Revisiting Positive Psychology (part 3 of 3): The work-fulfilment nexus – Signature Strengths, being appreciated and values alignment


Revisiting Positive Psychology (part 3 of 3)

The work-fulfilment nexus – Signature Strengths, being appreciated and values alignment

By Dr Galia Barhava


Being able to use your signature strengths at work is quite obviously a must have for personal fulfilment and job satisfaction. If you don’t get to use your signature strengths at work, chances are you will feel like you aren’t able to perform at your best. In my experience, reflecting on whether your job/professional activities allows you to use your signature strengths will provide you with great insight into your career, professional and personal well-being.

However, I don’t think it’s enough. Looking back on my own career, those of my family and friends as well as people I have coached and mentored for over 20 years, I do believe that using one’s signature strengths at work isn’t enough to achieve a state of vitality. To do that we all need to feel valued and respected for possessing and using these strengths.

Imagine the following scenario. Three of your top five signature strengths are social intelligence, integrity and humour. You’re in a professional services industry, you work with clients which lets you use your strengths every day in your interaction with them.
However, the firm you work with doesn’t value those strengths. Your clients might, but your bosses don’t. How satisfied do you think you’ll be?

To be valued by your employers, you need to pick the organisation with the right culture for you. That right culture will be a workplace whose values align with your own values. If your core values are meaningful relationships based on integrity and honesty, and you work for an organisation that values ‘making a quick buck’, the chances are that they are not going to appreciate your signature strengths of integrity and social intelligence.

Indeed the way by which the signature strengths were developed mean that our values are closely tied to our signature strengths. We value the things we choose to develop and enhance in ourselves. People who are satisfied and who prosper at their work and in their working environments and in their private lives are likely to have these three things in full alignment:

  • They work in organisations with similar values to those they personally hold (and I mean the REAL values, not those on nice posters on the reception wall)
  • They get to use their signature strengths at work frequently and are
  • Valued by their workplace for those strengths.

Words of Caution

Positive Psychology is a science, not some ‘self-help’ guru-driven field. The claims it makes are based on scientific research and large scale studies rather than on emotionally compelling, individual anecdotes. Being a science also means that there is some valid criticism of the field as well.

The first and most obvious criticism is that none of this is actually new. And a lot of it is just ‘common sense’. Indeed, this may be the case at first glance. However, happiness, fulfilment and vitality haven’t been properly researched over the last century. If focusing on one’s strengths is simply ‘common sense’, then why is it that most performance discussions are focused on ‘areas for further development’? As is often the case, it turns out the ‘common sense’ isn’t so common after all.

Indeed, a study at a Brazilian workplace conducted by Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina and Marcial Losada, showed that the most effective teams were the ones who had the most positive meetings. Effectiveness was measured using customer satisfaction, profitability and internal reviews. What they found was that the minimum ratio for successful functioning was three positive comments to one negative one in meetings!

One major criticism of the field is that positive psychology has a prescriptive nature. Some have gone as far as to call it a ‘religion’. Another criticism is that many of the claims made are made without long-term evidence about its usefulness and lack of causing harm. Although, now, after so many years of main-stream research on the topic, the evidence balance is firmly in favour of Positive Psychology’s positive impact.

Finally, it is also acknowledged by some Positive Psychologists that increasing happiness levels will potentially diminish creative outputs.

I believe it is important to be aware of these criticisms and make one’s own judgment. Personally, the proof is the in my ongoing work with Positive Psychology tools and principles in all my professional endeavours, from successfully matching mentors to mentees in Professionelle’s group mentoring programme, to developing a co-creation methodology that delivers social and commercial impact.

So, how happy should we be?

I believe the answer depends on what’s important for you. If you value success and achievement, chances are some unhappiness is quite a powerful driver. In the original World Values Survey carried out with nearly 120,000 people from 96 countries by Dr Ed Diener from the University of Illinois, it was found that those who were moderately happy (rating their life satisfaction as a eight or nine out of ten) made more money than those who scored ten. But those who scored nine and ten were
more likely to have stable, intimate relationships.

Dr Weiner did hypothesize that perhaps extremely happy people might be more satisfied with their lives and thus less likely to strive for higher rewards. Everyone agrees that being happy is vastly preferable to being unhappy. The question remains of how happy is good enough.


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