Saturday, 28 July 2007

Positive Psychology News Daily

If you're interested in Positive Psychology, you might like to check out Positive Psychology News Daily, a new online publication founded by Senia Maymin (MAPP graduate, MBA and Executive Coach) at the beginning of 2007. PPND aims to provide the latest news and research into the science of happiness and Positive Psychology, covering a whole range of subjects from Learning Optimism to Using your Strengths in a Job Search.

Most of its authors are graduates of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. Some are written by UK MAPP guest authors, of which I am one. You can read my first article, For Better or For Worse? The Marriage of Technology and Positive Psychology here.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Making London Happy

London wins almost £10m Lottery funding to improve its citizens' mental and physical well-being over 5 years.

I said I'd be looking at the CIPD's approach to well-being in this post, but this piece of news got there first. One of my colleagues, Sherry Clark, who co-ordinates the mental health promotion team for the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, emailed me earlier to tell me that Well London, a London Health Commission programme, has been successful in its bid for funding to improve the well-being of the citizens of London. This programme has the potential to transform the lives of 35,000 people in 20 of London's most deprived boroughs.

It's particularly satisfying that these will be community-led projects which involve local people, and which will leave them with the confidence and skills to continue even after the 5 year project has ended. I'm also delighted that the University of East London, where I'm currently working towards my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology, has designed the research and evaluation framework to demonstrate the programme's success.

I'm looking forward to hearing how the programme develops, and will keep you posted!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Employee Well-being: An integrated approach

....Is there more to Employee Well-being than healthy eating and a pedometer?

Ask most HR practitioners what employee well-being means to their organisation and they'll probably talk about having healthy options available in the canteen, subsidised gym membership and on-site massage. Some employers provide access to physiotherapy, support to help you stop smoking or find childcare.

Whilst these are great benefits, when it comes to well-being I think they're missing the point. Yes you need to support employees to be as physically healthy as possible, and anything that helps create a sensible work-life balance is good thing, but ask yourself what your company is doing to invest in the mental and emotional health of your employees.

Before you say 'Ah yes, we've thought of that, we have an Employee Assistance Programme which provide a counselling service 24/7', I'd say you're still missing the point. Counselling is for people to use once they start having problems. Companies which really understand employee well-being have a culture which actively promotes mental, emotional and physical health day-to-day, as well as a system which deals with mental, emotional and physical ill-health when that occurs.

...Mental and emotional well-being? Hmmm, that sounds kind of tricky...Not sure if you should be straying into that territory? Fortunately there's increasing research (see Lyubomirsky, King and Diener (2005) for example) which shows that employees with higher subjective well-being are more productive, creative, optimistic, resilient, better at selling and persuading, and, of course, are more fun to be around. Tons of good reasons to start thinking about an integrated approach to employee well-being which promotes mental and emotional well-being alongside the physical.

In the next post I'll be looking at the Chartered Institute of Personnel amd Development's perspective on employee well-being, as outlined in their 8th Annual Absence Survey which was published earlier this month.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Well-Being: Aligning Values at Royal & SunAlliance

It has been suggested that the absence of employee well-being and/or the presence of stress is often caused by the conflict between the individual's values and beliefs and those of the organisation or system that they work within - see Fr Dermot Tredget and Barbara Wren's comments here.

If this is the case, it must be in the employer's best interests to minimise the source of conflict by trying to align personal and organisational values.

Sometimes, this alignment can come from unexpected sources, and happen almost by chance. Take the Corporate Responsibility initiative launched by Paul Pritchard at Royal & SunAlliance last year.

You've probably come across many people who say that they are different people inside and outside the workplace - when they go to the office, they might put on a suit or a uniform (armour?), leave a large chunk of their personal life at the gate and behave in a way they think fits the corporate culture. An intriguing example appeared in a survey at R&SA, which revealed that employees' have greener behaviour at home than they do at work (e.g. 94% switch off lights at home, whereas only 66% do so at work). Feedback suggested that employees would be greener at work if R&SA led by example.

