“Other People Matter” at Work, says recent Meta-Analysis

woman_tattoo_smilingDo you like the people you´re working with? Do you identify strongly with that group of human beings? Do you even feel that you belong to the larger system of the organization you´re working for? If the answer is yes: Good for you! Because most likely, this will be beneficial for your psychological and physiological health in the long run.

A recent meta-analysis by Niklas K. Steffens (University of Queensland, Brisbane) and colleagues concludes that

both workgroup and organizational identification are associated with individuals’ experience of reduced strain and burnout as well as greater health and well-being.

In short, liking the people we work with on the immediate level (our team) as well as the macro level (the organization as a whole) and experiencing a sense of belonging helps us to stay healthy and sane. From a Positive Psychology point of view, it´s interesting to see that social bonds do help to prevent stress, but even more so, foster the experience of positive outcomes:

Social identification feeds more strongly into the promotion of what is “good for us” than into the prevention of what is “bad for us”. These findings support previous work which has made the point that the absence of stress is not equivalent to the presence of well-being. More specifically, findings are consistent with a psychological conception of positive human health and phenomenological accounts of social identification which suggest that increases in identification capture increases in positive experiences and are therefore related particularly strongly to positive forms of well-being.

Here´s to you, Chris Peterson!

Study Alert: “Positive Art: Artistic Expression and Appreciation as an exemplary Vehicle for Flourishing”

Rousseau: Unpleasant SurpriseThis one´s hot of the press, written by Tim Lomas.

The article in the Review of General Psychology proposes the creation of “positive art” as a field encompassing theory and research concerning the well-being value of art. It identifies 5 main positive outcomes that are consistently found in the literature across all these forms:

  • sense-making;
  • enriching experience;
  • aesthetic appreciation;
  • entertainment;
  • and bonding.

The article aims to encourage a greater focus on the arts in fields such as positive psychology, enabling science to more fully understand and appreciate the positive power of the arts.

Lomas, T. (2016). Positive art: Artistic expression and appreciation as an exemplary vehicle for flourishing. Review of General Psychology, 20(2), 171-182.

Now, I´m not much of an art lover, but even I have experienced and written about the power of taking a “deep-dive” into a painting: Using Art to Cultivate Mindfulness – or: A pleasant Surprise with Rousseau´s Unpleasant Surprise.

And I certainly know about the positive power of music, no matter what kind: Finding Happiness in angry Music.

Share and enjoy!


The Anatomy of Meaningful Work [Infographic]

This week, I stumbled upon a fascinating article in the MIT Sloan Management Review written by Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden. They interviewed 135 people from 10 different walks of life in order to find out what makes their work especially meaningful – and also, what destroys their job-related sense of meaningfulness. While I´ve read other articles that provide valuable syntheses of meaning in work in the past (see here, here, and here), this one is especially rich in context, providing in-depth personal accounts of peoples´ experiences. This makes the findings especially palpable.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Meaningfulness is not dependent on the type of work. A garbage collector can experience the same amount of meaning in work as a nurse or a doctor.
  • Bosses (and specific leadership behaviors) are typically not perceived as a source of meaningfulness. Yet, they can easily destroy the perception of meaning in work.
  • More generalized, the creation of meaning in work is an individual endeavor, while its dismantling is caused by others, or the organizational system as a whole.

Moreover, the researchers describe several crucial components of meaningful work. They´ve inspired me to create this infographic based on their findings. Share and enjoy!


Additionally, Bailey and Madden describe the “seven deadly sins” leaders can commit to destroy meaningfulness. I´ll share those in the upcoming post.

Organizational Energy: A Whole-System Approach

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the concept of relational energy, the idea that energy is generated via positive interactions between an organization´s members – resulting in a fully charged system.

Org_Energy_BruchToday, I´d like to introduce two other approaches that aim at assessing organizational energy. In both, St. Gallen-based (Switzerland) Prof. Heike Bruch plays a major role.

