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Positivity (Happiness) in the Workplace and Organizational Change

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Positivity Techniques – Reversing the Negative Spiral

As I described in the previous section, “change is the only constant” in companies during the new millennium. And with change that is driven by the need to be competitive or to reduce costs or be more efficient and productive, organizational change can create a pressurized and stressful work environment. This stressful work environment can create exactly the opposite of what is needed to be adaptable to the change all around us. Leaders and managers can apply harsh tactics to produce the results they need to meet their obligations. Toxic leaders can abuse and intimidate their team members and co-workers. Employees become fearful, distrustful and negative. An organizational downward spiral occurs. Fearful employees narrow their outlooks rather than open their thinking to innovative ideas. They are less creative instead of actively seeking greater opportunities to meet company goals. Increasing time is spent discussing negative rumors versus brainstorming new ideas. Time off sick increases, safety in workplace deteriorates and the overall deterioration of company performance accelerates. How do many leaders respond? More pressure, and more harshness and more negativity. The result is exactly the opposite of what is intended. This downturn spiral is predictable. Fredrickson (2009, p. 161) describes this spiral:

Negative emotions – like fear and anger – can also spawn negative thinking. This reciprocal dynamic is in fact why downward spirals are so slippery. Negative thoughts and emotions feed on each other. And as they do, they pull you down their abyss.

It is important to note that the techniques described below, however simple, can apparently have a lasting impact on organizational culture and individual employees. Lyubmirsky, Boehm and Sheldon (2011) comment that “engaging in happiness-increasing activities (such as committing to important goals, meditating, acting kindly towards others, thinking optimistically or expressing gratitude) has the potential to improve levels of happiness for significant periods of time.”

“Spiral Up” to Constructive Change

The negative spiral can be stopped and reversed. And for organizational change to be effective and efficient I believe this negative spiral must be reversed. While I firmly believe negative issues must be addressed (“risk” in project parlance) for effective organizational change, our challenge is dealing with risks and problems positively and constructively. Indeed, I apply certain of these techniques on my own consulting practice to good effect. However, they can only be as effective as the broader organization and project will permit and support; furthermore, positivity needs to become a core competence of the organization if the “spiral up” is to be truly effective. The following techniques describe a sample of the methods to achieve this outcome.

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