As a result Pritchard set up project which resulted in R&SA going carbon neutral in December 2006 - in fact, it was the first UK insurer to achieve carbon neutral status. Employees were so impressed by this commitment to the environment that in the follow-up survey 63% said it changed their behaviour in the office. That's a pretty substantial move towards aligning values I think.

The company then went one step further by reviewing its relationship with the charity sector and in particular, how it could get employees more involved. Rather than dictate which charity to support, the Senior Team decided to try a more novel approach, through a National Volunteering Week, where employees were encouraged to spend one day working for the charity or community organisation (e.g. school) of their choice.

Some 750 employees participated in the scheme, and as you'd probably expect, the vast majority (83%) said they volunteered because they wanted to benefit the charity or community organisation in some way; only 23% said it was because they themselves wanted to learn new skills.

What's fascinating about this initiative is that after the day spent volunteering, 67% of the volunteers said they learnt new skills, and 100% said they wanted to do it again and would recommend it to their colleagues.

I don't think that R&SA conducted any research into whether employees knowingly used their strengths on this day out, but the fact that they had a choice about what voluntary work to do suggests that they probably did. That looks like a win/win to me - not only do your employees do something aligned with their own values which is of benefit to others, they have the opportunity to use their strengths, they come back to work more enthusiastic and engaged, and with some new skills too. It's a no-brainer isn't it?

Congratulations to Paul Pritchard, his team and the volunteers at R&SA for such a positive contribution.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Positive Ageing - Growing Old Disgracefully

The Zimmers, the UK rock band with an average age of 82, continue their bid for world domination... or at the very least some recognition that older folks can continue to play a part in society and deserve to be heard.

This is Positive Ageing at its best, and the second example I’ve come across in the past few weeks – the other is Dr Lilli Hvingtoft -Foster, the President of the Open University Psychological Society, which she was instrumental in establishing in 1974. The Grande Dame doesn’t reveal her age, but she must be 80 if she’s a day. She opened the recent OUPS Psychology of Well-Being Conference - her passion for her subject was immediately obvious, over the three days she attended all the lectures – a brilliant example of how life-long learning can help keep you young.

The Zimmers, who created a storm a month or so ago with their recording of The Who's My Generation, and whose next single, a cover of The Prodigy's 1996 song Firestarter, is due out in October, have taken a much more in your face approach to Positive Ageing. I loved the first documentary that the award-winning journalist Tim Samuels made about them; firstly it showed how mistaken we are to ignore older people, or to write them off as being somehow past their prime - and more importantly how we can continue to have fun and make a difference in the world whatever our age.

In a follow-up programme tonight on the UK’s BBC 2 at 10pm , we see The Zimmers conquering America, being interviewed by the world's media and making appearances in front of the camera as if they were all born to it. They have their own Myspace page now, as well as an entry in Wikipedia, and numerous videos on Youtube made by admiring fans, plus hundreds of mentions in blogs world-wide.

It goes without saying that in the UK's increasingly individualistic culture we need to treat older people with more respect. And what I really hope the Zimmers achieve through this new media spotlight is to make people realise that ageing positively is not a myth: retirement can be just as enjoyable, exciting and rewarding a time as your youth or middle age. The world is still your oyster whether you're 28 or 82.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Positive Interventions

Public pillow fights, bubble battles, art installations and parties on the tube are just some of the group interventions that Newmindspace duo Lori Kufner and Kevin Bracken have devised to create a sense of community by connecting with people and having fun in the public spaces of Toronto and New York.

What we liked about this particular clip was the obvious anticipation before the whistle blows to start the pillow-fight, and the look on the faces of the spectators - they're having as much fun, if not more, than the pillow-fighters themselves.

21 year old Lori and Kevin, who are studying Urban Politics and Sociology at the University of Toronto, aim to create a sense that anyone can make a big difference, by challenging people's beliefs about what is possible.

For a longer documentary of the pair discussing their work (which includes footage of the fabulous Valentine's Day mural on Queen Street West, Toronto), have a look at the Newmindspace website.

