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Positively Happy at Work

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Most of us have heard the terms “economic capital” or “human capital” applied to our lives. But what about “psychological capital”?

Researchers studying positive psychology and how it applies to the workplace have carefully considered this idea. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that a positive mindset can not only affect our attitudes toward work, but the outcomes that follow.

Indeed, the “psychological capital” that we bring to the table can have a significant impact upon work and career.

You may have heard how the tenets of positive psychology might provide a guide to help you achieve greater levels of workplace happiness. Overall, the movement stresses the identification of what is “right” with our work lives and building on those positive contributors (emphasizing our strengths, celebrating smaller successes, gratitude).

Central to this theory is the mechanism by which we build our psychological resources and how we use this energy to cope with our work lives. Researchers call this psychological capital. It’s made up of a number of key psychological resources that we bring to our work and life experiences. In combination, we utilize these resources to meet the challenges of our daily.

There are four key elements of psychological capital—known as the HERO resources.

  • Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find the methods or paths to reach them.
  • Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
  • Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
  • Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.

Of key importance, studies have established a clear positive relationship between psychological and a number of desired workplace outcomes, including job satisfaction, organizational commitment and psychological well-being. Moreover, the lack of psychological capital has been shown to be negatively correlated with negative organizational behaviors, including cynicism, anxiety, stress, and the intention to turnover.

Discovering how HERO can be improved is the next goal of researchers. On a promising note, it does about that psychological capital is what is known as a “state like” quality—which means it possible to change. This is in contrast to traits that tend to be largely stable or fixed in people over time, such as the Big 5 personality traits of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.

Recognizing psychological capital—and that it can be developed and strengthened– has broad implications for key workplace attributes such as the quality of performance feedback, role design and leadership style. Improving those will help lead to both happier and more productive employees, and likely more successful companies.

About the Author

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who specializes in workplace success strategies and organizational change. She helps individuals, teams and organizations develop intelligently—to meet work life challenges with a sense of confidence and empowerment.