Designing Positive Workplaces

Designing Positive Workplaces: Job Engagement, Work-Related Wellbeing, and Work Performance

Workplace coaching

Workplace coaching is concerned with attaining work-related goals in terms of skills, performance, or developmental outcomes. Historically, workplace coaching was focused on poor performers and available to middle management and above, sometimes on high-potentials and accelerated talent development.

The evolution of workplace coaching has spanned performance management and command and control approaches with a focus on compelling others to change and deal with difficult employees for remedial purposes in highly transactional forms; to “leader as coach” or “coach-manager” approaches maintaining authority and hierarchy and proprietary models and frameworks with a focus on driving (others to) change and attaining predetermined goals with the use of prescriptive how-to-coach models; to present-day implementations characterized by attraction, not coercion, leaders modeling change behaviors, a new focus on shifting mindsets, actualizing values, ensuring synergistic goal alignment for change in individuals and systems, unfolding as a quality conversation rather than goal-focused manipulation including an equally important wellbeing dimension.

Positive psychology coaching and resource development

Van Zyl et al. (2020) define positive psychology coaching as a short-to-medium-term professional, collaborative client-coach relationship aimed at identifying, utilizing, optimizing, and developing personal or psychological strengths and resources to enhance positive states, traits, and behaviors.

Personal resources include resilience, goal-directedness, skills, and self-development.

Social resources include supervisor support and a team atmosphere.

Work resources include job control or autonomy and task variety.

Organizational resources include leadership and value congruence.

Developmental resources include performance feedback and possibilities for learning and development.

Resource development is the main target for PPCW, achieved through interventions such as personal strengths identification, development, and balanced use. These increase employee wellbeing, job satisfaction, and engagement, resulting in targeted outcomes of increased job performance.

Positive Psychology Coaching in the Workplace

Human capital is a key lever to a thriving organization. Therefore, leadership must place workplace humanity, wellbeing, and development at the heart of organizational processes and decision-making to lead to survive and thrive.

The quest to support the wellbeing, engagement, and development of workplace human capital has made clear the potential that Positive Psychology (PP) as the science of human flourishing, coaching as a process or pathway towards human thriving, and the applied sciences of Positive Organizational Behavior and Scholarship (POB; POS) have to contribute to flourishing individuals, organizations, and communities.

If flourishing and wellbeing are one side of the coin, the other side is the prevention of ill-being, such as workplace stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, workplace disengagement, and general life dissatisfaction.

Human thriving is a function of needs and needs satisfaction leading to psychological health and wellbeing. Needs have been studied extensively, and some have been identified as fundamental to positive psychological existence.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2000) postulates three fundamental needs: connection, autonomy, and mastery. In addition, other fundamentals have been proposed as a result of ongoing research on human motivation, including novelty-variety, morality, and beneficence. However, none satisfy all criteria for inclusion set by basic psychological need theory (BPNT).

Positive Psychology Coaching in the Workplace (PPCW) is a practice to support the mental health, wellbeing, and engagement of employees and the financial health and sustainability of the organization.

There are reasonable indicators that mental health, employee job satisfaction and wellbeing, employee engagement, and performance (1) are all linked together; (2) are affected by job demands, workplace conditions, and world events; (3) have an impact on organizational outcomes.

Psychological stressors include job demands that are not compensated by job resources leading to employees’ energy depletion resulting in mental exhaustion and burnout, which may adversely affect mental health. In addition, major stressors have been identified to include job strain, job insecurity, bullying or psychological harassment, low social support at work, organizational injustice, and effort-reward imbalance.

It is expected that workers who are thriving or living well despite struggles will have higher ratings on all PERMA+ factors than other workers.

Employee wellbeing can be measured as job satisfaction and job-related affect.

Job satisfaction and Job-related affect

Job satisfaction significantly contributes to people’s happiness and life satisfaction.

Self-reported job satisfaction is loosely correlated to worker performance or productivity. Furthermore, the correlation is contextually mediated; the motivational value added by job satisfaction is dependent on conditions of the labor market, the country and its institutional settings, and the state of the economy in terms of blooming times or crises.

{I would surmise that the more you feel confident that your present comfort level will continue into the future, the less impact will have your positive job attitudes, including job satisfaction, on your performance outcomes; mediating factors will probably be conditions of hygiene factors, your purchasing power and income level in comparison to your equal-status peers, your life stage, your career ambitions, and your job-specific self-efficacy.}

Job satisfaction is a positive psychological state and describes the level of satisfaction that the employee feels about his professional life; the difficulty is separating the personal life satisfaction component since the personal and the professional are generally entangled. However, satisfaction also implies an acceptance of the status quo and, thus, very little incentive to actively tackle, change, or improve things at work.

On the other hand, a good mood has a robust effect on productivity.

Affective happiness robustly affects outcomes in sales jobs. An increase in reported wellbeing leads to increased sales through efficiency and conversion rates (turning prospects into customers during a sales conversation).  

