Positive Workplace Psychology
by: Kathleen Groll Connolly


Since the early 90s, a charged-up group of writers, researchers and educators has been deconstructing the psychological profession's focus on pathology and rebuilding it with the study of what can go right with people and institutions. They call themselves positive psychologists. These thinkers don't claim to have invented anything new or created a new profession. They distinguish themselves by their perspective. The value of positive psychology"lies in its uniting of what had been scattered and disparate lines of theory and research about what makes life most worth living," writes Martin Seligman, a leading "positive" psychologist.

Leading Lights in Positive Psychology: Dr. Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania, is one of the most visible thought leaders on positivepsychology. Seligman's work on depression, "learned pessimism" and "learned optimism" earned him a solid reputation long before he became a proponent of positive psychology. Since the early 1990s, he has focused on the study of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. During his term as president of the American Psychological Association Seligman promoted the study of positive psychology. Seligman's Authentic Happiness Web site (http://www.authentichappiness.org) is a treasure trove of resources and news on the topic. Dr. Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, Claremont Graduate University, is another keythought leader. Csikszentmihalyi is the author of the best selling "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," as well as numerous scholarly and popularbooks and articles. He led the establishment of the first positive organizational psychology degree programs at Claremont Graduate Universityand runs the university's Quality of Life Institute. The refreshing perspective offered by this field has a great deal of appeal and we expect that its messages will make continuous inroads in the practices of our profession. Books to Read: For a general introduction to positive psychology, "A Primer in Positive Psychology" by Christopher Peterson is an excellent general introduction written in conversational style. Peterson and Seligman coauthored "Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification," offering the positive psychologist' s answer to the Diagnostic andStatistical Manual (a.k.a. DSMIII), a book widely used by psychologists and psychiatrists to classify mental pathologies. "Positive Psychological Assessment: A Handbook of Models and Measures" by C. R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez addresses the subject of testing and metrics that assess positive psychological characteristics.

Since 2000, authors and researchers have placed quite a bit of emphasis on positive organizational psychology as an application of this new perspective. University of Michigan professor Kim S. Cameron, a major voice on positive psychology in the workplace, predicts that "...positive organizational scholarship will become embedded in the questions asked and the approaches used in a wide variety of organizational studies..." There are institutes, degree programs, conferences, blogs, journals, and Web sites developing around this topic. For anyone with an interest in human resources assessment and development, this list is worth review:

Books on Positive Organizational Psychology: Perhaps the most widely cited book on this topic in academic literature is "Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline" by Kim S. Cameron. Another work that promotes this perspective is titled "Positive Organizational Behavior," which is edited by Debra Nelson and Cary Cooper. Other titles that develop this perspective include "Positive Psychology In Business Ethics And Corporate Responsibility," which focuses on positive environmental ethics in business. The "Handbook of Positive Psychology" by C. R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez has a chapter on organizational behavior.

"Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge" by Luthans, Youssef, and Avolio explores the concept of an organization's psychological capital, as distinguished from the more widely known idea of human capital. Fred Luthans is one of the most prolific authors on this topic. "Work, Happiness and Unhappiness" by Peter Warr examines the problems of measuring happiness at work. In addition to the books mentioned above, other resources are shown below: Videos on Positive Psychology: If video is your information M. O., no problem. Visit the University of Pennsylvania Web site for a current listing. (http:// www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/publications.htm) Online Assessments: Visit Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness site to chose from almost 20 free online assessments that relate to positive psychology.

Perhaps the most famous of these for organizational applications is the Values in Action Signature Strengths, which measures 24 character strengths in action. The Work-Life Questionnaire on the site measures Work-Life Satisfaction. Please note: you must create a log-in to use any of the surveys, but they are all free of charge. Degree Programs: Claremont Graduate University has just launched degree programs in positive organizational scholarship in the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences. (http://www.cgu.edu/pages/4573.asp) In addition, the Master of Applied Positive Psychology is offered at the University of Pennsylvania and the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology is offered at the University of East London, UK. Institutes: The Drucker School of Management at the Claremont Graduate University started the Quality of Life Research Center in 1999 under the direction of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The Values in Action (VIA) Institute provides information on positive psychology, as well as the classification system and measurement tools of character strengths that serve as the backbone of this developing scientific discipline.

The Centre for Applied Positive Psychology is an independent, not-for-profit organization affiliated with the University of East London and located at the University of Warwick campus in the UK. The European Network for Positive Psychology is a collective of European researchers and practitioners with shared interests in the science and practice of positive psychology. The Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship is located at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. The American Psychological Association has a Psychologically Healthy Workplace Practice and award program. There is a great deal of energy in this burgeoning field, and we expect its influence on the world of industrial psychology to be very ... positive!

About the Author

Kathleen Groll Connolly is a writer and marketing professional. She has co-authored 4 books and many articles in the field of human resource management. She manages and develops content for a number of Web sites. She has an MBA in marketing from New York University and an undergraduate degree in writing from Pennsylvania State University. http://www.performanceprograms.com