Stimulating happiness and positive emotions in the workplace may enhance performance, increase innovation and ensure organizational effectiveness.

Text: Astrid M. Richardsen and professor Lars Glasø

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Leadership

Most leaders agree that the employees constitute a critical factor when it comes to innovation, organizational performance, competitiveness and the success of the company.

However, the understanding of how to achieve optimal results is often rooted in traditional thinking about effectiveness and cost reduction. Positive organizational behavior represents an alternative approach to employee motivation and performance by focusing on positive phenomena such as growth, optimism, spontaneity, courage, acceptance, humility, kindness and actualizing of potential of the employees.

It is well established that positive emotions have an effect on a wide range of behaviours, such as cognitive problem solving, scope of attention, creative and flexible thought patterns, resilience and successful adaptation to work stress.

Stimulating happiness and positive emotions in the workplace may therefore enhance individual adaptation and performance, increase creativity and innovation and ensure organizational effectiveness.

Happy people are successful

A meta-analysis by Lyubomirsky et al. (2005) involving 275 000 respondents showed that happy individuals are more likely to obtain job interviews, to be evaluated more positively by supervisors once they obtain a job, to show superior performance and productivity, and to handle managerial jobs better.

They are also less likely to show counterproductive workplace behavior and job burnout. Furthermore, happy people seem to be more satisfied with their jobs and will more often engage in activities such as helping coworkers and promoting the organization.

Studies have also shown that individuals in a positive mood are more resilient and experienced less work stress. Having positive emotions seems to enable workers to thrive despite high demands, and to be able to broaden attention and cognition, thereby producing thought patterns that are unusual, flexible and creative. In other words, happy employees may contribute to innovative and creative solutions to work challenges.

There is also evidence that employees’ happiness and positive emotions may relate to direct financial gain for the company. A study of 60 management teams found that the teams which produced the highest financial results, were characterized by a positive style of communication giving support and recognition, expressed more positive feelings and a wider scope of ideas and initiative, as compared to teams with average or poor financial results.

Cultivating positive emotions

Recently the construct of psychological capital, consisting of efficacy, optimism, hope and resilience, has received much attention. These positive capacities are supposed to strengthen employees’ personal resources at work.

Hence, one should cultivate positive emotions such as joy, interest and contentment in a work setting, because this will likely counteract negative emotions and optimize health and wellbeing and help build a person’s enduring resources.

Positive organizational behavior involves the 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.

Enhancing people’s resources and strengths

The goal is to create workplaces that enhance people’s resources and strengths at both individual and group levels.

The focus for organizations is therefore to stimulate employees’ positive psychological capacities, such as increasing their self-esteem and self-efficacy, the ability to make optimistic attributions of the current situation and instigate hope for the future, as well as strengthening their resilience when facing problems and adversity

A key feature of positive organizational behavior is that it mainly focuses on psychological resources and capacities which are state-like (as opposed to more stable personality traits) and therefore susceptible to change and development.

An important implication is that positive organizational behavior may be learned, developed and changed. This may be accomplished through training programs inside or outside the work situation, and by self-development. The positive organizational behavior approach is grounded in theory and scientific research.

The research evidence clearly suggest that the frequent experience of positive emotions is related to a wide range of work-related behaviors. The shift in organizational research toward a focus on positive constructs such as growth, optimism, courage, acceptance, virtuousness, humility, and kindness, is not altogether new, but the prevailing approach until very recently has been the problem-oriented approach.

The approach of positive organizational behavior is important because of its focus on employee capabilities that can be changed and developed. These individual psychological capacities can be seen as personal resources that help adaptation to work and increase employee’s abilities to come up with innovative and creative solutions to workplace demands. The theory and research within this framework can therefore advise organizations how to train and develop their employees.


  • Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803-855.
  • Luthans, F., Avolio, B. J., Avey, J. B., & Norman, S. M. (2007). Positive psychological capital: measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 60(3), 541-572.
  • Richardsen, A.M., Glasø, L., & Burke, R.J. (2014). How to promote positive emotions and adaptation at work. In R. Gomes, R. Resende and A. Albuquerque, Positive human functioning from a multidimensional perspective. Vol. I: Promoting stress adaptation (Ch. 4 ). Nova Science Publishing.

This article is first published in BI Leadership Magazine 2017/2018.

BI Leadership Magazine is a Science Communication Magazine published by the Department of Leadership and Organzational Behaviour at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 2. October 2017

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