Employee engagement

Whereas job satisfaction is weakly linked to performance or productivity, work engagement is linked to job performance and organizational outcomes more strongly. Engagement is a more active attitude than satisfaction, characterized by positive absorption in the task at hand and commitment to advancing organizational interests, including employee identification with the organization’s mission and values. Work engagement is a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption.

Vigor is about high levels of energy, the willingness to invest effort in one’s work, and persistence in facing difficulties.

Dedication refers to psychological identification with one’s work.

Absorption is about being in flow when working, capable of complete concentration, and engrossed in one’s activities.

The impact of engagement on business performance and outcomes as measured by customer satisfaction, revenue, and profitability is firmly established. In addition to work performance, positive outcomes such as organizational commitment, intention to stay, extra-role behavior, and employee safety are effects of engagement.

Focusing on wellbeing and engagement will have a better effect on performance than focusing on either alone.

PPIs delivered through coaching or training approaches and wellbeing programs complemented with PPCW can effectively increase wellbeing and engagement in the workplace.

What does a positive psychology approach to workplace coaching entail?

A positive psychology approach to workplace coaching entails 

a philosophical stance on what a healthy, productive work life means;

a view of the good life, a vision of the flourishing and thriving of the individual and the community;

an understanding of how the personal, the interpersonal, the group, and the organizational levels are interlinked;

an understanding of how business results, organizational effectiveness, individual performance, engagement, and wellbeing form a whole system;

some measurement to identify the present state of the whole(s) and its (their) parts;

guidelines for positive growth, individually, as a group, and as a community;

principles for designing positive workplaces based on a vision for positive organizations;

guiding principles to enhance the experience and consequences of work itself.

All parts are also wholes. For example, the group or team is part of the business unit and a whole to its group members. Performance is a part of effectiveness and a whole (as an effect of it) to engagement and effort.

What a healthy, productive work life means 

Investigating the attributes of healthy individuals and organizations provides us with the individual traits and interpersonal processes in studying healthy, productive work and a model to understand and build on these critical factors.

An indicator of health and productivity is vigor, an affective experience reflecting an integrated energetic resource. It is a sign that sufficient resources are available to carry the challenges in the form of personal, job-related, individual, group-level, and organizational resources and that satisfaction, performance, and effectiveness are to follow.

The engaged individual is dedicated to successful work performance through emotional investment. Engagement links vigor to healthy, productive work and builds psychological wellbeing.

A balanced perspective on stress provides us with ways to enhance the pleasurable and motivating aspects of stress at work by savoring eustress in contrast to coping with distress. Furthermore, balancing challenges with support is a doorway to generating positive emotions necessary for positive organizational behavior. To this end, a multi-level model of emotion is proposed, ranging from the neuropsychological to creating positive emotional climates in organizations.

Collective thriving becomes possible when the work and the organization provide the opportunity to exercise agency and nurture necessary resources, creating a sense of vitality and learning at work.

Political skills positively affect all aspects of organizational life, reducing experienced stress in the workplace.

Forgiveness can become an institutionalized capacity, helping to move past trauma and take on a positive orientation, positively affecting behavior, productivity, and quality.

Positive core self-evaluations are the constellation of four traits: self-esteem, locus of control, neuroticism, and generalized self-efficacy. Positive core self-evaluations at work bring with them the positive aspects of positive feelings and behaviors, and also possible costs and limitations.

A vision of flourishing and thriving 

The view on the good life is informed by positive psychology research and models of wellbeing and optimal functioning. For example, the PERMA model introduced by Seligman (2011) defines the five flourishing domains. Then, with an eye on the whole(s) (the personal, interpersonal, and organizational, as well as the different domains or dimensions of human endeavor), the model guides the client’s focus area for coaching and selecting interventions and defines the client’s outcomes.

Developing realized and unrealized strengths affect engagement, self-esteem, life satisfaction, wellbeing, and stress levels. Use of strengths language, connecting strengths to striving for particular goals, and combining strengths with a growth mindset; all impact the coaching outcome.

Whole systems 

Strengths-based interventions have a beneficial effect on positive emotions, positive engagement, and positive meaning in the workplace, with a direct effect on creativity and productivity, resilience, efficacy, and other capacity gains.

Developing strengths and capacities impact the client’s identity, happiness, and effort and persistence in goal striving, enhancing performance. Developing strengths and capacities also boosts core self-evaluations, facilitates seeking and giving social support, and furthers value congruence and meaningfulness, vitalizing engagement.

The relevant research findings make it a well-supported strategy to infuse positive psychology findings into talent management processes.

The application of positive psychology (PP) to the workplace has given us new research domains of positive organizational behavior (POB) and positive organizational scholarship (POS), linking individual wellbeing to employee satisfaction and welfare, positive work culture, and productivity.

Positive psychological resources and capacities abound in plenty, ready for the client to access, develop, and use when challenges arise or even just for fun.

