Three pillars of wellbeing

In a recent study by Andrew Oswald at Warwick Business School it was concluded that there was a positive link between workers’ happiness and productivity. The team conducted a range of exercises in their research. In one, students were asked to add a series of two digit numbers in ten minutes. The subjects were paid an attendance fee, and a performance fee based on how they performed. Some were then shown a ten minute film based on comedy routines. The film apparently led to an increase in the self-reported happiness levels of participants compared to those who did not see it or who watched placebo film clips.

For the people that reported higher levels of happiness after seeing the film, productivity in a subsequent test was significantly higher. The headline was “happier workers were 12% more productive”. They observed that those participants who watched the film but did not feel any happier did not demonstrate improved productivity. They also concluded that if happiness in the workplace was associated with increased productivity then human resource departments would need to consider these implications.

This was reported in the media as groundbreaking research, however it merely adds to the body of findings from the field of Positive Psychology, which has a far more nuanced understanding of the role of emotions in the workplace. Emotions, both “negative” and “positive” have a vital role at work. They are a call to action to help change behaviours. There is a danger in that this type of research might suggest that positive emotions are appropriate in all workplace settings. One of the major points of Emotional intelligence training is to impress on people that different situations, tasks at work and types of thinking require different types of emotions to be generated. For example, research indicates that where fine attention to detail is required, eg when studying the findings of a report, it’s more useful to foster serious, almost downbeat emotions. Where creative, blue sky thinking is required it’s more useful to engender a fun, light hearted approach.
So clearly before HR departments rush out and hire comedians its worthwhile understanding that context and task are at least as important as creating a fun place to work.  It’s not the role of our organizations to make us happy but it does make sense for them to understand what makes us happy.  One of the theories that I found most useful was Ryan & Deci’s Self Determination Theory.  They hypothesised that people would be engaged and happy in a task if three basic pillars were in place:

Autonomy– We have chosen our role, understand the task and within guidelines are given freedom to achieve our organizations goals in the way they we see fit

Competence– The skills we have match the task or if they are slightly beyond us we have confidence that we can receive training when we need it

Relatedness– We enjoy warm, encouraging relationships with people around us

If those things are not in place consider the small changes that you can make to change your role or possibly influence your organization.  Help spread these positive psychology ideas within your organizations.  If you try to feel like you face a brick wall at work, talk to your friends and family about what sort of roles you would like.  Think about future work arrangements based upon the three pillars of autonomy, competence and relatedness.

If you found this useful please share it with colleagues and friends!

Posted on April 19, 2012, in positive psychology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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