Get your “Self-Care September” Calendar from Action for Happiness now!

Another month gone, another beautifully crafted calendar by our friends at Action for Happiness. For September, it´s all about self-care – and as usual, based on insights from Positive Psychology. You can download a file in high resolution for printing here. Enjoy – and please spread the news.

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Do you Want to Make your Work more Meaningful? Aim for the S.P.I.R.E.!

SPIRE_StegerI´m a big fan of the work of Professor Michael F. Steger (Colorado State University), one of the world´s foremost scholars on the subject of meaning in life and meaning in work (see his TEDx Talk here).

In fact, he´s not only a top-notch scientist, but at the same time he´s able to turn his research (plus other people´s scholarly work) into actionable insights for business leaders. Accordingly, I was more than thrilled when Michael agreed to work with me on a paper that showcases some research on the question of how leaders can help to make the work of their subordinates more meaningful. While the original paper was written in German, there´s a neat summary of that research (CAARMA leadership) available via Positive Psychology News Daily.

Today, I´d like to introduce you to another framework that has been described by Michael, precisely via this book chapter. Where CAARMA leadership focuses on the role of the leader in creating (more) meaningful work for employees, the acronym S.P.I.R.E. points us towards all those resources and pathways to meaning that employees control unmediatedly. The building blocks of this acronym have been synthesized by Steger based on some 40 years of extant research on meaningful work.

Strengths

In Steger´s words: Know your unique strengths and talents, and use them in executing your work, even if that means going above and beyond your basic job duties.

Now obviously, in order to make this recommendation work, you´ll have to find out what your strengths are in the first place. A good place to start would be taking the VIA survey, a test that was developed based on a framework of 24 character strengths first described by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Or, you could create your Reflected Best Self™ portrait, a method developed at the Center for Positive Organizations (Ross School of Business). In this LinkedIn article, I explain how you can do that.

Personalization

In Steger´s words: Bring more of yourself to work, align work with your values, take responsibility and adopt an ownership mentality for your work and your organization.

A rewarding pathway to tackling the challenge of (increased) ownership could be practicing what Professor Amy Wrzesniewski (Yale) calls job crafting – which is defined as ‘‘the physical and cognitive changes individuals make in the task or relational boundaries of their work’’. Basically, via job crafting employees progressively turn the job they currently have into the one they really want to be in. Here´s a nice description of fellow Penn MAPPster Paula Davis-Laack via Psychology Today.

Integration

In Steger´s words: Integrate the motivation of and execution of your job with other elements of your life, work in ways that bring meaning to the rest of your life.

Now, that is obviously a task which cannot be executed just like 1…2…3. Finding the right balance (or rather: blend) to me seems to be an ongoing internal exploration and negotiation between the different selves that comprise the “whole person” over the span of a lifetime. Nevertheless, I recently stumbled upon this beautiful article in the Harvard Business Review crafted by Brianna Caza, Lakshmi Ramarajan, Erin Reid, and Stephanie Creary that might point you towards some meaningful pathways: How to Make Room in Your Work Life for the Rest of Your Self.

Resonance

In Steger´s words: Learn your organization’s core values and mission, find ways in which it resonates with your personal mission and meaning through everyday work.

As with the aspect of strengths, this pathway will not come to life without a fair amount of soul-searching and self-discovery. Aligning our personal mission with that of our organization requires discovering (or rather: building and exploring over time?) our life´s mission in the first place. Now personally, I´ve wrangled with the concept of a personal mission for several years, especially when being contrasted to a similar, but somewhat different matter, a personal purpose statement. Even though the following article by Disney Institute´s Bruce Warner covers this topic on the level of the organization, it helped me tremendously to clarify my mission and my purpose (at least in their current versions) – that´s why I´m recommending it to you here: The Difference Between Purpose and Mission.

Expansion

In Steger´s words: Seek ways in which your work can be grown to benefit some greater good, expand your concerns to embrace broader interests beyond your self.

I figure there are countless opportunities to achieve this goal. To start, you might find some inspiration in this New York Times article covering research by Wharton professor Adam Grant (described in his seminal book Give and Take) written by Susan Dominus.

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Following these recommendations can help you to propel your work life onto a more meaningful trajectory. Quite naturally, it´s not a good idea to tackle all of these different pathways at the same time. I´d start with those one or two drivers that resonate the most with you for the time being.

Enjoy!

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Get Your “Altruistic August” Calendar from Action for Happiness

Another month, another wonderful calendar by our friends at Action for Happiness. This time, it´s all about altruism. You can get your printable high-solution version here. By the way: all those calendars from the previous months can be downloaded here.

Action for Happiness | Altruistic August

A Place in the Sun: On Towel Wars and Corporate Culture

Nico Rose | Positive Psychology | MappaliciousOh, sweet vacation time. I have spent the last 12 days on the island of Ibiza with my wife and our two children at a seaside resort near Santa Eulalia. The weather was nice, the sea was warm, the ice cream was delicious – everything as it should be. Only one thing has somewhat diminished our enjoyment on a daily basis: My children are water lovers. Accordingly, we spent the greater part of our days at the pool (or the beach, for that matter). Thus, every morning before breakfast, an urgent question arose:

Reserve a lounger – or not?