Guidelines for positive growth 

Positive inquiries into what goes right with people and what is the best we can expect from people lead us to guidelines for positive change and growth and orient us to living the engaged and meaningful life. Asking clients about their resources through validated assessments and helping to identify how they can harness these skills and talents to maximum benefit through empirically validated positive interventions are tools to tap clients’ inner resources, strengths, potentials, and feelings of wellbeing.

Change and transition entail varying degrees of opportunity and challenge, sometimes arousing intense feelings accompanying structural changes in self and world. Emotions are a normal aspect of personal transitions, involving stress and coping with stress by building coping strategies and resources. A balanced focus emphasizing continuity and growth, rather than an exclusive focus on change, and a focus on transferrable skills and strengths can build up and highlight resources, including learning to maximize the benefits of social support and asking for help, physical exercise, and cognitive strategies of challenging unhelpful thinking styles.

Social support, sociability, and social engagement are important factors for wellbeing. Humans need support from others and also need to support others for their own wellbeing. To repeat, helping others is an important factor in one’s wellbeing.

The practice of positive psychology interventions for developmental transitions is about facilitating positive growth in the client, perceiving the change and transition in a positive light, and gaining self-insight. A useful coaching tool might be the “INSIGHT” framework to facilitate a positive transition experience and enable self-management of future transitions. The coaching tasks include successfully identifying, navigating, and managing transitions; clarifying the social and cultural context within which the client is operating while avoiding stereotypes and generalizations; and recognizing that each individual’s experience is unique.

INSIGHT moves through the following steps: Increase self-knowledge; Normalize transitions; Support positive coping; Integrate past, present, and future; Give time and space; Highlight the broader context; and Tailor solutions.

Resources, Challenges, and Wellbeing

Resources are physical, psychological, or social aspects that help individuals achieve goals, reduce demands, or stimulate growth. Examples of resources include feeling valued by one’s organization and having good relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.

Challenges include adverse physical, psychological, or social experiences and associated physiological and psychological costs. However, these challenging experiences or events often stimulate personal growth.

Stable wellbeing ensues when challenges and resources are in balance.

When demands outweigh the available resources, wellbeing is reduced, leading to stress.

On the other hand, a lack of demand or challenge leads to reduced wellbeing due to stagnation, burnout, or boredom.

The primary quest is how to manage the balance of challenges with resources.

Individuals can manage, develop, and accelerate resilience factors at any life stage, increasing their flexibility in response to changing situational demands. Helpful qualities include people’s acceptance of reality as it is, an optimism without distorting reality (too much); their beliefs or strongly held values that bring meaning to (their) lives; and their ability to improvise, adapt, and change in response to a situation.

Human growth, relational mutuality, and effective organizing

Growth and mutuality are human needs of special import at all times. Individual growth, a compelling future, and a just and supportive workplace are the anchors of a positive organization. At its roots, organizational research scholars upheld the understanding that human growth and betterment were the requirements of an effective organization. However, the ensuing years witnessed a change in the implicit model of effective organizations guiding scholarly thinking, reflecting its business school context, and accentuating economic and financial notions of firm performance. In the early years, the central themes in organizational research of personal growth, interpersonal connection, and worker-employer mutuality resulted in the notion of the psychological contract as a mutual arrangement meeting deep-seated individual and collective needs; the focus on authenticity and learning in developing functional interpersonal and organizational relationships; and the view of leadership as a partnership between managers and workers.

Designing positive workplaces 

POB points the way for designing work settings that play to people’s strengths, where people can be their best selves and at their best with each other. Positive organizational behavior combines positive psychology with an organizational perspective and makes the principles of positive psychology actionable.

The positive workplace is where you can “Be your best self & Be at your best with each other.”

Building on human strengths at work

The focus on human strengths and positive institutions is emerging from the science of positive subjective experience. Based on this focus, research on psychological states that can be measured and are malleable to interventions brought us insight into positive psychological capacities. A step further is the search to understand human excellence and exceptional organizational performance and the process by which individuals and organizations flourish and prosper in extraordinary ways.

Enhancing work experience 

Positive states, traits, and processes are studied in their own right with the understanding that:

they may produce positive outcomes, or they may not;

they may prevent or buffer negative outcomes;

taken to the extreme, positive states could result in negative consequences;

the role of valence must be explored since what is positive to one person may be experienced as negative by another individual;

the social context is important since it shapes the individual’s experiences, both positive and negative;

positive and negative variables exist simultaneously and are always in interplay.

Optimal individual, group, and organizational functioning occur over time and demand a longitudinal view and designs.

Healthy, Productive Work

{Quick & Macik-Frey, 2007. Healthy, Productive Work. In Nelson & Cooper, (Ed.) Positive Organizational Behavior.}

Attributes of healthy, productive work

Organizations can only sustain workplace wellbeing and achievement through healthy and productive work, maintained and revitalized by managing energy and building resilience.

What are the attributes of healthy individuals and healthy organizations? From the perspective of positive organizational behavior, the relevant concepts to consider are personality hardiness, optimism, vigor, and psychological wellbeing.

