could retain and attract employees and encourage employee well-being.[21] Activities must be enjoyable and pleasurable. The activities also encourage employees to be more responsible and a team player. These qualities empower employees to more engaged with their work, take on more leadership roles, and experience less stress. Making work fun promotes positive, happy moods in employees that in turn increase job satisfaction and organizational commitment. According to Chan’s framework, workplace fun must be staff-oriented, supervisor-oriented, social-oriented, or strategy oriented.[21] While staff-oriented activities focus on creating fun work for employees, supervisor-oriented activities create a better relationship between the employees and supervisors. Social-oriented activities create social events that are organizational-based (i.e. company barbecue or Christmas office party). Strategy-oriented activities allow more autonomy with employees in different aspects of their work in hopes of cultivating strengths within the organization’s employees. The framework proposes that a fun work environment promotes employee well-being in addition to fostering creativity, enthusiasm, satisfaction and communication among the organization’s employees. The research found in this study hopes to encourage implementing other work fun activities in other various industries in order to engage and retain positive employees.


There are several examples of popular, real-world uses of infusing Positive Psychology in the workplace. In such contexts such as a workplace, researchers often hope to examine and measure variable levels of such factors such as productivity and organization. One such popular model is the aforementioned Job Characteristics Model (JCM), which applies influential theories of work as it correlates to the five central characteristics of skill variety, task identity, task significance, task autonomy, and task feedback.[22] However, such practices such as business teams within a workplace often present the varying dynamics of positivity and negativity in business behaviors. There are often a plethora of special research teams that go into looking at certain workplaces in order to help report to employers the status of their employees. Furthermore, the three psychological states often measured and examined are: meaningfulness of performed work, responsibility of outcomes, and results knowledge. In mixing together these aspects, a score is generated in order to observe a range reflecting a job quality. In addition, each score details the differing degrees of autonomy and necessary feedback as it relates to ensuring high quality work. Most research points to the fact that typical teams of high performance are those that function high on positivity in their workplace behaviors.


Adequate research regarding whether the practice of measuring factors, such as positive behaviors is lacking. More specifically, in attempting to measure some form of a variable in order to later ensure a positive environment context in the workplace, there is debate to an extent regarding which proper components to value and measure. Additionally, the act and process of specifically looking into certain factors of productivity in the workplace can also go on to influence workers negatively due to pressure.


The multitudes of research and new, developing information detailing the possibility of positive psychology at work often deals with reporting workplace safety, the engagement of the employees, productivity, and overall happiness.[23] Moreover, understanding the significance of a healthy work environment can directly provide and contribute to work mastery and work ethic. Motivation, researchers have learned, helps to keep a reinforced sense of both discipline and a higher perception which then yields to higher levels of efficiency for both employees and employers.

See also


  1. United States Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics.”American Time Use Survey”. June 2010. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm
  2. Iaffaldano M.T., & Muchinsky P.M (1985). Job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 97, 251-273
  3. Andrew J. Martin,"The Role of Positive Psychology in Enhancing Satisfaction, Motivation, and Productivity in the Workplace", University of Western Sydney, 2005
  4. 1 2 Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14.
  5. Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Psychology: The evolution of a science. Psychology (p. 1.10). New York: Worth Publishers.
  6. Harter, J., Schmidt, F., & Keyes, C. 2003. Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes: A review of the Gallup studies. In C. Keyes & J. Haidt (eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived: 205-224. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Turner N., Barling J., & Zacharatos A. (2002). Positive psychology at work. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 715–728). New York: Oxford University Press.
  8. Turner N., Barling J., & Zacharatos A. (2002). Positive psychology at work. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 715–728). New York: Oxford University Press.
  9. Ruckenbiel J. (2013).Gesundheit, Arbeit und Zusammenhalt (pp. 93-122).Freiburg: Centaurus Verlag.
  10. Toon W. Taris (2006). Bricks without clay: On urban myths in occupational health psychology. Work & Stress Vol. 20, Iss. 2..
  11. 1 2 3 Bakker, A. (2010). Psychosocial safety climate as a precursor to conducive work environments, psychological health problems, and employee engagement. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83(3), 795-814.
  12. Nahrgang, J.D., Morgeson, F.P., & Hofman, D.A. (2011). Safety at work: A meta-analytic investigation of the link between job demands, job resources, burnout, engagement, and safety outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(1), 71-94
  13. Nahrgang, J.D., Morgeson, F.P., & Hofman, D.A. (2011). Safety at work: A meta-analytic investigation of the link between job demands, job resources, burnout, engagement, and safety outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(1), 71-94.
  14. Wanberg, C. R., & Banas, J. T. (2000). Predictors and outcomes of openness to changes in a reorganizing workplace. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85: 132-142.
  15. Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Theory, findings, and implications. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 197–215.
  16. Carmelli, A. (2003). The relationship between emotional intelligence and work attitudes, behavior and outcomes. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 18, 788–813.
  17. Isen, A. M., & Reeve, J. (2005). The influence of positive affect on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Facilitating enjoyment of play, responsible work behavior, and self-control. Motivation and Emotion, 29, 295–323.
  18. Youssef, C. M., & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management, 33: 774-800.
  19. Glomb, T.M., Bhave, D.P., Miner, A.G., & Wall, M. (2011). Doing good, feeling good: Examining the role of organizational citizenship behaviors in changing mood. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 191-223.
  20. Froman, L. (2010). Positive psychology in the workplace. Journal of Adult Development, 17: 59-69.
  21. 1 2 Chan S.C.H., (2010) Does workplace fun matter? Developing a useable typology of workplace fun in a qualitative study. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 29(4), 720-728.
  22. Turner N., Barling J., & Zacharatos A. (2002). Positive psychology at work. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 715–728). New York: Oxford University Press.
  23. Turner N., Barling J., & Zacharatos A. (2002). Positive psychology at work. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 715–728). New York: Oxford University Press.
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