Whether we have reached the stage of wanting to look more closely into our inner world or are still firmly located in outer concerns, most of us are greatly in need of a serenity which can make us less vulnerable to the many problems that life puts in our path (Fontana, 1998, p. 6).
The concept of workplace stress dates back to antiquity, and is both an omnipresent and multifaceted phenomenon (Lazarus, 1993). At large, work-related stress has been shown to have adverse consequences such as, declines in the quality of employee job performance (Gilboa, Shirom, Fried, Cooper, 2008; Lepine Podsakoff, Lepine, 2005), increases in exhaustion, decreases in employee ability to learn (Lepine, Lepine, Jackson, 2004), more depressive symptoms and hostility (Motowidlo, Packard, Manning, 1986), and finally, withdrawal (Gupta and Beeher, 1979). In recent times, the dynamics of the work environment have changed significantly with certain factors contributing to oscillating subtleties in the organisational environment. Workplaces are changing in response to a range of pressures that include intensification of competition in the international marketplace, rapid changes in the organisation and technology of production and service delivery, as well as changes in the composition, needs and preferences of their workforces (O’Connell, Russell, Williams & Blackwell, 2010). This change elicited the occurrence of workplace stress, strain and burnout being observed on a psychological level rather than a physiological level (Schaufeli, Leiter, & Maslach, 2009).In particular, exhaustion and deteriorated health levels have been induced by high pressure and high emotional requirements (Halbesleben & Buckley, 2004).
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines work-related stress as “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope” (World Health Organisation, 2004). Regarding occupational health in Ireland, in 2013, an estimated 55,000 workers in Ireland suffered from a work-related illness and over 790,000 days of work were lost due to work-related illness (Health and Safety Authority, 2015). According to the Economic and Social Institute (ESRI), in Ireland and the UK, the two largest categories of work-related illness reported by workers themselves are musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and stress, anxiety and depression (SAD) (as cited in ESRI, 2016). Together, these illnesses account for 60% of all self-reported work related illness (ESRI, 2016). According to the health and safety executive (HSE) in Great Britain, in 2016/2017, 526,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing). Consequently, 12.5 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17 (Health and Safety Executive, 2017).
Consequently, it can be observed that maintenance of occupational health needs to be addressed promptly. Previous research suggests that around one-quarter of employees in Ireland described their work as ‘always or often stressful’ in both 2003 and 2009 (O’Connell et al., 2010). According to Villanueva and Djurkovic (2009), workplace stress is costly for organisations as it contributes to expensive voluntary turnover. The promotion and maintenance of occupational health is imperative for organisational success, yet few positive intervention studies have targeted well-being in the employee population. Positive psychology interventions have been designed in order to tackle these issues.
According to Huppert (2009) science of well-being and its application require a fresh approach—beyond targeting the alleviation of disorder to a focus on personal and interpersonal flourishing. Emphasis is now being placed on individual flourishing, a combination of feeling good and functioning effectively (Huppert & So, 2013). Positive psychology, ‘a science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless’ (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2014, p.279). The past two centuries have seen this concept come to the fore as one of the leading positions in regards to the study of human health and well-being. Positive psychology has begun to challenge the exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline which authors suggest results in a model of the human being lacking the positive features that make life worth living (Seligman & Csikzentmihalyi, 2014).
According to Seligman (2006) there are two kinds of psychological interventions, curative and cosmetic. ‘Palliation is a good thing but it is not the highest goal of intervention. Ideally intervention is a way station to cure’ (Seligman, 2006, p. ). Every drug in psycho-pharmacopoeia is cosmetic. A shift is needed from symptom relief to cure or even better again, prevention. The development of positive psychology has garnered a pertinent contribution to our understanding of how, why and under what conditions individuals flourish or thrive (Seligman, Steen, Park, Peterson, 2005). Seligman (2002) suggests it emphasises not only the importance of curing suffering, but also building strengths in order to buffer against illness and encourage positive prevention.
Positive Psychology in the Workplace
Positive Organizational Behaviour and Positive Organisational Scholarship
The overall aim of positive psychology in the workplace, is individual and organizational flourishing. On the one hand, positive organizational behavior defined as ”the study and application of positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological capacities that can be measured, developed, and effectively managed for performance improvement in today’s workplace” (Luthans, 2002, p. 698), focuses on building personal resources such as hope, optimism and resilience (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007), which help to enhance employees well-being (Fredrickson et al., 2008). Personal resources represent “anything perceived by the individual to help attain his or her goals” (Halbesleben, Neveu, Paustian-Underdahl, & Westman, 2014, p. 1338). Positive organizational scholarship “the study of that which is positive, flourishing, and life-giving in organizations” (Cameron & Caza, 2004, p. 731) puts emphasis on generative dynamics that make organizations, organizational units, and organizational members flourish and thrive (Meyers, Woerkom & Bakker, 2013). According to Maslach and Goldberg (1998), it is easier to make changes at an individual level rather than an organisational level. As a result, positive psychology workplace interventions have been designed at an individual level.
Meyers, Woerkom and Bakker, (2013, p.618) characterize a positive psychology intervention (PPI) as ‘any intentional activity or method that is based on (a) the cultivation of positive subjective experiences, (b) the building of positive individual traits, or (c) the building of civic virtue and positive institutions’. Froman (2009) advocates that positive