By Corporate English Solutions

18 September 2023 - 13:40

Positive psychology in the workplace - Harnessing strengths for enhanced workplace wellbeing

Work is not the only thing being transformed post-pandemic. Workplace wellbeing is evolving too. 

Positive psychology, known for its scientific approach to creating purpose and meaning, leveraging strengths and balancing emotions offers an incredible opportunity. To not only build a healthier, more positive work environment but also more fulfilled lives. Find out what proactive steps you can take today.


Reading time: 6 minutes

What if every employee were granted three wishes?

Beyond salary, what would be the top of your list? Lower stress, greater recognition, more opportunities for advancement? Whatever’s on your wish list, chances are they would contribute to your overall wellbeing in the workplace – and in your life.

Workplace wellbeing is more important now post-pandemic

There’s one thing that both employees and organisations agree on: wellbeing has become even more important now than it was during the pandemic . Because workers are experiencing higher levels of stress, burnout and mental health challenges as they adapt to post-pandemic life. 

Responsible organisations recognise their role in improving wellbeing in the workplace. But they also see an opportunity – a chance to reflect, rethink and reset. Although there is still a place for traditional methods, there is potential to adopt new, powerful approaches to employee wellbeing.

‘We can’t yoga our way out of workplace wellbeing issues,’ says Barbara Jeffrey of McKinsey Health Institute. ‘Businesses need to invest in the underlying problems to create the necessary cultural change.’

So, what’s one alternative? Positive psychology.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living,’ says psychologist Christopher Peterson. It aims to enhance wellbeing and life satisfaction by focusing on:

  • creating a sense of purpose and meaning
  • identifying and leveraging personal strengths and virtues 
  • fostering emotions like joy, gratitude and contentment.

In the late 1990s, prominent psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi saw an opportunity to shift psychology’s focus from primarily treating mental illness to studying and promoting the positive aspects of life. They published a paper called “Positive Psychology in 2000. And the rest, as they say, is history: a new field of psychology was born. 

But how does positive psychology connect with workplace wellbeing? Read on for inspiring examples from leading organisations.

1. Cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning 

Everyone needs a strong sense of purpose in their lives. And work is a big part of life. In the workplace, purpose increases employee wellbeing, resilience, engagement – and business performance. Plus, when people know how their work contributes to an organisation’s overall mission, they are happier and more likely to stay. 

Let’s look at some inspiring ways forward-thinking companies integrate purpose into key stages of the employee experience.

Purpose-driven recruitment

Make your organisation’s values and mission a core part of your recruitment process. Follow the example of FairHQ – a DEI tech company. They use a comprehensive checklist and metrics to determine if a candidate’s skills and qualities match their core values. And they avoid questions about personal background or hobbies. Hiring someone because they seem to ‘fit in’ doesn’t guarantee success in the role – and it can lead to bias. Post-interview, they also assess a candidate’s level of enthusiasm for the company’s mission.

Onboarding buddy system

From Day 1, how do you ensure new employees know about your company culture and values? Buffer – the social media marketing company – assigns new hires a culture buddy during their onboarding process. For the first six weeks, the culture buddy shares information about the company’s history, values and norms. Going further, new employees set 30-, 60- and 90-day goals and receive feedback from their manager. 

Values-led recognition 

Employee recognition is a wonderful way to create a positive work environment. And when you connect recognition to your company’s purpose, it’s a win-win. A great example is First American Financial’s “Fantastic” recognition platform. Colleagues can express their appreciation to those who’ve demonstrated the company’s core values of integrity, commitment, service, leadership and teamwork. Managers can do the same by awarding points, which employees can use towards gifts and experiences.

Social impact initiatives 

People want to work for companies that have a positive impact on the world. Organisations like Salesforce are a good example, known for their commitment to corporate social responsibility. And they encourage employees to be a force for good by volunteering. Every employee gets seven paid days of volunteer time off (VTO). And through Salesforce’s Pro Bono programme, non-profit and educational organisations can connect with employees for volunteer projects.

These are just a few examples. What steps will you take to embed purpose and meaning in your organisation?

