Research Paper By Erica D’Angelo
(Wellbeing Coach, ITALY)
The corporate environment has seen quantum changes in the last 20 years. We have seen a great evolution in the exploration of what affects people’s performance and how leadership styles can influence the innovation and success of a company. In a parallel leap of time, the scientific community has widely demonstrated that we are synergic and systemic organisms and that health and wellbeing play a dramatic role in human performance. This gives us deep insight into how human beings operate. We are now rapidly exiting the industrial age, the period of history that encompasses the changes in economic and social organization that initiated around 1760, that was characterized by the replacement of hand tools with power-driven machines such as the power loom and the steam engine, and by the concentration of industry in large establishments. As Stephen Covey suggests in his book The 8th Habit, we are rapidly entering the emerging Age of Wisdom, where human value is not merely considered by the manual work, but by the knowledge that people bring to the company, at all levels of the organization. Knowledge work can be differentiated from other forms of work by its emphasis on “non-routine” problem solving that requires a combination of convergent and divergent thinking, which nowadays, most jobs require. But despite the amount of research and literature on knowledge work, there is no succinct definition of the term. Loo (2017) using empirical findings from knowledge, offers a complex picture of this type of work where workers use a combination of creativity, abilities, talents, skills, and knowledge towards the eventual production of products and services: “Creative knowledge workers use a combination of creative applications to perform their functions/roles in the knowledge economy including anticipatory imagination, problem-solving, problem seeking, and generating ideas and aesthetic sensibilities”. The internet has brought an important shift in the way people carry out their tasks, and most roles today require to be a knowledge worker at some level. Most people must face a dramatic change in the new range of skillset that is required from them but also needs to adopt a new mindset, a whole new way of thinking. Many people operating in the corporate world today have difficulties in adopting the necessary new ways of thinking that will enable forward movement and sustain the rapid change we are faced with today. Traditional training programs across organizations lack the integration of the understanding of human beings at the root, which is necessary to sustains knowledge work. They are mainly focused on fixing by addressing techniques on how to manage change in behaviors to be more effective. Too few really understand how well-being and happiness relate to the progress, forward movement, and adaptation that is required today, which would enable people to operate at their best potential.
The role of the Science of Happiness
The Science of Happiness was born on the evolution of Positive Psychology in the last 20 years that aims at understanding how to create positive wellbeing through personal growth and prosperity. At the core of the most recent findings is that human beings operate best when involved as a whole. This means when there is a balance between the 4 dimensions of the human being: the mind, the body, the heart, and the spirit. Only so people can fulfill their needs to live, love, learn, and leave a legacy in life and operate at a level of greatness, in science also called flourishment and happiness. Understanding this at a profound level leads us to the understanding of how human beings operate and we can break many paradigms, and in the case of organizations, the paradigm that motivation comes from external factors. If we consider one of the main things that knowledge workers need, such as creativity and innovation, research shows that they are highly interlinked with the absence of stress and stimulated with the presence of well-being and happiness.
The roots of what paradigms are and how happiness is achieved come from the teachings of the Greek philosophers. In fact, the term “paradigm” was used by Plato to designate ideal realities conceived as eternal models of sensitive realities, and by Aristotle to indicate the topic, based on a known cause, which is used to illustrate a less known or completely unknown one. We can call them “assumptions” today, based on which we then adopt our very perspectives of the world. Happiness, according to Socrates and Plato, depends on us and it is within our possibilities to achieve it (we always have a choice). According to Aristotle, happiness becomes an existential dimension attainable through a human and personal journey (motivation comes from within). In fact, he writes that all animate and inanimate things in the world, aim to reach a goal, an end, a telos. Fast-forwarding to current days, the thought of Martin Seligman (father and founder of Positive Psychology), coincides with that of Aristotle and agrees that happiness is a conquest. Happiness is referred to as Eudemonic wellbeing: “…well-being is not so much an outcome or end state as it is a process of fulfilling or realizing one’s daimon or true nature—that is, of fulfilling one’s virtuous potentials and living as one was inherently intended to live.”. Positive psychology today is about breaking paradigms and focusing on human flourishing and happiness.
