Research Paper By Susan Hillen
(Career Coach, UNITED STATES)
Believe you can and you’re halfway there. – Theodore Roosevelt
Positivity in life can be contagious. A positive outlook can have a big influence on others, outcomes, and achieving goals. It can lead to living a life filled with gratitude, wellness, and happiness. The alternative of negative thinking can have adverse consequences of feelings of doubt, stress, and unhappiness. Overall, the way a person thinks acts and feels affects their decisions and confidence levels. By focusing on the positive aspects of life while minimizing the negative aspects, it can help to create a more resilient mindset.
In relationship to careers, a more positive mindset can help to achieve career goals. In taking it a step further, determining life purpose, having meaningful work, and exercising passions can promote greater quality of life. This research paper explores how positive psychology can be applied in career coaching to help individuals and organizations. Specifically, taking into consideration the whole person in maximizing talents/strengths, well-being, and engagement.
Let your unique awesomeness and positive energy inspire confidence in others. – Anonymous
There has been a vast amount of research that supports positive psychology and its efforts. The field of positive psychology is defined as “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living” (Peterson, 2008, as cited in Ackerman, 2020). It emerged in the 1990s as a response to what Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi(co-founder) perceived as an overemphasis on illness in psychology (Ingle, 2020). As a result, it is believed that positivity must be looked at separately from illness and negative symptoms.
Not to be confused with positive thinking, positive psychology goes beyond positive thinking (i.e., looking at things from a positive point of view) and focuses on behavior that can lead to a more optimized frame of mind. This includes focusing more on what makes already-functional people thrive even more, rather than on fixing a problem that may be causing difficulties in someone’s life (Scott, 2018).
In general, one of the greatest potential benefits of positive psychology is that it teaches coaches the power of shifting a client’s perspective. A relatively small change in one’s perspective can lead to astounding shifts in well-being and quality of life (Ackerman, 2020).
Positive Psychology Coaching (PPC)
The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.–Carl Rogers – Psychologist
Positive psychology provides a strong base for coaching. According to Kaufman, Boniwell, and Silberman, 2010 as cited in Mead, 2020):
“Positive Psychology Coaching (PPC) is a scientifically-rooted approach to helping clients increase well-being, enhance and apply strengths, improve performance, and achieve valued goals. At the core of PPC is a belief in the power of science to elucidate the best development methods.”
There are many aspects of positive psychology coaching that can be directly applied to career coaching. These include helping an individual 1) Gain clarity in career and/or performance goals, 2) Explore strengths and weaknesses, 3) Improve a specific area of life or set of behaviors, 4) Identify areas of personal or skill development, and 5) Create greater self-awareness; all of which can contribute to the quality of life.
Overall, career coaches can provide the structure or framework to assist individual clients or teams within organizations to discover/maximize the following:
Each of these areas should be addressed in coaching individuals at any career stage (i.e., beginning, middle, or latter) while recognizing the whole person as evolving through life and changing circumstances. Similarly, coaching teams in the workplace can play a critical role in enhancing work relationships and increasing productivity, while recognizing the unique
talents/strengths, well-being, and engagement of each team member as organizational needs change.
The future depends on what you do today. – Mahatma Gandhi
Over the course of a lifetime, approximately 1/3 of a person’s life will be spent at work. That translates to approximately 90,000 hours (Vaughn, 2018). Discovering what one’s natural talents/strengths, passions, and interests are can lead to more fulfillment in life and work/career success.
According to Donald Clifton (psychologist, author, inventor of the CliftonStrengths assessment), “Talent is any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.”To turn talents into strengths, investing, and practicing them while adding knowledge and skills to them creates the ability to provide near-perfect performance. Therefore, creating the formula: Talent x Investment = Strength (Gallup,n.d.-a).
Additionally, Gallup’s research indicates that people who have the opportunity to use their strengths are “six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and to strongly agree that they have the chance to do what they do best every day.” Also, people who use their strengths are three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life (Gallup,n.d.-a).
Career Coaching and Talents/Strengths
Overall, research indicates that people who use their strengths experience higher energy, less stress, and have greater confidence levels (Gallup,n.d.-b). This applies to those in any career stage whether starting a brand-new career, seeking improvement in their current career or transitioning/ switching to a new career.
In career coaching, the CliftonStrengths assessment can help to determine a client’s natural talents/strengths (based on 34 talent themes). Other strengths assessments such as the “Values in Action Institute Inventory of Strengths” (VAI-IS: Peterson & Seligman, 2004, as cited in Robertson, 2017) provide insight into character strengths, such as wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. By knowing their strengths, clients can apply and use their strengths in their role/job to accomplish their goals. In turn, coaching can help the client to focus more on what comes naturally to them while managing any weaknesses.
Additionally, while strengths assessments cannot offer precise occupational recommendations, career choices will tend to involve capitalizing on available strengths and resources (Klimka&Budzinska, 2015; Yates, 2013b as cited in Robertson, 2017).In coaching, focusing on the natural talents/strengths of an individual can help to narrow down specific career choices or changes in career paths.
From an organizational perspective, managers and individuals can leverage strengths to improve employee and organizational performance. In fact, according to Gallup, strengths-based development results in 7-23% higher employee engagement, 8-18% increased performance, 10-19% increased sales, and 14-29% increased profit (Gallup,n.d.-a).To support strengths-based development within the organization, coaches can provide insight to both individuals and teams in how strengths can be used to increase employee and team performance. Also, the development of strengths promotes well-being in the work context and is associated with experiencing work as meaningful (Robertson, 2017).
