Building Blocks of Positive Functioning at Work

{Donaldson, van Zyl, & Donaldson, 2022. PERMA +4: A Framework for Work-Related Wellbeing, Performance, and Positive Organizational Psychology 2.0. Front. Psychol. 12:817244}


Positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments (PERMA) are a robust framework for measuring, managing, and developing wellbeing. Expanding the original PERMA framework with factors of physical health, mindset, physical work environments, and economic security as essential contextually relevant building blocks for work-related wellbeing, a holistic framework for work-related wellbeing and performance emerges as PERMA+4.


A growing interest in understanding, measuring, managing, and developing positive work aspects is labeled Positive Organizational Psychology (POP; Donaldson & Ko, 2010).

The new positive approaches toward work-related wellbeing and performance have shown to be better predictors of individual and organizational performance than the Big Five personality dimensions, cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, the situational judgment test, interviews, and in-basket tests.

Despite the advances and positive findings, POP constructs have been criticized extensively regarding their distinct “newness,” inconsistent measures and instruments, and cultural bias. One criticism is that positive organizational interventions do not produce significant or sustainable wellbeing changes; where significant changes are shown, they are small or marginal at best.


PERMA is a base model for understanding the elements or “building blocks” leading to work-related wellbeing and work performance, a functional model for facilitating institutional leadership and creating positive organizational culture. However, the question is whether the PERMA factors are wellbeing components or, rather, mere correlates of wellbeing. Further, the model is silent on other factors essential to work-related wellbeing, such as the impact of the work or physical environment, positive physical health, growth mindset, and economic prosperity.


Building Blocks of Wellbeing

The fundamental work-related wellbeing principle is to help people fit in and function well at work.

Fitting in can be controlled during recruitment and selection.

Positive functioning occurs when individuals effectively manage daily fluctuations in positive and negative emotions at work (i.e., affect balance), have the opportunity to live up to their potentials, have a sense of meaning and purpose at work, harbor feelings of control over their work-life and the execution of duties, and can build and maintain positive work-related relationships. In addition, positive functioning leads employees to perform better at work-related tasks and extra-role performances (e.g., organizational citizenship behaviors).

Many POP interventions aim to enhance employees’ work-related wellbeing to increase their work performance. However, there is no consensus on the exact elements or “building blocks” of wellbeing that should be targeted to enhance work performance sustainably.


PERMA provides a framework for the routes or building blocks to consider when one wants to develop wellbeing. Wellbeing can be actively developed through pursuing five measurable elements:

Positive emotions. Experiencing happiness, joy, love, and gratitude in the here and now.

Engagement. Being highly absorbed, immersed, or experiencing flow while engaged in activities of one’s life.

Relationships. Establishing and maintaining positive, mutually beneficial relationships with others, characterized by experiences of love and appreciation.

Meaning. Being connected to something larger than the self or serving a bigger purpose.

Accomplishment. Experiencing a sense of mastery over a particular interest domain or achieving important or challenging life or work goals.


An extensive literature review and meta-analysis (Donaldson, 2019; Donaldson et al., 2020) found that four additional building blocks could explain additional variance in work-related wellbeing and work performance and could thus be considered for inclusion in the PERMA framework:

Physical Health. Operationalized as a combination of high biological, functional, and psychological health assets.

Mindset. Adopting a growth mindset is characterized by an optimistic, future-oriented view of life, where challenges or setbacks are seen as growth opportunities. Mindset may also be a function of psychological capital, perseverance, or grit.

Work Environment. The physical work environment quality (which includes Spatio-temporal elements, such as access to natural light, fresh air, physical safety, and a positive psychological climate) aligned with the individual’s preferences.

Economic Security. Perceptions of financial security and stability to satisfy individual needs.


The PERMA+4 model is a roadmap for factors leading to work-related wellbeing and sustainable performance. The factors are process factors, not active or targeted antecedents of wellbeing. The focus should be on what factors are needed to activate PERMA+4 to enhance work-related wellbeing and performance. Further, for individual, group or team, and organizational-related outcomes above and beyond wellbeing or mental health, these factors should be linked to objective strategic growth indicators or the organization’s financial performance.


Physical Health

Physical health, or optimal physiological functioning, is one of the essential components of wellbeing and mental health. Positive physical health aims to promote individuals’ positive health assets: biological assets, functional assets, and subjective or psychological health assets.

Biological assets refer to the positive ends of one’s physiological or anatomical functioning, such as physical fitness, health body-mass index, heart-rate variability, pulse, and blood pressure. In this domain, mindful reflection on one’s health history or habits is an improvement factor.

Functional assets refer to how well individuals execute their physical duties in life or at work. This includes self-reported reflections on physical activity or fitness at work.

Subjective assets are fundamentally a function of how one feels. Here the focus is on aspects that enhance perceptions of physical health, such as a sense of dedication, vigor, absorption, or vitality when engaged in physical activity.

