Designing and Evaluating Positive Psychology Interventions at Work

Designing Positive Interventions

{Donaldson, Chen, & Donaldson, 2021. Designing Positive Organizational Psychology Interventions. In Donaldson & Chen, (Ed.) Positive Organizational Psychology Interventions: Design and Evaluation. John Wiley & Sons}

Positive organizational scholarship (POS) is focused on understanding the drivers of positive workplace behavior that enable organizations to rise to new achievement levels and organizations characterized by appreciation, collaboration, virtuousness, vitality, and meaningfulness, where creating abundance and wellbeing are key success indicators.

The efforts to understand specific practices, programs, and interventions that can be designed based on the scientific literature to improve work-life and organizational effectiveness can be broadly called positive organizational psychology interventions (POPIs).


The best-possible-self (BPS) interventions

Small to moderate effects for positive affect, small effects on wellbeing, optimism, negative affect, depressive symptoms, and no substantial follow-up effects.

Moderators: assessment of momentary affect immediately after the intervention and conceptualizing optimism as positive future expectations instead of a general orientation in life.


Kindness interventions (e.g., random acts of kindness)

Small to medium effects on wellbeing (for the actor of kindness).


Gratitude interventions

Small to medium effects on wellbeing, happiness, life satisfaction, grateful mood, grateful disposition, positive affect, and depressive symptoms. No significant effects on physical health, sleep, exercise, prosocial behavior, or self-esteem.



Moderate to large effects on goal-directed self-regulation and small to moderate effects on performance/skills, wellbeing, coping, and work attitudes in an organizational context.


POPI: Positive Psychology Theory of Gratitude

Record a weekly log of three good things using a count-your-blessings form. Then, use an online questionnaire to reflect. 


Log at least three times weekly things they are grateful for related to their job. Gratitude prompt online.

Observing and documenting things they are appreciative of on five occasions.

In-person conversation: Visiting a group of people to thank them for their work, explaining, “I am grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the …”


Job crafting

The “Job Demands and Resources” (JD-R) model provides a change theory positing that job resources gain their motivational potential when employees are confronted with highly challenging job demands. The JD-R model suggests that work engagement and performance are fostered by targeting and optimizing the most important job demands and (job and personal) resources.

Intervention exercises: 

First, participants acknowledged, shared, and discussed their career thoughts and feelings. They looked back on things they experienced at work, shared what they liked in their recent job, and discussed their future ambitions. Second, the participants practiced giving and receiving feedback, including gracefully receiving compliments. Third, they practiced refusing requests. Fourth, participants overviewed their job tasks, strengths, motivation, and possible risk factors at work.



Participants are taught to dispute negative thinking patterns with more optimistic perspectives to foster optimism and hope. To build resilience, they learn the cognitive-behavioral ABC model and how to identify deeply held beliefs that may drive unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors. At the end of each topic, participants identify how they could use the skill or knowledge in their personal and professional lives to build efficacy.


Four training sessions, each targeting an aspect of PsyCap: hope using smart goals, self-efficacy using expressive writing, optimism taught using the ABCDE model, and resilience using risk management and resource leverage practice skills.

Evaluating Positive Psychology Interventions at Work

{Donaldson, Lee, & Donaldson, 2019. Evaluating Positive Psychology Interventions at Work: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology}

Positive organizational psychology

Positive organizational psychology (POP) is “the scientific study of positive experiences and traits in the workplace and positive organizations, and its application to improve the effectiveness and quality of life in organizations” (Donaldson & Ko, 2010).

POP emphasizes life-giving, positive characteristics in organizations, as well as the three pillars of positive psychology: positive subjective experiences (such as wellbeing, flow, and positive emotions), positive traits (character strengths such as wisdom, resilience, and purpose), and positive institutions (families, schools, and businesses).

Positive psychology interventions (PPIs) at work explicitly utilize the theory and scholarship of positive work and organizations (PWO) to guide, plan, design and implement the interventions at work and to improve desirable work outcomes (e.g., wellbeing, engagement, and performance) and reduce undesirable work outcomes (e.g., job stress, burnout, disengagement, and counterproductive behaviors).

