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Why Character Strengths Are Foundational to Organizational Flourishing

By Dr. Suzy Green
Why Character Strengths Are Foundational to Organizational Flourishing

Insights from Dr. Suzy Green

This article includes insights Dr. Suzy Green, Founder and CEO of the Positivity Institute shared in a recent conversation with VIA Institute on Character.

There are mounting criticisms of what some call wellbeing washing or wellness washing, which refers to organizational interventions that are more of a marketing effort than a true health benefit. When management claims to support employee health and happiness but implements only superficial changes, employees are quick to label those insincere promises as wellbeing washing. The term comes from the concept of whitewashing, which refers to deceptive publicity used to gloss over scandals and wrongdoing.

We asked Dr. Suzy Green about the prevalence of wellbeing washing during our recent conversation. She explained that this issue is of unique concern in her home country of Australia due to regulatory pressures and a tendency of organizational leaders to think they can solve the nuanced challenges with simple fixes. She also explained why character strengths interventions defy this tendency toward superficial solutions because character strengths inherently offer sustainable positive change. Below Suzy explains that by strengthening key business practices such as onboarding, employee training and development, and leadership behaviors, character strengths support wellbeing across the organization in ways that are purposeful and meaningful for employees.

“Here in Australia, we're the first country in the world to implement legislation around psychological health and safety. So there is an international standard that a lot of countries have adopted, but we're the first to implement legislation.

And that's a good thing in many ways, but it's also can lead to a tick-the-box wellbeing or wellness washing, if you like. So people just say, yes, we've delivered a strength intervention. And as we all know, there's that scenario of it's all well and good and lots of fun to do a one-off strength session.

But, you know, people generally don’t retain what they learned in a one-off session. You come back a month later and no one can remember what their strengths are. And I think that's our greatest challenge now—as coaches and strengths-based consultants--is moving from strength knowledge to strength use and strength spotting.

This is the real opportunity because strengths are not a one-off intervention. Character strengths speak to who we are as human beings. It doesn't matter what religion or culture or philosophical approach you come from; everybody, I believe, can relate in some way to the virtues and character strengths.

So in my view, character strengths are foundational really, and they help us think more strategically about sustainable outcomes of everyday practices such as recruitment, onboarding and then development and then right through to outplacement. And as a leader I once worked with said, productivity matters but wellbeing is a pathway to productivity. I believe that character strengths are a great entry point to wellbeing science and therefore foundational to team flourishing and ultimately productivity.

And when we consider the perspective of team collaboration, we see how character strengths establish a language that can support flourishing when there are tensions or conflicts by building compassion for each other. This reminds me of the important work Dr. Jane Dutton and Dr. Monica Worline are developing to enhance compassion in organizations right now. When we take a strengths-based approach to seeing each other, this language becomes a catalyst for compassion in the workplace, which is what people need to flourish.”