Why Positivity is So Essential in the Workplace

By: Dr. Marla Gottschalk

Industrial & Organizational Psychologist / Workplace Strategist

Most of us are familiar with the terms “economic capital” or “human capital”, but have you considered the notion of “psychological capital” and how it relates to your work life? Researchers studying the application of Positive Psychology to the workplace have carefully considered this idea – as a growing body of evidence demonstrates that a positive mindset can not only affect our attitudes toward work, but the outcomes which follow. Indeed, the “psychological capital” that we bring to the table, can have a significant impact upon work and career.

Recently we discussed, how the tenets of positive psychology might provide a guide to help us achieve greater levels of workplace happiness. Overall, the movement stresses the identification of what is “right” with our work lives – building on positive contributors (emphasizing our strengths, celebrating smaller successes, gratitude). Central to this theory is the mechanism by which we build our “psychological resources” and how we utilize this collected energy to digest and cope with our work lives.

Along this vein, researchers have identified a high-order construct, aptly named Psychological Capital (PsyCap). Psychological Capital is comprised of a number of key psychological resources that we bring to our work life experiences. In combination, we utilize these resources to meet the challenges of our daily work lives. (Referred to as “HERO”.)

The HERO resources:

Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find the methods or paths to reach them.
Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.
Of key importance, studies have established (Avey, et al., 2011) a clear positive relationship between PsyCap and a number desired workplace outcomes, including as job satisfaction, organizational commitment and psychological well-being. Moreover, the construct has been shown to be negatively correlated with negative organizational behaviors, including cynicism, anxiety, stress, and the intention to turnover.

Impacting levels of psychological capital appears to be the next imperative (information is emerging). On a promising note, PsyCap appears to be a “state like” quality and open to change. This is in contrast to traits that tend to be largely stable over time – such as the “Big 5” personality traits, of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. As a result, psychological capital can be developed and strengthened. Certainly, this has broad implications for key workplace attributes such as the quality of performance feedback, role design and leadership style.

Do you feel that focusing on PsyCap could enhance our work lives? How can we apply the concept wisely?