The study of 200 executives at Illinois Bell Telephone (Maddi & Kobasa, 1984) focused on commitment, control, and challenge as three attributes of the hardy personality. Commitment concerns curiosity and engagement. Control concerns the ability to exercise influence and take responsibility. Challenge views change as an opportunity for personal development.

Optimism (Seligman, 1990) is another positive concept and has the central attribute of hope. Optimistic thinking leads one to interpret bad events as temporary, limited in their effects, and not ones for which the individual is personally responsible. On the other hand, good events are interpreted as more permanent, more pervasive in their effects, and ones for which the individual takes personal responsibility.

Vigor (Shirom, 2003) has three dimensions: physical strength, emotional energy, and cognitive aliveness. Physical strength concerns one’s feelings about physical ability. Emotional energy is the interpersonal dimension of vigor and concerns one’s feelings regarding expressing sympathy, empathy, and other emotions to significant others. Finally, cognitive aliveness relates to one’s feelings concerning her thoughts’ flow, mental agility, and cognitive alertness.

These three attributes, namely, personality hardiness, optimism, and vigor, are well-taken as positive attributes of healthy individuals and organizations.

Ryff and Singer (1998) have brought together three principles concerning what constitutes ‘health’: a philosophical position concerning the meaning of the good life; an integrated view of the mental and the physical and how they interact or influence each other; and viewing health as a multidimensional dynamic process rather than a discrete end state.

A more positive approach to human health captures human thriving and flourishing physically, mentally, and socially and broadens the concept to encompass emotional, spiritual, and ethical dimensions.

Ryff and Singer’s core features of positive human health and wellness suggest the super-ordinate categories which span cultural barriers and are linked by positive affect:

Leading a life of purpose,

Quality connections to others, and

Positive self-regard and mastery.

Purpose, connection to others, positive self-regard, and mastery offers a stronger and more positive framework for understanding and defining health. Healthy, productive work must consider the individual and the organization; both are important. Positive, strength-based individual traits and interpersonal processes broaden the POB arena from an exclusive focus on states.

What are the attributes of healthy individuals?

Leading a life of purpose

Clear mission and goals

Balanced living within one’s value system


Productive and Purposeful work

Spiritual or higher purpose basis

Passion or motivation to achieve for the greater good

Quality connections to others

Interdependent: strong, positive social support system

Emotional competence

Mature, intimate connection to family and significant others

Communication competence

Positive self-regard and mastery




Self-efficacy or confidence

Self-awareness – strength focus – a component of emotional competence

Subjective wellbeing or happiness

Hardiness, or adaptability

Vigor, physical and mental energy

Personal challenge and growth goals

At the organizational level, individuals must function together through effective communication to accomplish a shared goal. A healthy organization mirrors the same ‘health’ attributes in a more macro sense.

Leading a life of purpose

Clear mission and goals

Give back to the community


Quality focus


Provides opportunities for growth

Rewards or recognizes achievement

Quality connections to others

Open, honest communication norms

Fairness or justice in practices


Trust and safety norms

Mutual purpose and sense of belonging to the bigger whole

Embrace and encourage diversity of people, skills, and ideas

Cohesiveness and positive affiliation

Pride in group accomplishments

Facilitates interdependent workers, high autonomy with strong social supports

Positive self-regard and mastery

Encourage balance

Growth opportunities

Support system for problems

Fitness support systems

Positive physical work environment

High safety focus

Positive strength through communication competence and interpersonal interdependence

Positive strength factors are essential for building healthy, vibrant, and productive work organizations of committed and healthy individuals.

Healthy communication leads to healthy organizations by inspiring interdependence, synergy, and cooperation. The ability of individuals to safely and effectively express opinions, challenge existing ideas, request support, and suggest innovative solutions within a climate that minimizes conflict and fear promotes individual growth, a sense of control, and a sense of contributing to a greater or mutual purpose. Healthy communication is both task-oriented and relationship-oriented.

The communication and communication-related characteristics of high-performance teams, originally studied among cockpit flight crews and surgical teams, are: 

Psychological and physical safety; interpersonal trust and trustworthiness; willingness to respectfully challenge authority or the prevailing thought; openness to challenges and to your own ideas; ability to listen and appreciate others’ points of view; group or team-based orientation versus individual orientation; open dialogue is the norm and is highly valued; mistakes are objectively analyzed to find solutions, blame is not the game; versatile, adaptable communication methods, emergency may require top-down communication; more balanced communication patterns between leaders and followers; team adopts similar communication pattern; proactive, contingency plans communicated early and problems are anticipated; leaders are highly motivated, goal-oriented and highly interpersonally oriented; polite, appropriate assertiveness of followers, give and get feedback; high group metacognitive skills, shared mental models, shared problem models; knowledge and information are readily shared to minimize uncertainty.