2. Identify and leverage strengths in the workplace 

Purpose and meaning along with employee strengths and goals are a powerful combination. When individuals are aware of their strengths and encouraged to use them, their confidence, engagement and psychological wellbeing increase. 

Here’s a roadmap to success that any organisation can use to identify and leverage employee strengths:

1. Encourage self-awareness through self-assessments 

Encourage employees to reflect on their strengths and areas for development. Provide them with assessments or questionnaires that go beyond skills to include character traits, goals and values. Self-assessments foster greater self-awareness and accountability. Especially when employee strengths are actively leveraged for personal and organisational success.

2. Maximise strengths through customised learning pathways

Employee strengths can always be deepened. Offer personalised learning options that allow employees to further build upon their strengths and widen their expertise. Organisations that also provide mentoring or coaching programmes that pair experienced employees with less experienced ones can further identify and leverage strengths.

3. Create high performing ‘dream teams’

Once you’ve identified individual strengths, bring people together with complementary strengths. Develop systems where team roles and responsibilities align with each member’s unique strengths. Support managers to not only assign projects based on strengths but also have regular check-ins to ensure individual roles match evolving strengths.

4. Performing strengths-based feedback 

Once strengths are identified, it’s just as critical to integrate them into regular check-ins and performance evaluations. Managers can assess how well employees are using their strengths to overcome challenges and achieve goals. To maximise employee engagement (and retention), offer opportunities to further develop and enhance their strengths.

3. Foster emotional balance

Emotions, both positive and negative, play a crucial role in the workplace. 

According to Dr. Beth Cabrera, employees who experience emotions such as contentment, hope, joy and gratitude at work can have higher levels of motivation, creativity, productivity, and job performance, contributing to overall wellbeing. But how can organisations strike the right emotional balance to foster a healthy workplace culture? Here are some enlightening examples from leading companies:

Promoting constructive communication

In any thriving work environment, open and constructive communication is paramount. Encouraging employees to share their successes, both big and small, can ignite enthusiasm that inspires others. Equally important is empowering employees to openly discuss challenges, shifting the focus from problems to solutions. These efforts not only foster a sense of accomplishment but also nurture a culture of belonging and inclusion.

Fostering empathy and connection through employee storytelling 

Adobe is a company that exemplifies the art of employee storytelling. Their My Story platform features employees from diverse backgrounds, giving them a voice to share their life experiences. They even showcase the most compelling stories at their Adobe For All annual event. They have also organised storytelling competitions, including a creative writing contest for employees and their children, centred around themes of heroism, kindness, connection, and resilience.

Promoting emotional intelligence and positive leadership

Leaders who demonstrate empathy, active listening and support create a more positive work environment. Especially when they participate in mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Those set an inspiring example for others, boosting employee engagement in these initiatives. It’s crucial that your leaders and managers receive training in emotional intelligence and positive leadership.

Practicing gratitude

What do people who regularly express gratitude have in common? Optimism, better physical health, lower stress levels, greater progress toward meeting goals and a desire to help others. Encouraging and facilitating employees to express gratitude regularly is a valuable practice.

Southwest Airline’s SWAG (gratitude points) programme is widely renowned for a reason. It’s a great example of encouraging (and rewarding) employee appreciation and gratitude. Employees use the SWAG platform to send short notes of gratitude called 'Kick Tails.' These expressions of gratitude are then transformed into 'SWAG Points,' which can be redeemed for gifts and prizes. This initiative not only promotes gratitude but also contributes to a positive and appreciative workplace culture.

 A brighter future for workplace wellbeing

Incorporating these principles into the workplace cultivates an environment where individuals find their unique contributions, tap into their strengths, and achieve emotional equilibrium. When employees thrive, they report higher job satisfaction and overall contentment with life.

Investing in positive psychology not only creates a fulfilling work atmosphere but also positions organisations for sustained success in an ever-evolving professional landscape.

British Council has been supporting organisations worldwide to identify and develop skills to ensure talent is equipped for success now and in future. Partner with us to upskill your workforce and support their wellbeing, through courses in Emotional Intelligence, Interpersonal Communication, Cultural Intelligence and Time and Stress Management. These crucial skills will prepare your team for success in 2023 and beyond.