Positive Psychology for more on-the-job satisfaction
Mr. Rose, you are one of Germany’s leading experts on positive psychology. That sounds pretty abstract at first — how exactly is it relevant for us?
Nico Rose: It is relevant for anyone who asks themselves: “How can I feel more satisfied and derive more meaning from my working life?” Until the end of the 20th century, psychologists were primarily focused on negative phenomena like depression. Slowly, that focus is changing. Psychology should not only help to relieve negative conditions, but also lead people to a happier life.
Sounds a little bit like a self-help book...
Rose: Not at all. Positive psychology is the science of a successful life. We were able to use experiments and studies to understand how people can gain more positive experiences in life. For example, there are studies that show that our thinking is more creative and interconnected when we feel positive emotions. This is also important for developing innovations.
“Positive psychology teaches people to concentrate on their personal strengths and make use of them more frequently during their working day.”
You have been active as a corporate consultant in the field of positive psychology for the last five years. What is it that you do, exactly?
Rose: There are different aspects to it. For example, I demonstrate how our brains work. The whole human sensory system — to put it simply — tends to perceive and rate things that are potentially dangerous or negative much more intensely than the positive things. That helps us to survive. And, in principle, every emotion serves a purpose. But the point is that high doses of emotions over a long period of time can have different “side effects”.
Rose: If I stay angry for a very long time, that does something different to me and my body than if I am happy most of the time. For example, we suspect that the “stress hormone” cortisol might encourage cardiovascular diseases. And since negative experiences make such a major impact on our brains and our whole bodies, it is even more important to make sure we have lots of positive feelings — and that especially includes at work.
Could you give us an example of how?
Rose: Interpersonal elements such as appreciation are very important. That could be a simple “thank you” to your colleague, praising someone during a team meeting, or sending a nice email. Positive psychology teaches people to concentrate on their personal strengths and make use of them more frequently during their working day. Some people are better with details; others have a talent for seeing the big picture. And recognizing these types of differences among the employees and adjusting their areas of responsibility is one of the responsibilities of a good manager. This helps the employees to get to know themselves better in their working lives. That, by the way, is also true of autonomy — of greater self-determination.
Autonomy sounds good, of course. But does it work in synchronized production environments?
Rose: Production does tend to quickly say “that won’t work here.” But it’s my conviction that one or two percent more self-determination is always possible. And it makes a big difference. The ideal situation is when employees can — within a certain framework — choose what they want to work on and, perhaps, who they want to work with. Job rotation programs are very helpful here. If the work routines cannot be changed, then, for example, employees could be given the chance to design the break room themselves. These are all factors that help us to derive more meaning from our work. And that improves quality.
And if I wake up on Monday morning and I’m just in a bad mood — is there some trick for that?
Rose: Of course. I call it a little “happiness doping” — but it’s legal and there are no side effects. Most people assume that emotions just wash over us like the weather and that we are at their mercy. But that isn’t true. Each of us has memories that are linked to very positive emotions. And we can use that to actively influence the way we feel.
Rose: That’s really easy; we have the right tool for it already... our smartphones. Collect pictures from your happiest moments, your personal feel-good music or short videos that make you laugh. On Monday morning, before you start work, take a quick look at that folder on your phone — and you’ll find that you’re in a better mood already. It’s guaranteed to work.