What is called genius is the abundance of life and health. – Henry David Thoreau
As part of having a meaningful and quality of life, well-being takes center stage. According to Dictionary.com, well-being is defined as “a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity; welfare.” (Dictionary.com, n.d.-a).
In the context of positive psychology, the PERMA model, created by Seligman (as outlined in Ingle, 2020) describes five facets of well-being which includes:
- Positive Emotions
These aspects are vital for an overall sense of well-being. Experiencing positive emotions includes feeling good and enjoying yourself at the moment while being engaged means being completely absorbed in something you enjoy. Having deep meaningful relationships with others enhances social well-being. Finding purpose in your life of something bigger than yourself and bettering yourself with a drive to accomplish and achieve promotes overall well-being (Ackerman, 2020).
Additionally, as an extension to further define well-being, the Gallup organization has identified five elements that people need to thrive in their lives. These common elements transcend countries and cultures and include: 1) Career, 2) Social, 3) Financial, 4) Community, and 5) Physical (Rath&Hartner, 2010). They describe the aspects of our lives that we can do something about and that are important to all people across the globe. Basically, we get the most out of our lives when we are living effectively in all five areas. If a person is struggling in one of these areas, it can harm the quality of life vs. if a person improves one of these areas, it can have a positive impact on the quality of life.
Career Coaching and Well-Being
As career is one of the important areas of well-being, career coaching can assist a client in achieving the most out of their work, evaluate career goals, and help to focus on using strengths to accomplish goals. In taking into consideration the whole person during coaching, a coach can help a client explore beneath the surface of what they want to do in their career by exploring values, passions, and their motivations of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Research has indicated that job quality is similar to health status in terms of how well it predicts the overall quality of life (Gallup, n.d.-b). Therefore, if one can improve their career and, in turn, improve their outlook on job quality, improvement in their outlook of overall health can be achieved.
From an organizational and employee well-being perspective, well-being can be identified by employees having meaningful and challenging work along with opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge, within effective working relationships in a safe and healthy environment, while maintaining work/life balance (Tehrani et al, 2007, as cited in Armitage & Keeble-Ramsey, 2015). Consequently, coaching can assist a client in career/leadership development, relationship building, or creating work/life balance. For example, a client may want to focus on enhancing their skills/knowledge to achieve the next step in their career (e.g., promotion to a new role or leadership role), work on creating better relationships in their current role, or achieving work/life balance in their life. In any of these circumstances, coaching can help bring clarity to a person’s interests, motivations, and aspirations to create better overall well-being.
You are the only one who can limit your greatness.– Unknown
What is engagement? According to Dictionary.com, engagement is “the act of engaging or the state of being engaged; involvement.” (Dictionary.com, n.d.-b). The level of a person’s engagement at work or inactivity can contribute to a fulfilling or flourishing life.
In terms of positive psychology, “flourishing” refers to the state we are in when we pay attention to each aspect of the PERMA model and build up a solid sense of well-being (Ackerman, 2020). Positive psychologist and professor, Dr. Lynn Soots (n.d.) describes flourishing as the “product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.” (Ackerman, 2020).
The concept of “flow” created by Csikszentmihalyities in perfectly with engagement and flourishing. Being in the “flow” is often associated with being completely absorbed in an activity, losing both a sense of self and a sense of the passage of time (Robertson, 2017). When engaged at work and a natural fit for their role, a person tends to work more efficiently and sustain high performance for longer periods (Gallup,n.d.-b). Consequently, there is a direct relevance of flow to careers since flow experiences are more common at work rather than home, because the environment provides clear goals, challenges, and demands concentration (Seligman, 2002, as cited in Robertson, 2017).
Career Coaching and Engagement
As applied to career coaching, helping individuals to discover what makes them be in the “flow” can provide some insight into the type of job or career they are seeking. By asking powerful questions to explore tasks, interactions, or activities that make up their dream job, discovering what they are best at doing, and what they are doing when they lose track of time, can all lead to self-discovery.
From an organizational perspective, employee engagement can help provide a competitive advantage. According to an article published in the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) toolkit, “high levels of engagement promote retention of talent, foster customer loyalty and improve organizational performance and stakeholder value” (SHRM, n.d.).Also, highly engaged employees are more productive and committed to the organizations in which they work. Therefore, workplaces that support individual or team coaching within their organizations can help to create a more engaged workforce.
Through coaching, engagement can be increased within an organization. Specifically, coaching helps employees feel valued and respected by showing that the organization is investing in them and their careers. Also, coaching can help team members work together more productively, by building on each team member’s talents/strengths to achieve team/organizational goals. However, most importantly, coaching can help to enhance the relationship between supervisors/managers and employees to build greater trust, in turn, increasing engagement.
There is no passion to be found in playing small—settling for a life that is less than you are capable of living.– Nelson Mandela
In conclusion, positive psychology has had a strong influence on career coaching. It goes far beyond positive thinking in creating an optimized frame of mind taking into consideration the whole person. From a career perspective, this includes determining life purpose, having meaningful work, exercising strengths, and fulfilling life passions to achieve career goals. Other elements such as social, financial, community, and physical all come into play to impact the quality of life.
Career coaching includes helping individuals to discover/apply their natural talents/strengths, improve/thrive in their well-being, and focus on engagement in work/tasks/activities that promotes overall quality of life. Similarly, career coaches can be leveraged within organizations to increase employee engagement and team performance.
Overall, positive psychology and career coaching work together to maximize each individual’s talents/strengths, well-being, and engagement….to enable the best life one is capable of living. In the end, leading to greater happiness, fulfillment, and a higher quality of life.
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