In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman became President of the American Psychological Association (APA) and publicly promoted an entirely new field of study–known today as Positive Psychology. Dr. Seligman argued that for far too long psychological investigation was based on a disease model of human behavior. Essentially, psychology was focused on how to make people less miserable. So, Seligman challenged his fellow psychologists to develop something new – a science which instead placed emphasis on healthy human behavior, how to improve normal lives, and ultimately, how to make life more fulfilling.
The consequences of this emerging field are intriguing, but it hasn’t met with widespread adoption when it comes to corporate employee engagement practices. I’d argue that far too many of today’s corporations operate under a model that is centered on how to make work life “less miserable.” And despite all the money that companies pour into employee engagement tools and surveys, companies are still bad at making work more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more engaging. What if anything can be done? And what can corporations learn–if anything–from the field of positive psychology and other scholars in this area?
If adoption can be promoted without the oppressive, “my way is best and everything in organization development that came before is worthless” mentality, there are benefits to be realized. I haven’t seen these ideas taken forward that way, and their adherents–who putatively value inclusion–are notoriously dismissive of that significant portion of the human experience that is not sunshine and puppies. It’s time to view positive psychology in context.
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