And if you know of any similar inspirational activities or events near you, please let us know.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Strengths-Based Recruitment

Norwich Union is a company at the cutting edge of leadership and management techniques in the UK, for the past 18 month piloting the use of a strengths-based approach in various areas of Organisation Development and Human Resource Management, such as recruitment.

For most candidates and companies, the interview process is something to be endured rather than enjoyed , but according to KarenStefanyszyn , Head of Organisation Development, focusing on what people are good at and what makes them tick has transformed the interview process at NU and had some remarkable knock-on effects in the business.

For example: over 91% of NU staff recruited using strengths-based interview techniques said that the interview prepared them for their new roles; over 72% agreed that it was easy to settle into their new role; and over 73% said that they now use their natural talents at work every day. I find these results astonishing when I consider a typical interview outcome - that the job is not what was expected, the honeymoon period lasts a matter of weeks before reality bites, and results in lower morale and motivation.

In addition, Stefanyszyn reports that 100% of recruits scored above 90% in quality audits, and staff turnover figures in the first 6 months were halved. As a result of such positive feedback, the company is piloting the use of strengths in other areas of OD andHRM such as talent management. We look forward to hearing how this progresses.

The use of strengths in business is not entirely problem-free however. As an organisation you need to be clear which strengths model is the best fit - there are many well-known and well-validated models to choose from (such as StrengthsFinder and VIA-IS), others are being developed (for example by Dr AlexLinley , Director of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology ), or you could always create your own.

As with any management tool, it can provide a useful common language with which to explore and resolve issues. You still need to be mindful, however, of the downside - that some people get quickly attached to labels, and forget that tools are only a means to an end.

That said, the use of strengths is gaining traction in UK businesses for one very good reason - for creating positive energy and excitement at work, nothing beats it. Imagine actually having fun during a job interview, and coming away from it feeling that you had learnt something new about yourself - now that really would be radical. I believe that using strengths in recruitment has the potential to transform the interview process in this way.

If you have had experience of using a strengths-based approach at work, we'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Visualisation and Creative Thinking in Business

100 ways to use visualisation and creative thinking to identify, explore and resolve business issues, presented in a brilliant Periodic Table format. This is a must for anyone looking for new ways to communicate visually - whether its data, concepts, strategy or metaphors that you want to illustrate.

This is a fantastic tool - if you hover your mouse over the Table, examples of each type of illustration pop up to show you how to use it in context.

You can use and/or adapt a fair number of these in Coaching too e.g the Story Template. I loved the Iceberg (so many businesses attend only to the bits they can see and hear, and ignore the more important bits which they can't...), the Feedback Diagram (simple but effective) and Zwicky's Morphological Box (brownie points for the jargon). The Failure Tree is the only one I could see that focuses exclusively on the downsides - not something we advocate if you want to win people over, although it's a useful technique for analysing complex system problems.

And what about the Hype Cycle? I was considering its application to Coaching and Positive Psychology.WRT Coaching, I think we've survived the Trough of Disillusionment, and are travelling gently onwards and upwards through the Scope of Enlightenment to our destination which is the Plateau of

As for Positive Psychology, well in the UK at least, we're still programming the Tom-Tom to get us to the Start of Media Infatuation. Put your seat-belts on, it's going to be a bumpy ride...

With thanks to Sarah 'Intellagirl' Robbins, on whose blog I discovered the Periodic Table, and of course to the guys who invented it, Ralph Lengler and Dr. Martin J. Eppler from

Saturday, 7 July 2007

EI - Emotional Intelligence At Work

Five key things to understand about workplace Emotional Intelligence (EI - defined by psychologist Dr Susan David of Yale and Melbourne universities as "the ability to solve problems with and about emotions effectively"):

1. Emotions are resources - so treat them as data; whether positive or negative the purpose of emotions is to tell you that action of some kind is required.

2. The 4 stage RUUM model (Recognise, Use, Understand, Manage) is an extremely useful model for applying EI at work. It is possible to have different EI scores for each stage of the model, so for example you can have a high score for recognising emotions and a low score for managing them. The model allows you to pinpoint which areas of your EI ability you can benefit from developing.

