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Put Your Strengths to Work at Work

By Dan Collinson

Something’s making people more productive at work, and you already have it. It’s your strengths. Human strengths are an important topic of research and application in the field of positive psychology, and a strengths approach is growing more important in the workplace. Strengths have a positive impact in creating greater success for organizations, as well as increasing the wellbeing of employees and allowing them to reach peak performance and to thrive in their careers.

What Is a Strength?

Leading positive psychology and strengths researcher and professor Alex Linley defines a strength as:

“A strength is a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance.”

In my experience, people are often likely to assume that a strength is simply something that we’re good at. However, it’s more complex than that. We may perform excellently at a task, but it may drain our energy or be boring to us. When we’re energizing or “in the zone” when performing brilliantly, it is often a sign that a strength is active and is present. Additionally, we may be unaware of our strengths; we may take them for granted or think that everyone can carry out such an activity so well.

For example, a friend of mine displays the strength of perseverance as he is able to bounce back from setbacks and cope in times of adversity. This makes him able to successfully complete his work. So when he was complaining about a couple of his colleagues who like to spend time having meetings to generate new ideas, I suggested that this may show the strength of creativity is present, and reminded him that his strengths AND theirs both served a positive purpose for the organization. His awareness and confidence grew about his own strength, and he was also more accepting of his co-workers’ strengths. The result was that they were able to work together more harmoniously and effectively.

Why Take a Strengths Approach at Work?

There is an increasing body of research on the application of strengths, which suggests that a strengths approach is having a positive impact on the workplace for both employees and organizations. Where a strengths approach has been introduced into organizations, it has been shown to increase:

  • Employee engagement
  • Job satisfaction
  • Wellbeing
  • Productivity
  • Achieving goals more effectively

Further, employees report fewer days absent due to illness, which is becoming of greater concern as the number of cases of employees being out due to stress or burnout is rising.

Playing to Your Strengths at Work

“Play to your strengths.” You’ve heard it before. But when it came to doing it, maybe the exact opposite happened. Did you focus on what your weaknesses are, what isn’t working well, and then try to fix it? Before I started my research into human strengths and how to successfully apply them, I was guilty of basing my management style and employee appraisals on weaknesses, what was going wrong with the department, and what needed to be rectified. Looking back now, I realize that I was setting up my employees to be competent, not to be engaged and flourishing at work.

Now, I’m not advocating that we can ignore weaknesses and only concentrate on strengths. If your car’s tire has a hole in it, I would recommend you fix it. However, if you want to reach a destination quickly and effectively, I’d recommend that you make sure that the tank is full, the oil has been checked, and you select the best route to get there. Which is to say I am suggesting that we devote more time to focusing on our own strengths and the strengths of our colleagues rather than weaknesses. This strengths approach is our best opportunity to perform at our best in the workplace and to further the success of organizations.

If you are seeking ways to improve performance in the workplace, start by discovering what your strengths are and what your colleagues’ strengths are (you can do so by completing the free VIA Survey). Then look for opportunities to apply these strengths more at work.