Recently I was recalling how I first discovered positive psychology and the difference it made in my life. I had just been given a promotion at work and as a new manager, I was now responsible for motivating staff, ensuring that they were happy and also that productivity was high. The challenge I had was not only being a new manager, but also that morale was low and turnover of staff was high and so I thought there must be another way to manage people more effectively than the “old school” style of management that existed in the organisation I was working for.

Discovering positive psychology

I spent the first year or so reading up as much as I could about psychology and then one day as I was at the airport bookshop looking for something to read, just about to head off on holiday, and a book caught my eye. It was Authentic Happiness by Dr Martin Seligman. What really struck me about the book was that it talked about a science of happiness and how to fulfil your potential from the emerging field called positive psychology. For me, this was exciting as it wasn’t “pop” psychology and it wasn’t advice from a self-help “guru”. The book covered the main topics of positive psychology, which were how to be happier, bringing an awareness of positive emotions, playing to your strengths and also building resilience for times of adversity. What was really compelling for me about positive psychology was that research was producing a growing number of evidence-based tools for people to use in their personal and professional lives.

Using positive psychology as a new manager

As a new manager, this was enlightening as it allowed me to discover what I could do to help my colleagues to perform at their best and to fulfil their potential. I started reading as much as I could about positive psychology and then applying what I’d learned in the workplace. I became an avid spotter of colleagues’ strengths, to understand the tasks that they performed well at, they enjoyed doing, they appeared to get energised carrying out and that they seemed to do almost effortlessly.

As a result, I had a greater awareness of employees’ strengths and emotions, which allowed me to assign tasks accordingly, so that they would be happier and more productive. A win-win situation for the organisation and for them.

Another area of interest for me from positive psychology was the research into resilience and building coping strategies for times of adversity. The team were putting in a tremendous amount of effort and working long hours and I was worried about how much more they could push themselves, whilst being conscious that the workload wasn’t going to drop any time soon. I was also under a lot of pressure to produce results and being quite young for a manager, I was aware that I was being scrutinised to see that I was up for the job and the responsibility. It was for this reason that I decided to apply some of the evidence-based coping strategies to boost my resilience in such stressful times. I found that it helped me to put situations into perspective and also to dispute nagging doubts that I would have about my ability or challenging circumstances I found myself in. This helped me to manage my stress levels and avoid burnout, which is something that I began to introduce to the team.

3 tips for the new manager

Here are my 3 suggested positive psychology related tips for a new manager

  1. Discover what your own strengths are and become familiar with a language of strengths. This will also help you to start spotting the strengths of your colleagues. You can take a character strengths survey here
  2. Focus on and appreciate what your employees CAN do more than what they CAN’T do and encourage them to do more of what they can do

  4. Give your colleagues evidence-based coping strategies for challenging times and times of stress, so as to avoid burnout.