Positive work and organizations (PWO) proposes to integrate into a unifying framework the three streams of research in positive psychology at work: positive organizational psychology (POP), positive organizational behavior (POB), and positive organizational scholarship (POS).

POP attempts to develop positive qualities in organizations. POB examines human resource strengths (i.e., psychological capacities) that can be measured and developed, such as hope, optimism, resilience, and self-efficacy at the individual and team levels (Luthans, 2002). In addition, POS is concerned with positive processes and outcomes for organizations and employees, including organizational virtuousness, positive deviance, and appreciation cultures (Cameron et al., 2003).

POB links psychological capacities with organizational performance.

POS focuses on positive qualities and outcomes in the organizational setting.


Do positive psychology interventions at work improve work outcomes?

Outcome measures can be categorized based on Avey et al.’s (2011) two-dimensional typology of employee attitudes, i.e., desirable and undesirable, and include desirable attitudes, behaviors, and employee performance, and undesirable attitudes, behaviors, and performance.

Each type of positive psychology theory (i.e., whether interventions use PsyCap, job crafting, employee gratitude, employee strengths, or employee wellbeing) positively relates to desirable work outcomes and negatively to undesirable work outcomes, with a unique contribution of each intervention and differing effectiveness for each outcome.


Intervention delivery methods (i.e., whether interventions use online, group, or individual methods) moderate the relationship between PPIs and desirable work outcomes and the negative effect on undesirable work outcomes. For example, interventions for work engagement that use group interventions are potentially the most effective, above and beyond individual and online interventions, when they facilitate personal relationships and collaboration with colleagues.


The overall goal of PWO is to explicitly focus on psychological mechanisms that promote employee and organizational flourishing. Schueller et al. (2014) suggested PPIs should be conceptualized by the psychological mechanisms (i.e., pathway) through which they operate and their overall focus on improving wellbeing.

PWO focuses on building personal-psychological strengths, such as psychological capital, gratitude, and wellbeing at work, in contrast to other interventions that have been developed to improve the workplace that are focused on problem-solving and restoring normal functioning, including relaxation, stress management, mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral approaches predicated on fixing issues in the workplace, such as negative emotions, negative thinking, and interpersonal team conflict.


With the PWO lens, five types of interventions emerged, summarized below.


Psychological Capital Interventions

Psychological capital (PsyCap) refers to a psychological state of development that is malleable, open to development, and integral to human resource practices, consisting of four major components: confidence in one’s ability to succeed at challenging work tasks (self-efficacy); positive attributions about the future of one’s career or company (optimism); redirecting paths to work goals in the face of obstacles (hope); and bouncing back from adverse situations in the workplace (resilience) (Luthans et al. 2007, Luthans & Youssef-Morgan 2017). PsyCap interventions are associated with work outcomes, including improved engagement, job performance, and organizational citizenship behaviors.


Job Crafting Interventions

Job crafting is a self-initiated, proactive process at work to optimize the fit between job demands and personal needs, abilities, and strengths. Employees who design and have control over their work characteristics create an optimal fit between work demands and personal strengths and improve adaptive performance, wellbeing, and work engagement.


Employee Strengths Interventions

Character strengths are trait-like, measurable qualities that manifest in ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are natural to the individual. Strengths interventions apply character strengths theory to identifying, developing, and using employees’ strengths, improving employee wellbeing, leadership, and coaching outcomes.


Employee Gratitude Interventions

Employee gratitude interventions are planned activities designed to increase gratitude practice in the workplace, noticing and appreciating the positive in one’s work life, yielding a robust strategy for improving employee job wellbeing. For example, keeping a log (three times per week) to think about what one was grateful for in one’s job, including supportive work relationships or sacrifices.


Employee Wellbeing Interventions

Employee wellbeing encompasses general and work-specific wellbeing (e.g., evaluation of job satisfaction and work-related affect). Employee wellbeing interventions improve the various aspects of PERMA+ in the workplace, reduce employee absenteeism and turnover intentions, and improve job satisfaction.