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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How Applicants can find out if a Job will provide Meaningful Work using Tools from Positive Psychology

Yesterday, I was a panelist at the morning session of Intersect 2018, a phenomenal event along the lines of “Tech Conference x Career Fair x Learning Exhibition”. The conference is hosted by e-learning platform Udacity. You can watch the panel I participated in here on YouTube. The guiding theme was “Competing with Skill, Winning with Confidence”.

Nico Rose | Udacity Intersect

In the afternoon, additionally I hosted a breakout group on using tools developed in the context of Positive Psychology to ace a job interview – but also to find out what kind of jobs we should apply for in the first place. You can download the full slide deck here.

Towards the end of the session, I shared my ideas on how to use the final phase of a job interview (where applicants get to ask questions) to better understand whether the job opportunity will (most likely) provide a meaningful work experience.

In order to do so, I referred to a framework of meaning in work that was developed by Amy Wrzesniewski (and colleagues), one of my academic heroines. Based on decades of research, the framework posits there are four overarching drivers of meaning in work. They are thought to independently contribute to the experience of meaningfulness in a given work environment.

For my session, I tried to come with questions to ask the recruiter or hiring manager at the end of the job interview in order to assess the likelihood of the presence of each driver of meaningfulness in the prospective job environment. Here´s what I came up with. What do you think? What would you ask?

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The Center for Positive Organizations: My Top-10 List of Research Papers

This is some stuff you should definitely check out if you´re in HR, or an (aspiring) leader – or if you want to up your game in general with regard to understanding positive organizations. All links lead you to PDFs of the respective articles.

Cameron, K. S., Bright, D., & Caza, A. (2004). Exploring the relationships between organizational virtuousness and performance. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 766-790.

Cameron, K., Mora, C., Leutscher, T., & Calarco, M. (2011). Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(3), 266-308.

Dutton, J. E., Worline, M. C., Frost, P. J., & Lilius, J. (2006). Explaining compassion organizing. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51(1), 59-96.

Heaphy, E. D., & Dutton, J. E. (2008). Positive social interactions and the human body at work: Linking organizations and physiology. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 137-162.

Mayer, D. M., Aquino, K., Greenbaum, R. L., & Kuenzi, M. (2012). Who displays ethical leadership, and why does it matter? An examination of antecedents and consequences of ethical leadership. Academy of Management Journal, 55(1), 151-171.

Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 35-49.

Roberts, L. M., Dutton, J. E., Spreitzer, G. M., Heaphy, E. D., & Quinn, R. E. (2005). Composing the reflected best-self portrait: Building pathways for becoming extraordinary in work organizations. Academy of Management Review, 30(4), 712-736.

Spreitzer, G. M., Kizilos, M. A., & Nason, S. W. (1997). A dimensional analysis of the relationship between psychological empowerment and effectiveness, satisfaction, and strain. Journal of Management, 23(5), 679-704.

Spreitzer, G., Sutcliffe, K., Dutton, J., Sonenshein, S., & Grant, A. M. (2005). A socially embedded model of thriving at work. Organization Science, 16(5), 537-549.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

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The Center for Positive Organizations at University of Michigan: a Book List

Kim Cameron | Nico RoseI´m the luckiest guy in the world. I get to spend the week at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, more precisely: the Ross of Business. Part of the Ross School is the Center for Positive Organizations – which without exaggeration can be described as the global focal point for research and application(s) of Positive Psychology in business (Positive Organizational Scholarship). It´s home to POS luminaries such as Kim Cameron, Jane Dutton, and Robert Quinn. Additionally, some of the big shots in the field have completed their Ph.D. studies here, among them Adam Grant and Amy Wrzesniewski.

I´m going to provide an overview of what I´ve learned here at a later point in time. For today, I´d like to provide a book list of works that been crafted by faculty of  the Center for Positive Organizations. After is, Christmas is coming up soon – and you might still be looking for something for your loved ones (or yourself)…

Also, watch out for Wayne Bakers upcoming book “Just Ask”…

Hopes and Dreams: What the top-tier Positive Psychology Researchers wish for 2016

One day before New Year’s Eve, I sent an e-mail to some of the foremost researchers and experts in Positive Psychology and adjacent. I asked them to answer one of the following questions.

  • What do you hope for Positive Psychology in 2016?

  • What are your expectations of Positive Psychology in 2016?

  • What would be a breakthrough for Positive Psychology in 2016?

Positive Psychology Researchers - Mappalicious

While there obviously is a lot of variation in their answers, one common topic is the notion that Positive Psychology needs to shift its attention from individual wellbeing to a broader perspective: systemic or holistic wellbeing, so to say. The answers are displayed below in alphabetical order.

Shawn Achor, CEO of GoodThink Inc. and author of The Happiness Advantage:

I hope positive psychology continues to attract top talent inside and outside of academia, while re-embracing concepts like “happiness” which appeal to the non-academic population rather than going for jargon. I expect that positive psychology will take firmer hold inside of companies as more research comes out. We need a top company or celebrity to credit “positive psychology” (rather than individual interventions) for their success. I’d like to see a celebrity say positive psychology is so important they are donating money to spark the movement.

Robert Biswas-Diener, “Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology” and co-author of Upside of Your Dark Side:

What trends do I expect? 1) An increasing push to brand “positive” with different specialties (positive education, positive real estate, positive boxing, etc.). I think positive education has the greatest momentum so we will see more and more of this. 2) An increasingly “life hack” approach to disseminating positive psychology. For example, many bloggers, etc. will harp on single published studies or offer simplistic advice as a sort of low-cost cheat with big payoffs. I see this as akin to promoting effective communication by saying “use 3 hand gestures every minute.” Artificial, simplistic, dubious. I think this is a by-product of market forces on positive psychology. I think the real action– the important action– will happen in research (see below).

