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Help Your Employees Find Happiness and Engagement

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

Have you heard the phrase: A happy employee is an engaged employee? Or maybe it’s the other way around – an engaged employee is a happy one? Either way, research is clear that engagement and happiness go hand-in-hand, and character strengths can be a straightforward pathway to achieve both.

Here are 5 Key Findings to Support Taking a Strengths Perspective:

1.) Focusing on strengths is more effective than trying to help someone remediate a weakness.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to overcome a weakness but research suggests it’s not as likely to get your employees as far as focusing on their strengths. For example, recent research in cognitive behavioral therapy has found that individuals with depression recover better if their therapists target what they are good at compared with trying to build up what they are weak in. This idea is finally permeating the workplace as well:

  • In a survey by Michelle McQuaid, workplace well-being expert, 64% of employees believe building on their strengths will make them more successful at work, compared to 63% in 2006 who believed they’d grow most in their areas of weakness!

2.) Strengths awareness is the first step.

Unfortunately, many employers are mindless of their employees’ strengths. Busy managers struggling to meet a bottom line or lost in a litany of tasks and projects are not likely to give much attentiveness to their employees’ strengths.

  • Only 34% of managers can name the strengths of their employees.
  • 32% have had a meaningful discussion about their employees’ strengths in the last three months.

What’s even more appalling about these low numbers is that this survey is of “strengths in general,” not of character strengths. Thus, managers had a lot of leeway when asked to think about their employees’ strengths. In their minds, these managers could think about strengths in terms of their employees’ talents, their interests, their skills, and so on (we have many types of strengths). I would speculate that this already-low number would DECREASE dramatically if managers were asked to list their employees’ strengths of character…and the number would decrease even further if they were asked whether or not they appreciated their employees’ character strengths in the last 3 months.

3.) Schedule time to express appreciation for your employees’ strengths.

Strengths appreciation refers to expressing value for who your employees are – their core personality. It’s certainly a good thing to appreciate the unique talents of an employee but that falls under the category of what the employee is “doing.” When you appreciate an employee’s character strengths, you are acknowledging and valuing the employee’s sense of “being.”

  • 78% of employees who report having a meaningful discussion with their manager about their strengths feel that their work is making a difference and is appreciated.

4.) Help your employees connect his/her character strengths with their everyday work tasks.

“Strengths alignment” occurs when an employee finds ways to express their signature strengths in their tasks at work. An employee high in curiosity will enjoy exploring key questions around each project while an employee high in gratitude will likely want to make time to connect with colleagues and understand and appreciate the various projects colleagues are doing for the company.

  • 79% of employees who have the opportunity to do what they do best each day feel like they are making a difference and their work is appreciated.
  • 70% of employees who have the opportunity to do what they do best each report they are flourishing at work.

5.) Can your employees be flourishing at work this year?

The application of character strengths at work is accumulating mounting evidence across several studies. Research on strengths at work is showing that the use of signature strengths (employees’ highest strengths) is connected with greater work satisfaction, work engagement, work as a calling in life, more positive experiences at work, and greater productivity. Again, from Michelle McQuaid’s survey:

  • 71% of employees who believe their managers can name their strengths report feeling engaged and energized by their work. These employees are the most likely to be flourishing (65%), rather than languishing or merely “getting by” at work.

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Cheavens, J. S., Strunk, D. R., Lazarus, S. A., & Goldstein, L. A. (2012. The compensation and capitalization models: A test of two approaches to individualizing the treatment of depression. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50, 699-706.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (in press). The role of character strengths for task performance, job dedication, interpersonal facilitation, and organizational support. Human Performance.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012a). When the job is a calling: The role of applying one’s signature strengths at work. Journal of Positive Psychology.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012b). The application of signature character strengths and positive experiences at work. Journal of Happiness Studies.

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