In an article Bruch co-authored with Sumantra Ghoshal in the Sloan Management Review from 2003 based on several case-studies, she introduced the idea that an organization as a whole system can be described via a grid that describes the intensity and the quality of the present energy. In doing so, she also promoted the concept of “organizational burnout”, a state that may arise when an organization spends to much time in the upper left quadrant of the energy grid. I highly recommend reading the original article – as it also provides valuable ideas on how to shift an organization from one energetic state to an another (“Slaying the Dragon” and “Winning the Princess”)

In 2011, she followed up with this article: Energy at work: A measurement validation and linkage to unit effectiveness. This further explores the idea of “whole system energy” but tackles it from a more quantified point of view. The authors define

collective energy (henceforth productive energy) as affect, cognitive arousal, and agentic behavior among unit members in their joint pursuit of organizationally salient objectives.

One important notion is that the researchers view productive energy as having affective, cognitive, and behavioral components – so it´s not only about “feeling energized”:

Affective energy refers to members’ shared experience of positive feelings and emotional arousal due to their enthusiastic assessments of work‐related issues.

Cognitive energy refers to the shared intellectual processes that propel members to think constructively and persist in search of solutions to work‐related problems, including the mental faculties to focus attention, shut out distractions, and have a desire to make “good things” happen.

Behavioral energy reflects members’ joint efforts designed to benefit the organization; it encompasses the pace, intensity, and volume with which members purposefully invest physical resources.

 The other important distinction is the facet of emergence:

We take a multilevel position on energy, conceptualizing it as both an individual‐level and a collective‐level phenomenon. We, therefore, recognize the need to discuss the nature of its emergence or how the lower‐level parent construct (i.e., individual‐level energy) materializes to form a collective construct (i.e., productive energy).

Accordingly, the authored have used a questionnaire to assess individual energy, but used that data to additionally compute a collective energy level, e.g., that of the whole business unit, by aggregating the individual energy levels. Here are some of the items they used:

  • Affective dimension: People in my work group feel enthusiastic in their job.
  • Cognitive dimension: In my work group, there is a collective desire to make something happen.

  • Behavioral dimension: People in my work group often work extremely long hours without complaining.

After statistical analyses, the authors conclude that

productive energy appears to be an emergent phenomenon. That is, energy referenced at the unit level considers the context or social environment in which individuals work and is distinct from the attributes of those individuals.

In a separate study, they also find that

the productive energy of firms is positively associated with firm performance.

I´m really eager to see how this stream of literature will develop in the future – and how it might inform practical interventions, e.g., in the field of human resources development.

Relational Energy: Is your Organization fully charged? 

SONY DSCAre you fully charged right now? Do you feel energized? Full of zest? Or do you feel de-energized? Depleted? Run-down? Or maybe something in-between?

No matter what it is that you´re currently experiencing – it´s clear that humans tend to describe their condition in terms of energetic states. What is this energy? It is clear that we’re not talking about energy in a (strictly) physical sense. Yes, we may feel drained energetically because of a lack of food (especially carbohydrates), and definitely a lack of sleep – and we do feel recharged after eating or taking a nap. But with the kind of energy we´re talking about here, there´s more to it.

By way of example, taking a brisk walk after lunch can restore our energy and help us being more productive in the afternoon, even though a lot of physical energy is actually spent while moving.

Moreover, human energy feeds on interesting ideas, on passion, on having a goals, especially shared goals. Research shows the same activity can be energizing or de-energizing, depending on the question if that activity plays to our strengths – or if it autonomously regulated (by and large: intrinsically motivated) or externally regulated (forced upon us). A great of overview of different frameworks of human energy is given in: Quinn, R. W., Spreitzer, G. M., & Lam, C. F. (2012). Building a sustainable model of human energy in organizations: Exploring the critical role of resources. Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 337-396.

But most importantly, our energy feeds on interaction with other human beings – yet, it can be drained during that process as well.