These high-performance teams display high problem-solving communication rates in high and low workloads, centered on recognizing a problem, stating goals or objectives, planning and strategizing, gathering information, alerting and predicting, and explaining.

Communication competence concerns a deeper understanding of persons’ emotions and a deep appreciation of individual differences and personal integrity. It gets to the heartfelt appreciation of the other when that is appropriate while attending to the task and performance issues at hand in the workplace.

The second key to building and maintaining a secure set of interpersonal relationships at work is self-reliance, described as a flexible interpersonal pattern of behavior that is both interdependent and autonomous. Specifically, the self-reliant person can easily and comfortably ask for support and help when appropriate while having a complementary capacity for solitary and autonomous activity when that is appropriate.  

Interdependence is relatively stable over time. However, it is amenable to change and development in the longer term. Interpersonal interdependence is complementary to communication competence because it focuses on strengthening interpersonal bonds and relationships.

From a health perspective, interdependence enables individuals to appropriately draw upon the positive resources within the social support system that leads to vitality and wellbeing. From a performance perspective, interdependence facilitates information exchange and coordinated action, leading to effective collaboration and cooperative effort.

In addition to strengthening individual health, both of these positive constructs lead to strengthening organizational health. POB is rooted in the study of positive state-like variables. The two constructs of communication competence and interpersonal interdependence are considered mainly as individual trait-like qualities or interpersonal process qualities due to their enduring and more stable quality over time. Yet, these are not ‘fixed’ variables or characteristics but positive, strength-based constructs that link individual and organizational health as well as health and productivity.

Vigor at the Workplace

{Shirom, 2007. Explaining Vigor: On the Antecedents and Consequences of Vigor as a Positive Affect at Work. In Nelson & Cooper, (Ed.) Positive Organizational Behavior.}

In part, motivational processes in organizations represent individuals’ decisions to allocate energy over time from their energetic resources among different activities. The affective dimension of these energetic resources is vigor, combining elements of a specific emotion contextualized in an individual’s work situation and of a mood state that tends to last days and even weeks. Like all other specific affective states, it represents a fundamental action tendency.

Vigor as a positive affective state

The positive emotions model (PEM; Fredrickson, 2002; Tugade et al., 2004) proposes that positive emotions, like happiness, joy, pride, and love, have health-protecting physiological effects, including low autonomic reactivity relative to the effects of negative emotions. The biological mechanisms underlying the enhancing effects of positive feelings on physical health and longevity include enhancing the immune system’s capacity to mount an effective response to challenges and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. In addition, positive emotions enhance activity levels, while negative emotions have the opposite effect of narrowing activity levels.

How does vigor relate to other affective states? Each affective state can be identified and differentiated from other affective states by where it lies in the two-dimensional space of pleasure-displeasure and arousal-sleepiness (Russell, 1980, 2003). In this space, vigor represents positive arousal or a combination of moderate arousal and pleasure. For example, vigor’s counterpart in the quadrant of displeasure-arousal is anxiety, and its mirror image in the quadrant of displeasure-sleepiness is burnout. In contrast to burnout and anxiety {both displeasure and thus avoidance invoking}, however, vigor is a component of the approach-oriented behavior facilitation system that directs organisms toward situations and experiences that potentially may yield pleasure and reward and facilitates the procuring of resources like food, shelter, and sexual partners. Similarly, Carver and Scheier’s (1998) regulated behavior model regards positive emotions as resulting from advancement or doing better on goal attainment at a pace faster than expected.

Mood states and vigor

The Profile of Mood States (POMS) includes an eight-item subscale gauging vigor, using items like feeling cheerful, lively, alert, active, and vigorous.

Past research has conceptualized vigor to reflect one form of energy, physical strength. The current focus on vigor as an affective experience at work involves three interrelated forms of energetic resources. The theoretical position is that vigor and burnout are obliquely related and do not represent the extreme poles of the same continuum. Biological systems underlying approach and avoidance activations are independent. Positive and negative affective states are physiologically represented in different systems; are known to have different antecedents; may function relatively independently, and are differentially represented in peoples’ behaviors. Vigor and motivation to invest effort at work are closely related. Yet, they belong to different conceptual domains, those of affect and action orientations, respectively.

A theoretical model of vigor

Conservation of Resources (COR; Hobfoll, 1989) theory posits that people have a basic motivation to obtain, retain, and protect what they value, also called resources. Resources are personal energies and characteristics, objects and conditions valued by individuals or that serve as the means for attaining other objects, personal characteristics, conditions, or energies. Examples of internal resources are optimism, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Examples of external resources are employment, social support, and economic status.

Vigor only relates to proximal energetic resources, namely to physical, emotional, and cognitive energies. These are individually owned, closely related, and socially embedded. Emotional energy always concerns significant others in one’s social milieu. Personal resources exist as a resource pool, and the expansion of one is often associated with the other being augmented.

