Training Industry

Workforce Development

  • The Good, Bad and Ugly of Positive Psychology Training

Let’s have a dance party in the middle of the work day! We’ll throw our hands up in the air and shout positive affirmations to get energy flowing throughout the entire office. All of the Debbie Downers can find their way to the exit door while the rest of us clamor around the office.

Positive psychology is finding its way into the workplace, inspiring workers in all industries to practice gratitude, resolve challenges through honest communication and fit humor into spaces that used to be a drag.

We have an abundance of research busting out of leading institutions showing that practicing happiness benefits everyone in the workplace. Harvard University gave birth to Shawn Achor, who’s teaching the Happiness Advantage to global organizations all over the world. Sojna Lyubomirsky from UC Riverside passionately advocates that happiness is an empirical science-based application that people need to practice consistently in order to see results.

Two-thirds of Americans claim to be unhappy at work. Happiness training seems to be the cure for this impediment.

Logically, it makes sense. If your son has the flu, give him cough medicine, and he’ll feel better. To avoid getting bug bites, spray mosquito repellant on your skin. If your workers are unhappy, provide positive psychology training to help them feel better and produce better work. The research is showing that it works, but are positive psychologists providing a “Band-Aid” solution or solving the root cause of unhappy workers?

In every story, there are good, bad and ugly moments. The same rings true for positive psychology training. According to positive psychology, it’s best to start with the good news. Focus on what’s already working, and then seek to eliminate or fix what’s not working.

The Good

What makes your organization thrive? Is it the people, the product, the processes or the profit?

As positive psychologists enter the workforce to offer interventions, they’re offering workers tools, practices and habits that are statistically proven to improve people’s moods. The science behind happiness practices shows that when people’s moods are enhanced, they perform better and achieve goals. When they achieve goals, the organization’s bottom line improves.

Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” argues that newly-formed habits are created by changing the sense of self. The cues and rewards that create habits are linked to people’s values and how they view themselves. When our employees write down their goals, practice success routines and build office comradery, we create forward-thinking organizations that feel good for everyone.

The Bad

Positive psychology training is typically offered on a one-time basis. Learners get to hear about the tools and practices, but they’re not necessarily applying them consistently on the job. This one-time training is like feeding candy to a child. The candy tastes sweet while they eat it, but they’ll need to keep eating sugar to keep tasting the sweetness.

Most positive psychology training doesn’t become a habit for workers unless they are consistently practicing the interventions. Consistent positive psychology training rarely occurs in the workplace, and when it does occur, it rarely passes the benchmark.

The Ugly

Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report released an article describing “the letdown effect.” This phenomenon explains why people get sick after stressful, intense situations, like after college students finish finals or after employees work for too long.

Research shows that when learners undergo intense interventions that are new, novel and stressful, they can get sick afterward, preventing them from coming into the office until they feel better. America already has an estimated one million workers missing work each day due to stress, and missing a day at work costs companies $602 per employee per year.

There hasn’t been any published research investigating whether there’s a correlation between positive psychology training and employee absenteeism; in fact, there’s research that claims the opposite is true. However, it’s a question worth asking to understand how training managers can do a better a job when releasing this type of training content, which is anecdotally known to create short-term hype and excitement.

As advocates for positive psychology training, it’s our obligation to understand the implications that this type of training has in the long run. Short-term interventions have a time and place in the workforce, but long-term solutions tend to lay the foundation that training organizations need to grow and sustain a happy, thriving work environment.

Max DuBowy is an executive mindfulness coach and the CEO of Your Success Launch. He holds a bachelor's in psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and he's also a certified yoga instructor. His mission is to help organizations create measurable change through positive psychology and mindfulness training.

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