Relational Energy

For a moment, think about a typical interaction with a colleague at work. Depending on the quality of that interaction, afterwards you might feel:

  • (a little) elevated/uplifted (= energized);
  • (a little) depleted/exhausted (= de-energized);
  • just as before (= unchanged).

In reality, depending on the quality of past experiences, this process might start well before the actual interaction, precisely when a person starts to think about having to meet with another person. I mean, honestly, how often do we say something along the lines of: “Oh gosh, I have a meeting with X tomorrow – I wish I could send someone else…”

This is the reason why a lot of companies start to adopt a “no-asshole-policy”: They adjust their hiring/firing processes in order to minimize the occurrence of “emotional black holes” among their employees, those people that suck up the energy of their colleagues, even when they are high-performers within their respective domain of work. The damage they cause to the organizational network by far outweighs their productivity in the long run (please check out: Cross, R., Baker, W., & Parker, A. (2003). What creates energy in organizations? MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4), 51-57).

Now, imagine how many encounters you have on an average day at work, be they short and fleeting (e.g., small talk at the water cooler) or extended and intensive (e.g., a day-long workshop). And now go on to imagine all the people in your company, and their encounters over a day, or a week, or a year.

With a large company, e.g., the one I work for (120.000 employees), we’re easily talking about more than a billion of those interactions per year. That’s more than one billion occasions to either charge or discharge the energy of that organization. Each energetic transaction may be minuscule, but together they form the most important asset of that organization (besides such aspects as the properties, machines, trademarks). Because here’s the thing (and you know this very well from your own life): The energetic state of each employee is connected to a lot of outcomes, such as work engagement, creativity, and satisfaction – and taken together, alles those interactions form a larger part of the organizational culture.

When we´re talking about “change”, usually we´re referring to big fluffy concepts: “change the culture”, or “change leadership”. But can we really work with those entities in real life? Isn’t it more advantageous to start with the little things, the day-to-day behavior? In order to do that, we´d have to be able to measure the nature of those interactions with regard to their “energetic quality”.

Such an attempt has now been made by a team of US-based researchers (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). They define (positive) relational energy as

a heightened level of psychological resourcefulness generated from interpersonal interactions that enhances one’s capacity to do work.

The researchers propose a new scale for the measurement of this kind of energy from the vantage point of the recipient; these are two of the items they propose:

  • I feel invigorated when I interact with this person.
  • After interacting with this person I feel more energy to do my work.

Large companies usually go to great lengths in order to measure employee engagement, satisfaction, and related psychological states. Now imagine having each employee in an organization fill out a short questionnaire on the relational energy they’re getting out of interacting with their closest co-workers, managers, and subordinates. This, in turn, could be used to create a detailed “energetic map” of that organization, thereby identifying the energizers and the “black holes” along the way.

I imagine this could lead to a complete new, data-based paradigms in leadership development.

Your Craving for Money may be an Attachment Disorder

Roter_Teddy_smallThis certainly is a strong proposition. It was coined by Prof. Dr. Eva Walther from the University of Trier as part of lecture on “Money & Love” during the first Conference of the German Association for Research in Positive Psychology. Yet, it may grounded in solid research. Here´s the story:

First, there´s some research that both social support and money can act as a buffer for pain – or the anticipation of pain. So, when people expect to experience painful life events, they will draw on social support (= their friends and loved ones) to guard themselves against or alleviate this unpleasant emotion. Yet, while social capital is the more natural (primary) defense mechanism, money is seen as a secondary one that mainly comes into play when the primary one doesn’t work. Here´s a quote from the Zhou/Gao article listed below:

First, anticipation of pain heightens the desire for social support as well as the desire for money. Second, both social support and money reminders alleviate pain, whereas social exclusion and monetary loss result in an upsurge of pain awareness. In our view, social support is the primary defense against pain and the reliance on money may result from the failure of social support to accomplish its pain-buffering goal.