The core affect of vigor promotes goal-directed behavior likely to increase personal resources. It initiates an upward spiral toward increasing emotional wellbeing and more effective coping with work-related demands, promoting skill-building and learning, prosocial behaviors, and organizational commitment. Goal-directed behaviors are specific manifestations of self-regulation efforts by which employees initiate, regulate, and maintain task-related behaviors over time and in changing circumstances. In this view, elevations in vigor provide a means of guiding and maintaining one’s goal-directed behavior. The ability to intelligently use vigor is parallel to the ability to identify and regulate feelings and use the information provided by feelings for adaptive social behavior. Emotional intelligence represents a possible modulator of vigor in relation to behavioral responses.

Organizational initiatives to effectively create the conditions conducive to employee vigor may benefit from the reciprocal relations between vigor and job performance or proactive behavior in organizations.

Predictors of vigor: personality factors

Personality (emotional stability, positive affectivity, optimism, self-efficacy) and physiological factors impact vigor directly and moderate its relationships with its consequences. Personality traits dispositionally influence affective states.

Work-related predictors of vigor

Individual resources (charisma, expertise, power) influence employees’ appraisals of their on-the-job experiences.

Job-related resources (control over resources, positional power, autonomy) enhance feelings of personal efficacy and cognitive liveliness.

Group-level resources (supervisor’s transformational leadership style, social support from significant others, cohesiveness), through everyday socialization experiences and common organizational features, norms, and regulations, contribute to emotional contagion, good employee morale, and job-related wellbeing in workgroups and work teams. Specifically, workgroup cohesion is found to predict vigor, measured as a mood state. Work teams characterized by mutual trust and high social support are more cohesive and goal-directed. The intellectual stimulation component of transformational leadership encourages followers to think creatively. It directly affects the cognitive liveliness component of vigor. Similarly, transformational leaders often exhibit energizing emotions to arouse similar emotions among their followers.

Organizational resources (participation in decision-making, extrinsic rewards, intrinsic rewards and practices) enhance adaptive flexibility and develop capabilities.

Consequences of vigor: Job performance and organizational effectiveness; physical and mental health; job satisfaction; life satisfaction

A positive relationship is expected between vigor at work and the consequences mentioned above, most likely in a reciprocal way. More detailed research on vigor is needed. Yet, as a positive affect state, all research findings linking positive affect to organizational outcomes are expected to hold for vigor.

Thriving in Organizations

{Spreitzer & Sutcliffe, 2007. Thriving in Organizations. In Nelson & Cooper, (Ed.) Positive Organizational Behavior.}

What is thriving?

Thriving is the psychological state in which individuals experience both a sense of vitality and learning at work. Vitality is the positive feeling of having energy available. Learning is the sense that one is acquiring and can apply knowledge and skills.

When asked, people consider themselves thriving when they are:

growing, full of life, and engaged;

being energized, feeling valued, and feeling what they do is valuable;

feeling good about what they do;

experiencing recognition and accomplishment;

feeling connected;

being productive while being able to learn new things;

being open to challenges presented and having opportunities to learn and grow;

moving forward, in their thinking, in the activities that they are engaged in, and in their mindset;

feeling that there’s some upper thrust to their lives instead of just mediocrity going on;

able to see advancement and prospering in their lives;

having the opportunity to exercise agency over their work and can create and nurture the necessary resources to do their work.

Thriving is an important precursor to employee health and wellbeing and contributes positively to organizational capabilities for long-term adaptability. To this end, there are some socio-contextual conditions conducive for individuals, groups, and organizations to thrive.

When people have opportunities to thrive at work, positive outcomes follow.

Without vitality, one feels depleted and burned out and is not thriving. Conversely, when thriving, individuals feel alive and vibrant; they have a zest for life and are energized.

Without learning, one feels stagnant and stale and is not thriving. When thriving, individuals feel a sense of growing and moving forward.

Vitality is the affective dimension, and learning is the cognitive dimension of psychological experience. Vitality is the hedonic aspect, and learning is the eudaemonic aspect of psychological functioning and development.

Thriving is closely aligned with personal growth perspectives. For example, Ryff (1989) suggests that when individuals grow, they consider themselves to be expanding in ways that reflect enhanced self-knowledge and effectiveness; continually developing and becoming, rather than achieving a fixed state wherein one is fully developed; having a sense of realizing their potential and seeing improvement in the self and their behaviors over time. Likewise, Carver (1998) conceives of thriving as the psychological experience of growth in a positive capacity, i.e., a constructive or forward direction. In short, thriving involves active, intentional engagement in personal growth.

Thriving is a continuum where people are more or less thriving at any time, experiencing a range of thriving experiences. Thriving is a psychological state, malleable and shaped by one’s work context, experienced as increasing, decreasing, or constant compared to a previous point in time.

Outcomes of thriving at work

Individual thriving is a means through which people self-regulate their growth. Thriving is a gauge for self-development, providing a sense of improvement in short-term individual functioning and long-term adaptability to the work environment. By tracking their thriving, in magnitude and changes, thriving serves as an adaptive function that helps individuals to navigate and change their work contexts to promote their development.