What I hope for: 1) This will take time but there are at least two labs that are undertaking very sophisticated intervention studies. Using careful methods, longitudinal sampling, careful controls, and consulting with academics such as clinical trial researchers to improve the quality of this research. 2) I think we will see an expansion in topics covered. Grit, resilience and happiness, to name three, have been popular, but I think we will start seeing more topics integrated: interest, friendship, hospitality, intelligence, attention, etc. 

Kim Cameron, professor at University of Michigan and co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations:

My expectation is that the international membership* will double, and that in 18 months we will have as many non-USA members as we do members from The United States.

* This reply somewhat confused me. I conjecture that Professor Cameron is referring to the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA).

Angela Duckworth, professor at University of Pennsylvania and author of Grit:

My hope for Positive Psychology in 2016 is that there continues to be the scientific rigor that elevates this endeavor to something other than feel-good self-help!

Jane Dutton, professor at University of Michigan and co-author of How to be a Positive Leader:

I have one big wish: I hope for more serious research and consideration of how work and organizational contexts matter in limiting or facilitating human flourishing. My expectation (and deep hope) is that there will be an explosion of research in positive organizational psychology and that it will be used to foster humility and carefulness in how to apply positive psychology in work settings.  

Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Originals:

I hope for a shift in focus from the mind to behavior. Positive psychologists have paid a great deal of attention to cognitions and emotions, strengths and virtues, but far less to the actions that make our lives better.

Tim Kasser, professor at Knox College and author of The High Price of Materialism:

I hope that Positive Psychology will become less focused on trying to increase peoples’ personal happiness and instead recognize that a good life also includes living one’s life in ways that promote the well-being of other people and the ecological sustainability of the planet.

Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute, researcher and lecturer at Penn, and author of Wired to Create:

I’d like to see more research on Positive Communities, and deepen our understanding of their development and benefits. There’s so much of a focus on individual flourishing measured through self-report questionnaires. I’d like to see much more research on meaning as measured by the functioning of larger systems of people and community structures.

Dacher Keltner, professor at Berkeley and co-director of the Greater Good Science Center:

I hope that positive psychology will use its wisdom to tackle the costs of inequality and poverty.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor at University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness:

I hope for the label “positive psychology” to be retired. We don’t need it anymore!

Ryan Niemiec, Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character and author of Positive Psychology at the Movies:

I expect there to be an array of important published and forthcoming studies on positive psychology interventions with problems (e.g., conflicts, disorders, stressors, dark side).

Martin Seligman, co-founder and spiritus rector of Positive Psychology:

I hope that more exoplanets suitable to life will be discovered* and that David Mitchell will publish another novel.

* I guess Marty has answered my question in a more comprehensive way. Always dreaming big, I daresay.

Amy Wrzesniewski, professor at Yale and one of the world´s foremost experts on meaning at/in work:

I hope that we see more top tier peer-reviewed research that sheds helpful light on the antecedents and outcomes of people finding a sense of meaning in their lives! Am doing my best to help!

Job, Career, or Calling? It´s the Attitude, Stupid!

The other day, for a German news outlet I regularly blog for, I wrote something on Amy Wrzesniewski´s research on our orientations towards work – so why not do it here as well.

Conventional wisdom tells us that there are more meaningful (e.g., nurse) and less meaningful (e.g., cleaner) jobs out there. Yet, Wrzesniewski and her colleagues found that the level of meaning (or purpose) we can derive from our work is only partly dependent on the type of job per se. The way we think (or feel) about what we do seems to have more importance in this matter. The researchers describe three separate (but not mutually exclusive) orientations that people can take on vis-à-vis their occupation: a) job; b) career; c) work.

Work Orientation: Job

People in this category tend to perceive their work as a means to an end. They work for the paycheck/benefits to support their life outside of work. Accordingly, they prefer jobs which do not interfere with their personal lives and typically do not have a strong connection to the workplace or their job duties.

Work Orientation: Career

Individuals displaying a “career” orientation are more likely to focus on job attributes related to prestige and success. They will be foremost interested in opportunites for upward movement, e.g., receiving raises and titles, and the social standing that come along with that.

Work Orientation: Calling

Employees with a “calling” orientation typically describe their work as an integral part of their lives and their identities. Accordingly, they feel that their careers are a form of self-expression and fulfillment.

The crucial point is: Wrzesniewski and her colleagues found that individuals displaying a “calling” orientation are more likely to be highly engaged – and satisfied with their work and their lives in general. And while there are types of jobs that indeed yield a higher percentage of employees displaying this attitude, the researchers were able to show that each orientation frequently appears within all walks of life.

Typically, this involves being able to “see the big picture” (and thus, leadership comes into play). E.g., a cleaner in a hospital setting might say that she helps to “save lives” (instead of, e.g., cleaning the beds) because she knows that she helps to kill off bacteria that otherwise might infect and kill the patients.

Now, I don’t know how the people displayed in the following video view their work – but they´ve surely turned it into something extraordinary – even though most of them seem to work in rather ordinary jobs. Enjoy!

The New York Times on Positive Psychology and adjacent: My 10 favorite Pieces

New_York_Times_logo_variationI totally admire how top psychology researchers regularly get a lot of airtime in US mass media outlets – doesn´t happen that much here in Germany. The following list comprises 10 (more or less) recent pieces from the venerable New York Times. All of them were written (or cover work) by some of the figureheads of Positive Psychology.