In short, and a bit overgeneralized: When people cannot lean on social support to fulfill their emotional needs, they will turn to money to do the job.

Second, research finds that money-seeking may be linked to having an avoidant attachment orientation (using the Bowlby typology). This finding lends some credibility to the idea that money acts as a substitute for human bonding – as people with an avoidant attachment style may find it harder to attain all the emotional comfort they need in stressful situations.

So, just in case you´re striving for that first million $: It could very well be you´re just looking for a friend…


I’m still Up-Lifted…

I’m still so much “in love” with Lift, a leadership book by Ryan & Robert Quinn that I’ve already written about a couple of days ago. It’s just brilliant. Actually, I want to take a marker and then just underline the whole book – but I guess that would be kind of stupid. So, for today, I’d just like to share with you passage on being other-focused:

“[M]ost people find that when they become other-focused they do not lose themselves; instead, they become their best selves. They like who they become when they care about others. This makes sense when we realize that our identities are inseparable from our relationships with others. We are social creatures, biologically wired to empathize with each other. Becoming other-focused does not eliminate our unique characteristics, it draws on our unique characteristics to help us make more or our relationships.”

Lift - Mappalicious 

What drives Workplace Happiness? A Survey of 200,000 People

BCG_Decoding_TalentOne of the central tenets in Positive Psychology is “Other People Matter!” – coined by the late Prof. Chris Peterson. This is also true for the workplace. Hell may be other people, as Sartre famously said. But they are also heaven if companies manage to create asshole-free offices.

I recently stumbled upon a study carried out by consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG). They surveyed more than 200,000 people globally from all walks of life on the drivers of workplace happiness (among other things). At the end of the day, they came up with a list of 26 different factors. In the graphic, the top 10 attributes that influence workplace happiness are displayed.

Now, if you ask me, the top 4 factors are all about (positive) relationships:

BCG_Decoding_Talent_RankNo. 1 is “appreciation for your work”. Yet, appreciation doesn’t come out of nowhere. It´s provided by bosses, co-workers, and subordinates. It´s other people.

No. 2 is “good relationships with colleagues”. Clearly, that´s other people.

No. 3 is “good work-life-balance”. For me, that translates to “My job enables me to have good relationships with people apart from the workplace”.

No. 4 is “good relationships with superiors”. That’s probably very close to No. 1.

I rest my case.

Why that Swiss Friend of yours is probably Happier than You are

Frau_BartSome nations are happier than others, that’s a fact. In most year’s rankings, Switzerland or one of the Scandivian countries (quite frequently: Denmark) take the No. 1 spot in the carefully researched list. Quite obviously, this does not mean each and every person over there is happier than your fellow countrymen – but on average, they are. Why is that the case? The solution can be found in the answers to these high-level questions:

  • Do people earn enough money – and how well does the economy do in general? Additionally: Is the distribution of wealth (perceived as) fair?
  • Do people form strong social bonds in your society? Do they value highly their family and friends?
  • Do people have access to (enough) healthy food, clean water, and decent doctors/hospitals?
  • Do people live in a (stable) democracy granting a high amount of individual freedom and safety?
  • Can people afford to be generous and compassionate vis-a-vis your countrymen (and generally, those in need)?
  • Can your citizens trust their political and economic leaders?

Or, in the words of University of British Columbia economics professor John Helliwell, co-editor of the World Happiness Report (as quoted on ThinkAdvisor.com):

Six factors explain about three-quarters of the difference in country rankings […]: GDP per capita, social support (based on the question, “Do you have a friend or relative to call on in times of trouble?”), life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity (having donated to charity within the past month) and trust (perceptions of business or governmental corruption). 

In order to make make the top ranks of the “happiest nations list”, a country needs to do pretty well on each of those factors. But they also explain why some countries that don’t do so well economically might be far ahead of some richer counterparts:

(Some of) the best things in life are free – e.g., your family and friends.