How are workers doing as our pandemic drags on? Is it possible to thrive amidst the chaos and struggles of these turbulent times? What can leaders do to build thriving workplaces?
These are key questions addressed by Michelle McQuaid during a recent webinar on workplace wellbeing. Michelle has a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and a provisional PhD for her research on Appreciative Inquiry Summits. The Canadian Positive Psychology Association hosted the webinar. I’ve been a CPPA member for many years as a keen follower of the fast-growing field of positive psychology and Martin Seligman’s (professor at University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of this new research-based approach) groundbreaking and strength-centered work. A central framework of positive psychology’s wellbeing approach is the PERMA framework (now PERMAH).
Michelle’s webinar focused on the findings of her research for The Wellbeing Lab 2021 Workplace Report. This report builds on and compares their new Canadian survey to previous American and Australian studies. The study surveyed just over 1,000 full and part-time Canadian workers “who were representative of the population.”
The Wellbeing Lab studies center on a four-quadrant model. This model is based on crossing a horizontal continuum of High Struggle and Low Struggle, with a vertical scale of High Thriving to Low Thriving. This creates four cells: Living Well Despite Struggles, Consistently Thriving, Really Struggling, and Not Doing Bad, Just Getting By.
Seven different American and Australian studies (of thousands of workers) showed that respondents who were Constantly Thriving and Living Well Despite Struggles “were statistically more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction, better performance, and greater commitment to their organization also likely to report higher levels of performance for their team and their organization.”
Key Study Points
Here are the key points that stood out for me from the webinar and report:
- Thriving doesn’t mean being problem-free. It’s very possible to thrive despite struggles. Thriving is less dependent on the situation and more dependent on our abilities to navigate our challenges. Reminds me of the saying, “it’s not what happens to you, but what you do about it.”
- “We have consistently found in our workplace studies that people who were consistently thriving or living well despite struggles report statistically higher levels of wellbeing Ability, wellbeing Motivation, and Psychological safety — we call these the wellbeing AMPlifiers.”
- Leaders have a big impact on worker wellbeing. The most effective leaders helped workers by holding them accountable and helping them constructively navigate their emotions at work. This sets up a virtuous cycle of mutual positivity with leaders and workers both thriving and achieving higher levels of performance.
- The most effective leaders model and encourage people to look for new possibilities in situations. I’ve long defined hope and optimism as one of the central hallmarks of strong leadership.
- There’s a big “possibility perception gap” between workers and their leaders. 35% of leaders believe they model possibility behaviors compared to workers feeling it was 20%. And 26% of workers report their leaders rarely demonstrated possibility-seeking behaviors compared to leader self-reports of only 8.7%. This is another example of how self-assessment is often much less accurate than multi-rater feedback.
- “Workplaces that support people’s basic psychological needs of autonomy (having a sense of freedom of choice), competence (able to do one’s work, learn, and grow) and relatedness (connecting deeply with others) make it easier for people to thrive consistently.”
How Leaders Can Help Workers Thrive
The survey found that “unfortunately, almost eight out of every 10 Canadian workers reported not feeling entirely safe sharing their struggles at work. Workers who were consistently thriving or living well despite struggles were more likely to feel safe to share their struggles. …reluctance of Canadian workers to reach out to anyone in their workplace compared to workers in other countries.”
This is a serious leadership problem. It’s consistent with many other studies and our experience that leaders aren’t building transparent and open workplaces, coaching effectively, and fostering high-growth cultures.
The report outlines four ways leaders can “LEAD the way on wellbeing”:
Literacy — a shared language about wellbeing with conversations to positively shape people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Evaluation — regular, high-quality, meaningful data to give everyone insights for better decision-making and investments in wellbeing.
Activation — fostering the freedom to experiment and activate personal, team, and organizational behaviors aligned with interests, values, resources, and desired outcomes.
Determination — sustaining a psychologically safe space to discuss what’s working well, where we’re struggling, and what we’re learning about caring for our wellbeing.
If you have a workplace well-being story to tell, check out The Canadian Workplace Well-Being Awards. This is the inaugural year for these awards from The Canadian Positive Psychology Association “to recognize those organizations for going the extra mile for nurturing the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. The awards will demonstrate and celebrate positive psychology in-action in the workplace.”