3. When it comes to managing emotions in the workplace, there are several short term and long term strategies you can use. Psychology research shows which are very effective strategies and which are not.

4. If you're considering implementing an EI measurement tool at work, choose carefully. David claims that some well-known EI measurement tools actually measure personality, not EI.

5. Emotions provide useful data for business decision-making, because they underpin cognitive processes. Therefore, accept that there will be an element of 'heart' in all business decisions. Improving your ability to interpret your and others' emotions at work can transform your decision-making ability.

I'll be returning to the subject of EI , measurement tools and strategies for improving your workplace EI in a later post. In the meantime, you can find lots of useful information here.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Well-Being at Work

CIPD and Spirituality - not often you find those two terms in the same sentence!

At yesterday's Well-Being at Work seminar by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the UK's professional body for HR practitioners, we discussed the role of Spirituality in the workplace. Who would have thought that such a seriously business-minded association would even consider it? Thankfully the penny's dropping; connecting with your employees as whole human beings is good for them and it's good for your business. If you're not sure about this just look at Lyubomirsky et al's 2005 research.

Dr Noreen Tehrani, Occupational and Counselling Psychologist, skillfully presented an overview of the benefits of well-being to business performance. It's not a simple matter either; the CIPD's well-being model incorporates 5 of 12 possible domains - Physical, Emotional, Personal Development, Organisation and Values; all of these are interlinked. In order for the CIPD model to deliver, however, I think it has to actively develop psychological well-being by focusing on the positives, something which is only implicit in the model.

Peter Barnard, Registrar and Clerk to the Corporation for the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, described their journey towards a well-being culture over the last 5 or so years. They don't have a specific strengths-based approach as Positive Psychologists would recognise it, but they have put a huge amount of time and effort into creating physical well-being initiatives, culminating in them receiving two prestigious Employee Benefits Awards this year.

Dr Paul Pritchard, environmental risk specialist for Royal & SunAlliance presented a fascinating case study demonstrating how employee engagement throughout the organisation was transformed by the introduction of a National Volunteering Week. Pritchard was refreshingly honest about the fact that he didn't specifically set out to increase employee engagement, it was a happy by-product of a Corporate Responsibility initiative. I found this such an interesting story that I'll be featuring it in more detail in a later post.

According to the next speaker, Father Dermot Tredget OSB, a member of the Benedictine community at Douai Abbey, spiritual intelligence (SQ) is at the heart of being effective at work, simply because like EQ, PQ and IQ, SQ is a core part of what it is to be human. Asking someone to leave their spirituality at home means that you're not seeing the whole person at work. Before the non-believers amongst you stop reading, spirituality is starting to appear in many MBA and leadership programmes, e.g the Praxis Centre at the Cranfield School of Management. Fr Dermot also has many years business experience, an MBA from Bath University and regularly runs retreats for business leaders. I particularly liked this model of spirituality in the workplace for its emphasis on the importance of community-building, something which is often absent from organisations where people are too busy and too focused on business objectives to make meaningful contact with each other.

Finally Barbara Wren, Occupational Health Psychologist at the Royal Free Hospital in London, presented a simple systems view of well-being, which elegantly explained the conflict (and corresponding decrease in well-being) which arises when the employee, the role and the organisation are not aligned. Of course getting those three lined up is a lot more difficult in real life; it's a challenge that change managers have to contend with almost on a daily basis.

The seminar gave a valuable insight into how various organisations see the role of well-being at work, and the issues for anyone in the HR field trying to implement a balanced well-being policy. But stick with it; all the evidence shows that the benefits of getting it right, for both employees and the organisation, can be enormous.

If you have any comments on your own organisation's well-being policy, we'd love to hear from you.

Positive Interventions

One of the ways Positive Intervention can be defined is an activity which is intended to create well-being "by cultivating pleasant emotions, strengths and/or meaning" (JPawelski 2006). Here's a short video of an inspirational positive intervention, devised by Juan Mann in Sydney, Australia.

