Many companies are fostering activities that keep their workers happy and stop them from leaving. The idea is based on research by American psychologist and author Martin Seligman, and it highlights the importance of fostering “positive psychology” at the workplace to improve job satisfaction, productivity, and profitability.
“Nearly all companies realize the importance of keeping their workers happy to reach their goals, but this quest to increase worker motivation has been elusive,” says Cecile Ruiz-Batalla, an organization development specialist and co-founder of Living Tools Training and Development Corp., a company offering training in positive psychology to help employees hurdle difficulties, adapt to change, and manage their careers and personal goals. Quoting Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Batalla says positive psychology is based on “flow”—a positive experience that motivates a person to perform a task for the sake of the task itself, or to so immerse himself in the task at hand that time passes unnoticed.
Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Good Business, surveyed 8,000 companies in the United States, where the flow was shown to have increased when workers knew why their work was important, when they received immediate feedback on whether or not they were on the right track, and when their ability matched their tasks. “Matching ability with the challenge seems to be the key,” Batalla says. Workers get bored and restless when under-challenged, but feel frustrated and irritable when the task is over their heads.
So how does a company know how happy its workers are? By measuring turnover, absenteeism and tardiness in the workplace, average tenure, and other productivity indices, says Batalla. The simplest behavioral measures include “the feel of the workplace, expressed gratitude and appreciation, and people enjoying outings, helping each other, and laughing often during the day.”
Once you’ve measured your employees’ level of engagement and commitment, you can look at your working environment, benefit package, incentives, and training program to see where you can improve. “There are many interventions and ways to apply positive psychology at the workplace, but the leadership would be a cost-free and logical place to start,“ says Batalla. “Leadership modeling is a potent driver of culture and climate, especially in small companies where the leader’s behavior is magnified.”
Training specialist Aileen Santos agrees: “The way I see it, every employer instinctively knows that the happiness of their employees depends on them. The difference lies in how seriously they want to take responsibility for it.”