Human strengths is an important topic of research and application in the field of positive psychology, and a strengths at work approach is growing more important for organisations. A workplace strengths approach is having a positive impact in creating greater success for organisations, as well as increasing the wellbeing of employees and allowing them to reach peak performance and to thrive in their careers.
What is a strength?
Leading positive psychology and strengths researcher, Professor Alex Linley, defines a strength as: “A strength is a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance’’.
In my experience, people are often likely to assume that a strength is simply something that we’re good at, however, it is more complex in that, because we may perform excellently at a task, but it may drain our energy or be boring. When we’re energised or “in the zone” when performing brilliantly, it is often a sign that a strength is active and is present. Additionally, we may be unaware of our strengths as we take them for granted or think that everyone can carry out such an activity so well. For example, a friend of mine displays the strength of perseverance as he is able to bounceback from setbacks and cope in times of adversity, so that he is able to successfully complete his work. He was complaining about a couple of his colleagues who like to spend time having meetings to generate new ideas, and so I suggested that this may show that the strength of creativity is present and how his strengths and theirs both served a positive intention for the organisation. His awareness and confidence grew about his own strength and he was also more accepting of his colleagues’ strength. The result was that they were able to work together more harmoniously and effectively.
Why focus on strengths at work?
There is an increasing body of research into the application of strengths, which suggests that a strengths approach is having a positive impact on the workplace for both employees and organisations. Where a strengths at work approach has been introduced into organisations, it has been shown to increase:
- Employee engagement
- Job satisfaction
- Achieving goals more effectively
Further benefits have been that employees are also reported to have fewer days absent due to illness, which is becoming of greater concern with the rising number of cases of employees being signed off work due to stress or burnout.
Play to your strengths
You may have heard the phrase, “play to your strengths” but when it came to applying strengths at work, the exact opposite has often happened, i.e. there has been a focus on what your weaknesses are, what isn’t working well and then trying to fix them? Before I started my research into human strengths and how to successfully apply them, I was guilty of basing my management style and employee appraisals on weaknesses and what was going wrong with the department and what needed to be rectified. Looking back now, I realise that I was setting up my employees to be competent and not to be engaged and flourishing at work.
Now, I’m not advocating that we can ignore weaknesses and only concentrate on strengths, because if your car had a puncture I would recommend you fix it! However, if you want to reach your destination quickly and effectively, I’d recommend that you make sure that the tank is full, the oil has been checked and you select the best route to get there. I am more suggesting that we devote more time focusing on our own strengths and the strengths of our colleagues rather than weaknesses. This strengths approach is our best opportunity to perform at our best in the workplace and to further the success of organisations.
So if you are seeking ways to improve performance in the workplace, then discover what your strengths are and your colleagues’ strengths and look for opportunities to more frequently apply these strengths at work. In a series of future blogs, I’ll talk about each strength at work in turn from one of the leading strengths classifications (the VIA Survey) in the field of positive psychology and how you may want to apply them in the workplace.