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The power of positive thinking

Positive thinking: it’s been touted as an aid for everything from boosting our immune system to improving longevity, but does it have an impact on our work?

Put simply, the answer is ‘yes’. There have been a host of studies carried out over recent years that show a clear correlation between business success and a positive attitude.

In fact, one study by the Stanford Research Institute showed that success is 88% positive thinking and only 12% education.

Similarly, research carried out by Dr. Martin Seligman at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, showed a clear connection between employees’ state of mind and their sales performance.

As part of the research, Dr. Seligman first scored the company’s sales agents for optimism. He then compared their levels of optimism with their individual sales performance. The exercise revealed that the agents who scored in the top half for optimism sold 37% more than those in the more pessimistic bottom half. In fact, those who ranked in the top 10% for optimism made 88% more sales than those in most pessimistic 10%.

Of course, there are various theories as to why this correlation exists. Some put it down to the fact that more optimistic employees might feel more confident about their role or more secure in their job.

Others, such as Michael F. Scheier, who with Charles S Carver conducted the seminal study “Optimism, Coping, and Health: Assessment and Implications of Generalized Outcome Expectancies”, also think it is down to the way optimists react to challenging situations.

In an article in The Atlantic magazine he said: “We … know why optimists do better than pessimists. The answer lies in the differences between the coping strategies they use. Optimists are not simply being Pollyannas; they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation. And if it can’t be altered, they’re also more likely than pessimists to accept that reality and move on.”

However, whilst a proactive attitude to work challenges might be a key reason for optimists being successful, it also seems that simply focusing on happy things can make us more productive at work.

Happiness makes things happen

The idea that happiness in itself can boost productivity was explored in a study by The University of Warwick.

Of the 700 participants, some were given a positive experience, such as viewing a humorous movie clip or receiving free chocolate, drinks and fruit. Others were made to focus on more unpleasant experiences by having to answer questions on recent family tragedies, such as bereavements.

The results clearly showed that lower levels of happiness were later associated with lower levels of productivity. In fact, the study found that staff are 12% more productive at work when they feel happy.

Making positive thinking work for your business

Whether you are lucky enough to have naturally optimistic employees or you need to inject some fun into the workplace to boost motivation, it seems that ensuring your staff are happy will go a long way towards your business success.

Of course, there can be a host of reasons why certain members of your staff might not feel happy or motivated.

In some cases this might be because of their limiting beliefs about their own abilities or their work environment. In other cases, it could simply be that they want more opportunity to train and expand their skillset. Whatever their concerns, by working with them you can often identify ways to bring back their enthusiasm, just through a simple conversation.

That said, it seems that a serious sit-down is not always necessary. Instead, a bit of fun or the odd treat for your staff can be just as powerful for increasing productivity. So if a key measure of your productivity is currently ‘bums on seats’, you’ll probably do better swapping it for ‘smiles on faces’.

If you are planning on developing an employee engagement strategy to enhance positive thinking in your business, why not ask for a free demonstration of our HR software. With modules covering appraisals, document management, task management and reporting, it can help you manage, collate, track and evaluate your entire engagement programme. Just click here or call 0845 225 0414.