On most days after breakfast, all the loungers next to the pool areas for children were either occupied or reserved with a towel, oftentimes for several hours before their respective owners even appeared.* My wife, who apparently was raised to display more civility compared to myself, asked me several times not to participate in this game. I complied on all days except one, which mostly resulted in hours and hours of waiting until we could get hold of two adjacent loungers for the four of us. On other days, we only found separated ones, so the family had to chill at different parts of the pool, which was also rather unsatisfactory. All of this happened, by the way, even though there are clearly visible signs which disallow the reservation of loungers.

Nico Rose | Positive Psychology | Mappalicious

Now, one could easily object the hotel was simply accommodating too many guests compared to its capacity, but I won´t delve into this today. Instead, I would like to shed some light on what was going on based on insights from social psychology and game theory – and I would also like to explore what this has to say about company culture. There is a perceptive tweet by Robert Sutton, a Stanford management professor, that I often share in my keynotes:

Nico Rose | Positive Psychology | Mappalicious

The underlying assumption here is that, when resources are scarce, the behavior of people in organizations predictably takes a moral downward spiral when there is no proper positive intervention on the part of the leaders. In the absence of purposeful countermeasures, human virtues will succumb to egotism, at best a narrow-minded tit-for-tat mentality.

When civility goes overboard

I guess this is also what tends to happen at hotel pools worldwide every morning. The crucial point: Most people undoubtedly do not want to behave like assholes. They simply see their hopes dashed given the limited resources. In that sense, initially it does not take more than a few people who won´t stick to the rules to wreak havoc. It´s exactly these people who (almost) inevitably set in motion the abovementioned downward spiral – especially when their behavior is not immediately interrupted by an appropriate authority. I´ve heard of hotels where employees regularly patrol the pools and confiscate towels that have obviously not been used for several hours. Unfortunately, this was not the case here, and to remove the towels myself seemed inappropriate to me (as well as to many other guests). As a result, virtually all “players” chose to pursue their own somewhat selfish interests, even though they initially intended to behave graciously. There are at least two reasons for this kind of behavior:

  • In terms of social psychology, people will look to “the norm”, that is, to what “the others” are doing in a given situation. Accordingly, those fellow human beings who initially break the rules are used to legitimize one´s own misconduct: “If everyone does it, it seems to be OK.”
  • In terms of game theory, people see themselves as part of a zero-sum game (not entirely misguided with regard to the loungers) and, hence, decide to pursue their own benefit to the detriment of their fellow human beings: “Why should I go out empty-handed, when the others are not willing to do without?”

Ultimately, this is the tragedy of the situation: Almost everyone breaks the rules, but hardly anyone will feel guilty – because there are “good reasons” to do so. And it all starts with just a few assholes. I deliberately use this expletive – specifically referring to Aaron James, professor of philosophy at University of California, Irvine. He has dedicated a whole book to this variety of human being. According to James, a person can be categorized as an asshole when he or she…

systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people. […] The asshole is the person who habitually cuts in line. Or frequently interrupts in a conversation. […] Or who persistently emphasizes another person´s faults. Or who is extremely sensitive to perceived slights while being oblivious to his crassness with others.

A stitch in time saves nine

So what? Aaron James and Robert Sutton by and large agree the objective should be to work towards turning a given system (whether a hotel pool or conference room) into an “asshole-free zone”. Indecent behaviors should be counteracted pro-actively and immediately, in public at best. At the same time, it certainly helps when leading protagonists of the respective system frequently demonstrate desired behaviors (“Walk the talk!”). Lest the transgressors remain continuously unshaken in light of such measures, it is prudent to remove them from the system altogether – even at the risk of turmoil and momentarily increased costs. The harm they inflict on the system in the long run, as a rule, will exceed the costs of the intervention by far. If you´d like to know more: In one of his own books on this difficile subject, Robert Sutton – I guess somewhat tongue-in-cheek – describes a way to calculate the so-called TCA (“Total Cost of Assholes”).

Conclusion

To end on a high note, I´m happy to tell you that, some of the time, the better angels of our nature clearly prevailed. On the fifth day, after my son had walked around the pool several times looking more and more frustrated, fellow guests graciously gave us one of their loungers. This was followed by spontaneous exchanges of toys among children, lively dialogues among adults on the question of how to get rid of stains caused by surplus bolognese sauce on white t-shirts without a washing machine – and cheerful multinational fraternization in general.

However, I cannot guarantee this will hold true for your organization.

* The whole issue does not seem to be a national feature. The club hosts a motley mix of German, Austrian, Swiss, Dutch, Belgian, English, Russian, French, Spanish, and Scandinavian compatriots.

This text was originally published on my LinkedIn profile.

Get Your Joyful June Calendar from Action for Happiness

As with the previous months of 2018, our friends at Action for Happiness, a UK-based non-for-profit organization backed by luminaries such as the The Dalai Lama and Sir Richard Layard, have created a calendar for the month of June, displaying valuable advice based on the science of Positive Psychology. You can get a printable high-resolution version here.

Joyful June | Action for Happiness