Thriving, measured as energy and increasing complexity, is an indicator of health, mental and physical.

Vitality and personal development have been associated with better individual work productivity concerning work effort, days lost to illness and less health care usage. Energy influences effort and plays a crucial role in coordinated activities in organizations. Energizers in organizations have higher job performance and are more likely to have their ideas considered and implemented. Learning at work can be leveraged for performance improvements and shared vicariously or directly with others to produce more organizational learning.

Positive affect spreads from one person to another through the conscious or unconscious induction of affect states and behavioral attitudes. Through emotional contagion, emotions such as energy among group members become shared.

As stress at work spills over into home life, positive spillover from thriving at work to thriving at home is also possible. When people engage in their work to thrive, they feel more alive at work and in their home life. Their actions permeate their whole being as people. When individuals feel competent, have high levels of job satisfaction, and feel challenged by what they are doing, they experience their work as invigorating, not depleting.

Antecedents to thriving at work

Three sets of factors contribute to thriving at work. Thriving is socially embedded so that agentic work behaviors are situated in particular, immediate contexts using and producing resources in doing work. The immediate contextual features reflect the dominant way work is accomplished, including how decisions are made, how information is shared, and how interactions are infused with trust and respect. Agentic working behaviors reflect how individuals experience their work context and carry out daily work activities. Thriving is enhanced to the extent that they have a task focus to get their work done, explore new ways of working and being to enhance their learning, and mindfully relate with others in their work environment. Resources produced in the doing of the work reflect the knowledge, positive meaning, affective, and relational assets that enable people to enact schemas to guide action. Resources enable thriving but also are produced through the agentic behaviors of thriving employees. In this way, the resources are renewable and produced through thriving at work.

Thriving organizations

Individual thriving may not always overlap with organizational thriving. Not all individual learning is aligned with the needs of the organization and may not add to the organization’s capabilities or growth in any substantial way. On the other hand, an organization may thrive, but its members may not, feeling overwhelmed and depleted.

Collective thriving is when the collective is both learning and energized, building capabilities, i.e., sets of routines and new competencies from their learning, and energized to cope with obstacles, challenges, setbacks, and failures and to persist in their efforts.

A thriving group, unit, or organization would be seen, by employees and outsiders, as growing; high levels of employee vitality would show up through increased activity, persistence, and innovation, and learning would show up as increased complexity that comes from their collective learning orientation.

Organizations are social and economic entities, and thriving at the collective level enhances the vitality of social and public environments, enhancing the long-term sustainable performance of the collective. Responsiveness to uncertain, discontinuous, and volatile conditions is a matter of flexibility and adaptability. Learning inherent in thriving may lead to new behavioral routines and repertoires, enabling increased capability to improvise or recombine competencies to solve new problems, try new things, take risks, and learn from mistakes. In addition, the energy inherent in thriving contributes to an increased ability to build, repair, sustain, and endure challenges, problems, or crises. In short, thriving collectives are more resilient in facing adversity and hardship.

Finally, individual thriving has health benefits, and collective thriving benefits health-related indicators and reduces costs associated with ill health and health care.

Engagement at Work

{Britt, Dickinson, Greene-Shortridge, & McKibben, 2007. Self-Engagement at Work. In Nelson & Cooper, (Ed.) Positive Organizational Behavior.}

The conceptualization and measurement of engagement at work

Performance must be effective to produce desired results. Successful performance comes through the engagement of the self in work when the necessary resources and aptitude are available. Engagement provides the investment of the self in the quality of the work and the feeling of responsibility for and commitment to superior job performance. Such engagement has consequences for motivation, affect, and performance. Therefore, job engagement is a desirable motivational state at work.

Job engagement is defined as feeling responsible for and committed to superior job performance that ‘matters’ to the individual (Britt, 1999). Feeling a sense of personal responsibility has greater implications for their identity concerning the work outcomes. To be engaged in work is also to care about and be committed to performing well. Taking personal responsibility for the outcome of a particular challenge indicates that one cares about the issue. Therefore, measuring perceived responsibility for job performance, commitment to job performance, and whether performance matters to the individual is a measure of job engagement.

Different conceptualizations of job engagement

Kahn (1990) defined work engagement as self-employment and physical, cognitive, and emotional expression during role performances.

The conceptualization of engagement by Rothbard (2001), based on Kahn (1990), introduces two distinct, interrelated factors. The first factor is attention, operationalized as time spent thinking and concentrating on a role. The second factor is absorption, operationalized as losing track of time and becoming engrossed in role performance, similar to the construct of flow. Engagement represents a level of psychological presence in an activity. In contrast, other constructs, such as role identification and role commitment, are potential reasons for becoming engaged.

Another conceptualization by May et al. (2004) clarifies the distinction between job engagement and the related constructs of job involvement, focused on the degree to which a job is tied to one’s self-image and flow, considered a peak cognitive state during an activity. In contrast, job engagement is concerned with how a person invests in performing a job rather than self-image. Engagement concerns cognitive, emotional, and physical investment in work rather than a state during an activity.