The main point is that within an individual’s range of possible physical health levels, those that learn to function at the high end of their range are more likely to feel and function well, contributing to work-related wellbeing and high levels of overall life satisfaction.



A growth mindset is characterized by the belief that one’s intellectual abilities and talents are malleable and can be developed over time through hard work and deliberate practice, supporting a tendency to choose more challenging tasks that help stretch one’s current capabilities to facilitate personal growth and development, and a tendency to see failures as opportunities to grow, as well as learning from mistakes.

In contrast, those with a fixed mindset attribute failures and successes to external factors and are more likely to shy away from challenges or fail to live up to their potentials.

A growth mindset at work reveals itself in investing in personal development, actively seeking feedback on one’s performance to improve, showing a mastery orientation to goal attainment, showing positive beliefs that one’s work will provide opportunities to grow, that one can meaningfully contribute to the organization’s goals, and that work will provide meaningful challenges to test and stretch one’s capabilities. Growth mindset interventions at work significantly affect positive individual (e.g., mental health; wellbeing; and engagement) and organizational outcomes (e.g., increased performance).

Psychological capital refers to the development-oriented mindset individuals adopt and is another indicator or element of building a positive mindset at work. It is characterized by having the confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks, making a positive attribution about succeeding now and in the future, persevering toward goals, and when necessary, redirecting paths to goals to succeed, and when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond to attain success. Recently, work-related gratitude has been argued to be seen as an integral, additional component of PsyCap, since it is the intentional choice (conative, willing) to engage in positive appraisals (cognitive) and feelings (affective) of thankfulness and appreciation toward the characteristics, situations, and people (social aspect) currently present in one’s work context (situational and context-specific state). PsyCap factors are personal or psychological resources that synchronously interact to produce a development-based mindset over time through intentionality, goal pursuit, and self-discipline. Hope, self-efficacy,  work gratitude, and optimism is proactive and resilience reactive. PsyCap buffers against negative experiences associated with goal pursuits and facilitates goal attainment by framing failures and opportunities as positive stepping stones or growth opportunities. Interventions aimed at creating a positive mindset through PsyCap are effective, sustainable, durable, cross-culturally impactful, and integral for enhancing work-related wellbeing.

Positive psychological capacities are mindsets or experience-dependent mental-neural schemata [= frame (mental) – structures (neural)].


Work Environment

The work environment is a complex psychophysical system that is a function of both the objective physical stimuli at work and also elements subjectively experienced by employees (e.g., perceptions of physical safety or connectedness to others), including subjective evaluations of organizational climate and culture that employees encounter through the execution of their work roles.

The work environment influences wellbeing and performance through employees’ cognitive, affective, and relational responses. Cognitive responses are related to the environmental affordances to concentrate and focus on relevant tasks. Affective responses incorporate mood and emotions and pertain to non-cognitive responses to the physical design of the work environment, such as a sense of beauty, eliciting a restorative function on employees’ energies and experiences of positive affect. Finally, relational responses are highly influenced by the physical work environment; with whom and how often people connect or interact at work is directly influenced by workplace design.


Economic Security

One’s control over financial matters is a strong predictor of wellbeing. Relative certainty about one’s financial future, surety, stability, meeting basic physiological needs, and attending to financial obligations are buffers for stress, anxiety, and depression.

Although economic security cannot be developed actively, planning, managing, and controlling spending behavior can. Interventions aimed at training basic financial literacy and financial planning directly impact happiness, health, and wellbeing.


The Measurement of PERMA+4: The Positive Functioning at Work Scale

From an objective behavioral assessment perspective, it is important to investigate if what people self-report on PERMA+4 and how they behave are aligned.

Dimensions and Items of the PFW Scale:


Positive Emotions

I feel joy in a typical workday

Overall, I feel enthusiastic about my work

I love my job


I typically become absorbed while I am working on something that challenges my abilities

I lose track of time while doing something I enjoy at work

When I am working on something I enjoy, I forget everything else around me


I can receive support from coworkers if I need it

I feel appreciated by my coworkers

I trust my colleagues

My colleagues bring out my best self


My work is meaningful

I understand what makes my job meaningful

The work I do serves a greater purpose


I set goals that help me achieve my career aspirations

I typically accomplish what I set out to do in my job

I am generally satisfied with my performance at work

Physical Health

I typically feel physically healthy

I am rarely sick

I can typically overcome sources of physical distress (e.g., insomnia, injuries, vision issues, etc.)

I feel in control of my physical health


I believe I can improve my job skills through hard work

I believe my job will allow me to develop in the future

I have a bright future at my current work organization


My physical work environment (e.g., office space) allows me to focus on my work

There is plenty of natural light in my workplace

I can conveniently access nature in my work environment (e.g., parks, oceans, mountains, etc.)

Economic Security

I am comfortable with my current income

I could lose several months of pay due to serious illness and still have my economic security

In the event of a financial emergency, I have adequate savings