All Articles Leadership Inspiration Q-and-A: The value of workplace positivity

Q-and-A: The value of workplace positivity

5 min read


Lisa Zigarmi and S. Chris Edmonds are the authors of “#POSITIVITY AT WORK tweet,” a book that “outlines five elements of well-being in the workplace and provides concise, actionable suggestions for creating greater happiness in your work environment.” Zigarmi is the lead client-service partner for The Ken Blanchard Cos. in New York City and a well-being ally, and Edmonds is a speaker, author and senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Cos. I recently asked them about their book and its applications for today’s workforce.

You discuss in the book how organizations and their members each bear responsibility for creating a positive workplace. Who takes the first step, or is it a matter first of individuals looking within themselves?

Organizations or communities do not change until its members change. Individuals must create their own positive well-being first; without that foundation, their impact on others’ well-being will be null.

Little long-term good comes from placing one’s happiness or self-worth in the hands of others. Each of us is responsible for our personal well-being. If our quality of life, emotions, relationships, achievements or health could be better and stronger, we must invest in our greater well-being without delay.

Leaders support well-being within their workplaces by demanding a culture of civility. To reap the benefits of a fully safe, inspiring, positive workplace, leaders must hold all organizational members accountable for exceeding performance goals as well as demonstrating grace and compassion to each other and customers.

Have American workplaces in recent years moved more toward fulfilling the goals and ideals of this tweet book? What are the biggest barriers?

The recession has caused Western workplaces to invest LESS in employees. Numerous studies have indicated that workers plan to look for jobs elsewhere as soon as the economy improves. Additionally, 25% of all global workers report feeling psychologically unsafe at work. This employee mindset illustrates how little organizations have demonstrated care and value of their most vital asset — people.

Where organizations HAVE invested in their employee’s well-being (and not through extrinsic incentives), the rewards are significant and immediate. One Blanchard client (a seven-state U.S. division of a global retailer) focused heavily in 2009-2011 on creating a high performance, values-aligned culture in every store. The results over that 24-month period: 20-25% gains in employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and increased profits! (Greater during this time period than any of their global markets except Asia.)

Barriers to creating a positive workplace include:

  1. A belief by leaders that they must control and micromanage daily decisions and actions, which alienates talented staff who feel leaders don’t trust them to act.
  2. A belief by Western leaders that how their people FEEL is irrelevant — success is all about getting stuff done (with little concern about impressions of trust and respect in the hearts and minds of workers).
  3. Too few effective role models of leaders or individuals in workplaces who demonstrate positive well-being and treat others with grace/kindness.

The book is intended for people at all levels of an organization. Are there specific thoughts, however, that are especially aimed at certain groups — HR, for example, or people just joining the workforce?

Creating positive well-being is a choice by any organization members. This “positivity revolution” will not take hold if it is seen as a “program” sponsored by HR, talent management or learning and OD [organizational development] functions. A safe, respectful, constructive work environment enables satisfied employees and leaders to deliver quality products and services that inspire customer devotion and revenue that exceeds expenses. Positivity at work makes business sense.

Leaders that create the conditions for individual growth and positivity enjoy not only the benefits above but see lower health care costs (physical and mental health improves in these workplaces), stability of the workforce (talented staff stay), and increased application of discretionary energy from an inspired workforce.

It’s always more difficult for employees to stay positive if the company is struggling, laying off workers or even in danger of failing. How is “Positivity at Work” especially helpful for those employees?

As noted above, placing one’s happiness in the hands of others is a recipe for disappointment.

Business cycles will occur as they have in the past. Organizations that struggle may emerge stronger (post-traumatic growth) or they may disappear. People with high well-being perform better and more consistently, have a positive impact on peers and customers, and understand how their work makes customers’ lives better over time — even when their organization is struggling.

Employees with high well-being see themselves as in control of their impact in the world and of [their] careers. If an organization is struggling, employees’ elevated well-being can inspire others to help the organization succeed. If the organization they’re contributing to does not succeed, those players are highly coveted — and they’ll land on their feet, finding another organization to contribute to.