I suspect that people watching it may think it's completely irrelevant to organisational well-being. The point, however, is not the intervention per se - I've used it as an illustration of the impact of reconnecting on a very basic level with other people. Watching the clip you get a sense of how, day-to-day, people often don't really connect with each other, and that when they make the effort to do so, they are completely transformed - they laugh, smile, dance and skip and are brimming over with energy.

You might be interested to know Mann's Free Hugs Campaign has since become a global phenomenon, with its own website.

I'll be looking at other examples of Positive Interventions in later posts.

My thanks to Marie-Josee Salvas, MAPP Pennsylvania student, for the link.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Employee Well-Being

How does your business define employee well-being? Perhaps you think of it in terms of physical health, providing healthy menus in your staff restaurant, health screening or private health insurance. Or maybe you help employees manage stress or give up smoking? These types of support are common in many larger organisations, and for many HR and OD managers, this is what employee well-being is all about.

But what about the importance of psychological well-being or mental health in the work-place? In their recently published Change Agenda - What's happening with well-being at work?, the CIPD's examples of mental health at work are: work-life balance targets, conflict resolution training and relaxation techniques (p7). I think this is really missing the point.

The CIPD's definition of well-being is 'creating an environment to promote a state of contentment which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their organisation'. The question we need to answer is whether work-life balance targets, conflict resolution training or relaxation techniques really achieve this.

I would suggest that they are only half the story. Research shows that psychological well-being can be enabled through developing traits like resilience, optimism and self-awareness in employees, focussing on strengths and through fostering meaning at work, for example by building new organisational communities through volunteering programmes. What is essential for employees to flourish is an organisational culture which actively and positively promotes it.

I think it would be beneficial for organisations to view employee well-being in terms of an integrated model, which not only takes into account physical, psychological and spiritual well-being, but which places specific emphasis on developing the positives. I'll be returning to this integrated model and the importance of a positive focus in later posts.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Oliver James and the Affluenza Bug

Earlier this year, clinical psychologist and well-known media figure, Dr Oliver James, published his new book 'Affluenza - How to be successful and stay sane'. The book caused a furore in some circles; James is no stranger to media controversy, however; it could be said that he actively courts it in order to focus attention on some very pressing social issues.

James presented at the recent the Open University Psychological Society's Psychology of Well-being Conference and despite (or because of?) getting the Saturday night slot,he didn't mince his words - his theory, stated simply, is that putting a high value on possessions, money, appearances (physical and social) and fame is at the heart of the rise in depression, anxiety and substance abuse in the English-speaking western countries. Not surprisingly, this seems to have upset quite a lot of people in the UK. We live in a democracy after all, and we're mature enough to make our own choices, aren't we? Who wants to be accused of "Selfish Capitalism"?

It's difficult to argue against the figures - World Health Organization studies of mental illness across both English speaking western countries and non-English speaking ones reveal a substantial and statistically significant rise in mental illness (as define above) in the former (average 23%) compared to the latter (11.5%). According toJames's theory, this rise is due to our increasing love of all things material.

Has materialism risen in English-speaking western countries - undoubtedly yes, just look around you. Does that prove, however, that materialism of the type James describes, even if it is rampant, causes mental illness?

Research (e.g. Tim Kasser ) suggests that there are 4 basic needs which must be met in order for psychological well-being to exist:

1) emotional security
2) feeling effective
3) community (friends, social groups etc)
4) autonomy

The question which needs to be answered is "does a focus on materialism prevent these needs being met, and if so how?". Common sense would say yes - a simple example is that materialists get their gratification externally - but is there scientific research that incontrovertibly shows this? James's money is obviously on the answer being affirmative; Affluenza was markedly short on academic references, so he's writing a new book which aims to lay out all the research evidence to support his Selfish Capitalism theory.

When I asked him after the lecture when this book would be published, however, he replied not as quickly as he'd hoped - so perhaps the research isn't as clear-cut as Positive Psychologists think.

If you want to see and hear James in action, register and watch this RSA lecture.