There is a lot of talk at the moment about positive emotions. Since so much of our attention goes on negative emotions this might make sense to redress the balance.
But is there more to it than that? Are there more scientific reasons for encouraging people to be generous, appreciative, curious, forgiving, empathic? And what benefits might positive emotions have in the workplace? Could they actually reduce absenteeism and illness, both mental and physical?
Are the most power interventions a company could make, with the biggest return on investment, to actively foster genuine positive emotions?
Or is this all fluffy idealistic nonsense? And what do you do if you just don’t feel good? Are we expected to fake it until we make it? Or does this lead to insincerity and false glee, frozen smiles and forced laughter?
Positive emotions have an impact not just on how we feel, but on the emotional wellbeing of those around us. Feelings are contagious. Thanks to complex circuitry in our brains and nerve cell networks in our heart and gut, we are incredibly sensitive to the feelings of others, whether we are conscious of it or not.
In the workplace, this means that positive emotions have a powerful part to play in staff wellbeing and morale. Companies that put in place activities that makes their people feel cared for, are rewarded with greater loyalty and reduced absenteeism.
But it goes further than that. Productivity, innovation and problem solving are better when the ambient emotional temperature is positive. Communication is better and relationships improved. People feel better about themselves and others in an upward spiral of connectedness and effectiveness.
The result? A organisational culture that enhances mental wellness.
Perhaps the most interesting research to emerge from the field of positive psychology is in liaison with immunology and epigenetics (how outside influences of environment, thought and feeling impact gene behaviour).
It seems that high levels of positive emotions affect the human genome resulting in better immune responses, reduced inflammation, and better expression (activation) of antiviral and antibody genes.
The result? Better health. Less absenteeism.
Negative emotions have a survival value and alert us to danger, making us more cautious and realistic in appraising risk. Too much positivity can lead to rash decision-making and unrealistic appraisal of complex negotiations.
On balance, however, evidence supports what common sense tells us, that when people feel appreciated, respected, cared for and valued, they feel better and work better. When they feel good about themselves, this has a contagious effect on the wellbeing of those around them. Teamwork, communication and cooperation are enhanced, with better innovation and creativity.
When the emotional temperature of a company is positive, the business flourishes and the people are healthier and happier. These two go hand in hand.
This starts a the top, with leaders who listen, respect, and encourage from a deep connection to values and integrity, and are emotionally well balanced and intelligent themselves.
Rates of mental illness, absenteeism and presenteeism (turning up to work when you’d be better off staying at home) are rising, and having a deep impact on business bottom lines, to say nothing of the profound personal costs. It is essential that stigma and discrimination around mental illness be addressed, and measures put in place in organisations to educate and support staff, and put in place strategies for mental wellbeing.
And….the most powerful interventions that any company can make, with the best ROI, are those that actively foster a positive working environment.