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Positivity (Happiness) in the Workplace and Organizational Change

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Positivity in the Workplace

Throughout my career, indeed my life, I have been struck by the observation that most work environments tend towards the negative rather than the positive, and are sometimes even punitive. From my early years, observing my father being unhappy at work to my thirteen years in the banking industry and more than a decade consulting in companies such as Chevron, Wells Fargo Bank, Levi Strauss and Pacific Gas & Electric, my experience has been consistent – most working environments tend to focus on the negative, and are even punitive and abusive in some extreme cases. My experience with positive work environments suggests that these were always was due to a specific manager or leader, who despite the milieu, created energy, positivity and happiness in his or her scope of influence. Even my 12 months of military service in the South African Air Force demonstrated this fact – where there is a positive work environment, people are happier and they flourish and excel, and where there is a negative work environment, people are unhappy and they flounder and under perform.

In his book “The Happiness Advantage”, Shawn Achor (2010, p. 21) cites meta-research of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people. He comments …

(The research) found that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement creativity and in particular our jobs, careers and businesses”

Achor goes on to note that happy CEOs (unlike the banking CEO described above), are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance.

Clearly being happy at work is not only important from a “feel good” perspective. It is a driver of personal and work success. If this is so, then why is it that so many are not happy in their work and their companies and why is it that so few companies focus on developing a positive work environment? Indeed, according to The Conference Board, only 45 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with their jobs. This is a huge drop from the more than 61 percent who said they were satisfied in 1987, the first year the survey was conducted.

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