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Using Positive Psychology as an HRM process in Employee Engagement and Confidence Building ( Part 1)

Posted on December 29, 2010 at 11:49 PM

UsingPositive Psychology as an HRM process in Employee Engagement and ConfidenceBuilding ( Part 1)

Lina Nangalia PCC & Dr. Ajay Nangalia PCC



For much of the 20thcentury, psychology’s focus has been to find what is wrong with the humancondition and then look at ways to fix the problems. While it may not have beenthe original intent, human problems and behavior are largely seen from anegative maladaptive perspective (Karwoski, Garratt, & Ilardi, 2006;Luthans, 2002). This paradigm seeped into the way organizational theorists lookat organizations as well: there are problems that need to be fixed. Theproblems could either be in the design of the organization, its strategy or itspeople (managers and employees).  Fewlook at what is right in these systems; there is no significant attempt toidentify strengths and build on them despite the lip service given by mostChief Executive Officers; that people are their greatest asset. Thisframework is changing dramatically with the coming of age of positivepsychology.  However, it is critical that duringthis period of sustained economic slowdown, HR professionals look at positivepsychology as an Organization Development approach to build employee confidenceand maintain employee engagement. 


       The focus of positivepsychology is to look at what is right in the human condition and to use thisas a platform to help people achieve their full potential (Snyder &McCullough, 2000).  The objective is notto fix problems but to take performance to a whole new level by understandingcharacteristics that are inherently good in human beings for example, trust,resilience, character, ethics, gratitude, love and so on.  This paper seeks to understand positivepsychology in greater detail and to explore how it is making an impact inorganizational behavior studies. The focus will be to explore how line managersand organization development (OD) consultants can use the philosophy andpractice of this new paradigm to combine business results with the holisticdevelopment of the individual duringthis period of economic slowdown, when confidence levels are low and anxiety ishigh among employees.


Positive psychology –A background             

Martin Seligman andMihalyi Csikszentmihalyi initiated the momentum for positive psychology.According to them, positive psychology “is about identifying and nurturingtheir (people) strongest qualities, what they own and are best at, and helpingthem find niches in which they can best live out these strengths” (Seligman& Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 6 quoted in Luthans, 2002).  Positive psychology studies the impact ofsubjective experiences such as well being, contentment with the past, flow andhappiness in the present, hope and optimism for the future at the level of individual,and community and organization (Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003; Luthans,2002; Pajares, 2001). Its therapy techniques are making inroads intotraditional cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression with encouragingresults (Karwoski et al., 2006). Researchers have also recognized the impact of enhancing positivepsychology characteristics such as optimism, cultivation of flow experiences,cultivation of hope and optimism and so on as valid therapeutic measures(Karwoski et al., 2006) in the treatment of depression. 

        The positivepsychology movement has spurred two offshoots: positive organizationalscholarship (POS) and positive organizational behavior (POB) (Luthans &Youssef, 2004).  POS emphasizes positiveorganizational characteristics that enhance an organization’s competitivenessand POB is the application of positive human strengths and psychologicalcapacities that contribute to human performance improvement at the workplace.These include capacities like self-efficacy, confidence, hope, optimism,resilience and so on.  Luthans andYoussef (2004) refer to these capacities as positive psychological capital thatunlike fixed dispositional or trait-like qualities can be developed throughworkplace interventions and effective management practices.

An essential difference betweenPOB and many ‘feel-good’ interventions conducted at the workplace is the stressPOB places on assessing, measuring and scientifically recording the impact ofthese efforts so that a return on investment can be calculated (Pajares, 2001).  The scientific rigor will appeal tomanagement who often times are not sure about the long-term benefits of‘feel-good’ activities; thus training budgets are the first to get cut during abusiness downturn – a time when supporting people is even more critical.  The focus on being accountable for resultsalso ties in with the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD)’sHuman Performance Improvement model for organization change (Stolovitch &Keeps, 2003 February). The challenge is to convince management that the centralthesis of positive psychology – the power of positive emotions – isscientifically valid.

To be continued....



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