Maslach et al. (2001) have argued that job engagement is the opposite of job burnout on a single continuum and is characterized by high energy levels, involvement in work, and a sense of personal efficacy at work.

Schaufeli et al. (2002) argued that job engagement and burnout are independent but correlated constructs. Engagement at work is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption.

Harter et al. (2003) proposed that employee engagement is best assessed by a diverse set of 12 items (Gallup Q12) addressing such factors as knowing what is expected at work, having the necessary resources to do well, receiving recognition or praise, and having fellow employees who are committed to doing quality work, arguing that these variables are the cognitive and emotional antecedents of employee engagement.

Integrating the theoretical perspectives on job engagement

The common view is that job engagement entails the individual being dedicated to successful performance through emotional investment.

Following the conceptualization of job engagement as individuals feeling responsible for job performance and caring about the outcomes of performance (Britt, 1999, 2003; Britt et al., 2005), engagement is a motivational state created by beliefs of personal responsibility and caring. Components such as vigor, physical exertion, attention, effort, perseverance, and absorption are seen as immediate, proximal outcomes of being engaged in work with implications for more distal outcomes of job performance and health.

Efficacy at work is a predictor of job engagement, as are many (Q12) items used by Harter et al. (2003).

The investment of the self-system in performance has implications for the health and performance effects of work engagement.

Predictors of engagement in work

Job-related attributes

The Triangle Model of Responsibility (Schlenker et al., 1994) posits that personal responsibility, and therefore job engagement, should be high when a set of clear guidelines governs performance in the event or domain (high job clarity), the individual feels a strong sense of personal control and contribution for their performance (high job control), the individual feels the performance domain is relevant to central aspects of his or her identity and training (high relevance of job to identity), and when the performance or event in question has important consequences (high job importance). These are the antecedents of job engagement influencing felt responsibility for any given event or performance domain.

Building on Kahn (1990), May et al. (2004) argued that the proximal determinants of job engagement are perceiving work as personally meaningful, feeling confident at being able to meet demands at work, and feeling safe at being oneself at work. Meaningfulness and confidence are job-related attributes. Meaningfulness of work is predicted by having an enriching job and sensing that the job fits with the employee’s identity; confidence in meeting job demands is predicted by having emotional resources at work, being low in self-consciousness, and being involved in many outside activities.

Being involved in personally meaningful work and feeling confident to execute performance relate to job engagement.

Autonomy is a predictor of engagement in work. Some items (of Q12) viewed by Harter et al. (2003) as antecedents of employee engagement emphasize both job control/autonomy (e.g., “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday”) and job clarity (e.g., “I know what is expected of me at work”).

Individuals feel more responsible for and committed to successful job performance when they have control over clear and personally meaningful work, engaging the self-system of the individual in job performance.

Leadership and relationships with co-workers

Kahn (1990) emphasized psychological safety, feeling able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career, as giving rise to higher levels of engagement. Relationships with co-workers, positive group dynamics, and a supportive and clarifying leadership style contributed to the conditions of psychological safety. Harter et al. (2003) argued that most of their antecedents of job engagement could be influenced by managers through actions that influence the job-related predictors of engagement described above.

Leadership and co-worker relationships relate to job engagement through the job-related attributes of engagement. However, they do not directly relate to job engagement apart from their association with being oneself at work or the leader’s behaviors of providing structure or having clear guidelines for job performance.

Leadership relates to the job-related antecedents of high job engagement.

Consequences of job engagement

Engagement in work is a positive psychological construct associated with increased caring about performance outcomes. In addition, it contributes to the meaning that individuals assign to their work.

The model above distinguishes between proximal, immediate consequences arising from being personally engaged in work (e.g., increased effort, perseverance, and absorption) and the more distal consequences of job engagement (e.g., performance and wellbeing). Engagement leads to increased effort to perform well, absorption in the work-related aspects of one’s existence, and perseverance.

Under circumstances where successful performance is doubtful or even unlikely, feeling personally responsible for and committed to job performance may have negative consequences for the individual. The moderating variables between job engagement and the distal outcomes of performance and wellbeing involve the nature of stressors at work, resources to deal with stressors, and the ability to perform the job. In a situation where the employee does not have access to the necessary resources or the aptitudes necessary for effective performance, or when employees are experiencing poor or abusive supervision detracting from the ability to perform effectively, the situation can become problematic for engaged workers to adapt.

When the individual has the necessary resources and abilities for successful performance, being highly engaged in work motivates the individual to excel and to feel personally fulfilled.

The downside of job engagement is that impediments to successful performance or the realization of not performing well is accompanied by heightened stress and depressive symptoms when individuals feel personally engaged in the performance.  

One way individuals discover what is important is by observing their emotional reactions to events. For example, employees may only realize how engaged they are in their jobs once they encounter obstacles to performing well.