The benefits of Positive Psychology in Coaching
The field of coaching psychology has experienced significant progress in both research and practice literature. Three meta-analysis studies (Theeboom, Beersma, & van Vianen, 2014; Jones, Woods, & Guillaume, 2015; Sonesh, Coultas, Lacerenza, Marlow, Benishek, & Sala, 2015) and one systematic review (Lai & McDowall, 2014) highlight that coaching is effective. Although there are limited publications to sustain the effectiveness of integrating Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, however, there are many insights on how the “systemic application of behavioral science to the enhancement of life experience, work performance and wellbeing of individuals, groups, and organizations” (Grant, 2007) can benefit evidence-based coaching practice. The two practices can be called best friends as many people seeking coaching, whether that’s life, wellness, or executive, leadership coaching, also seek to increase their overall wellbeing and for other issues relating to personal growth and development (i.e. optimal functioning). Given that positive psychology is concerned with the conditions that support flourishing within individuals, groups, and communities (Gable & Haidt, 2005), it becomes clear why the evidence-based coach might look to the science of positive psychology for reference to the latest scientific findings on these topics in aid of supporting their coachee goals and desires.
Organizations seek coaching mainly for reasons related to the achievement and success of their leaders, which eventually contribute to the organizations’ performance. It is important to not underestimate the emotional impact of such pursuit regarding the person’s happiness and wellbeing. These goals are ultimately inextricably linked. Leaders (and people at all levels of the organizations) today live in the eye of a storm and have to face the enormous changes in the Age of Wisdom, having to assimilate the changes from economies, the environment, other people, and how they manage their relationships. They are also not only requested to perform well but to thrive at their greatest best. To take responsibility for this process, organizations must place at the heart of the matter, the thinking and feeling capacity of human beings at the heart of value creation. Coaching supports the process by focusing primarily on the development of the self, with a focus on gaining a deeper awareness and improving performance to more effectively “regulate and direct their interpersonal resources to better attain their goals (Grant, 2006). Studies have shown that the benefits of coaching in organizations that face epochal changes have increased goal attainment, enhanced solution-focused thinking, a greater ability to deal with change, increased leadership self-efficacy and resilience, a decrease in depression, and increased workplace satisfaction. It, therefore, has the potential to enable the best of human functioning to be present and active both at the individual level and within teams, by building and capitalizing on strengths and capacities.
Research by Gallup suggests that companies who adopt a policy to enhance the stakeholder’s happiness, increase their productivity by 22%. It is highly demonstrated to this day that putting the human capital at the heart of value creation is key to face the changes in the Age of Wisdom. Shifting the focus from “headcount” to “heart count” has rapidly gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have in organizations of any type, industry, and size. This type of mindset enables the development of greatness in the individual, empowering each player of the organization to take responsibility for their growth and success and ultimately contribute to the organization’s achievements. Positive Psychology, evidence-based Coaching practice, is one of the most appropriate allies in capitalizing on both performances for the company and individual’s wellbeing in a sustainable and meaningful way. Neuroscience suggests that thanks to brain plasticity readily available to every individual throughout the entire lifespan, we can make changes at the deepest levels and modify the human beings’ paradigms. Coaches can widely contribute to the necessary change that sustains innovation and progress in today’s organizations by promoting happiness, wellbeing, and consequently creativity and innovation. Today, the coaching practice is widely adopted in many organizations and many have shown great results, but there is still much to do in implementing the learnings of positive psychology to benefit the eudemonic wellbeing of individuals. It is important to support not only efficient behavioral changes to promote the performance of individuals, but furthermore provoke sustainable changes in the mindset of all stakeholders that will impact the organization at every level. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky’s findings of happiness, our genes are responsible for about 50% of our happiness levels, our actions, and attitudes account for 40% of our happiness. Therefore, our choices and attitudes have a significant impact on our happiness and if organizations can support the process by introducing positive psychology evidence-based coaching practice, it is proven that it can increase levels of self-esteem and positive emotions, it can improve relationships within the working environment as well. We are aware that human connection is an integral part of who we are and how we feel. So, improving these connections and relationships at work can enable us to feel more positive at work, improving our communication with one another as we understand this aspect being crucial for developing the skill set needed to fulfill the knowledge worker toolkit. Finally, introducing positive psychology evidence-based coaching in the workplace can help develop a positive mindset and outlook on life, which contributes to improving general wellbeing and mental health. Coaching has the power to shine a light on people’s meaning at work. As per the latest findings, these are the essential ingredients to develop the necessary new ways of thinking that will enable forward movement and sustain the rapid change, we are faced with today, in the Wisdom Age.