The good character at work: an initial study on the contribution of character strengths in identifying healthy and unhealthy work-related behavior and experience patterns

  • F. GanderEmail author
  • R. T. Proyer
  • W. Ruch
  • T. Wyss
Original Article



Positive psychological functioning has been related to various positive work-related outcome variables, such as job satisfaction or work engagement. The aim of the present study was to examine the relations between morally positively valued traits (i.e., strengths of character) and work-related behaviors.


A sample of 887 adult women completed the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) and the Work-related Behavior and Experience Patterns Questionnaire (AVEM) in an online survey.


Those assigned to healthy work-related behavior and experience patterns differed in their strengths profiles from those that demonstrated unhealthy patterns (i.e., burnout type) in a predictable way. Especially the strengths of zest, persistence, hope, and curiosity seemed to play a key role in healthy and ambitious work behavior.


The study underlines the relevance of character strengths in work settings and suggests that interventions based on character strengths could substantiate interventions already existing at the workplace in order to enhance positive work outcomes further (e.g., work satisfaction, engagement).


Burnout Character strengths Positive psychology Work-related behavior and experience 



The authors are grateful to Katharina Klohe for proofreading the manuscript. Data collection was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (No. 132512) and the Suzanne and Hans Biäsch Foundation for Applied Psychology.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Bauer J, Stamm A, Virnich K, Wissing K, Müller U, Wirsching M, Schaarschmidt U (2006) Correlation between burnout syndrome and psychological and psychosomatic symptoms among teachers. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 79:199–204. doi: 10.1007/s00420-005-0050-y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bonneterre V, Liaudy S, Chatellier G, Lang T, de Gaudemaris R (2008) Reliability, validity, and health issues arising from questionnaires used to measure Psychosocial and Organizational Work Factors (POWFs) among hospital nurses: a critical review. J Nurs Meas 16(3):207–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carver CS, Scheier MF, Miller CJ, Fulford D (2009) Optimism. In: Lopez SJ, Snyder CR (eds) Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 303–313Google Scholar
  4. Coyne I, Bartram D (eds) (2006) ITC guidelines on computer-based and internet-delivered testing. Int J Test 6. doi: 10.1207/s15327574ijt0602_3
  5. Emmons RA, McCullough ME (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol 84:377–389. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fredrickson BL (2004) The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philos Trans R Soc B-Biol Sci 359:1367–1378. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1512 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gosling SD, Vazire S, Srivastava S, John OP (2004) Should we trust Web-based studies? A comparative analysis of six preconceptions about Internet questionnaires. Am Psychol 59:93–104. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.59.2.93 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hakanen JJ, Schaufeli WB, Ahola K (2008) The job demands-resources model: a three-year cross-lagged study of burnout, depression, commitment, and work engagement. Work Stress 22:224–241. doi: 10.1080/02678370802379432 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hodges TD, Clifton DO (2004) Strengths-based development in practice. In: Linley AP, Joseph S (eds) Positive psychology in practice. Wiley, New Jersey, pp 256–268Google Scholar
  10. Khumalo IP, Wissing MP, Themane QM (2008) Exploring the validity of the Values-In-Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) in an African context. J Psychol Af 18:133–144Google Scholar
  11. Linley PA, Maltby J, Wood AM, Joseph S, Harrington S, Peterson C et al (2007) Character strengths in the United Kingdom: the VIA Inventory of Strengths. Pers Indiv Differ 43:341–351. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2006.12.004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Luthans F, Avolio BJ (2009) The “point” of positive organizational behavior. J Organ Behav 30:291–307. doi: 10.1002/job.589 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Magyar-Moe JL (2009) Therapist’s guide to positive psychological interventions. Academic Press/Elsevier, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  14. Matthews MD, Eid J, Kelly D, Bailey JKS, Peterson C (2006) Character strengths and virtues of developing military leaders: an international comparison. Mil Psychol 18:57–68. doi: 10.1207/s15327876mp1803s_5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mitchell J, Stanimirovic R, Klein B, Vella-Broderick D (2009) A randomised controlled trial of a self-guided internet intervention promoting well-being. Comput Hum Behav 25:749–760. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2009.02.003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Park N (2004) Character strengths and positive youth development. Ann Am Acad Polit Soc Sci 591:40–54. doi: 10.1177/0002716203260079 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Park N, Peterson C (2006a) Character strengths and happiness among young children: content analysis of parental descriptions. J Happiness Stud 7:323–341. doi: 10.1007/s10902-005-3648-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Park N, Peterson C (2006b) Moral competence and character strengths among adolescents: the development and validation of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth. J Adolesc 29:891–909. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2006.04.011 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Park N, Peterson C (2010) Does it matter where we live? The urban psychology of character strengths. Am Psychol 65:535–547. doi: 10.1037/a0019621 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Park N, Peterson C, Seligman MEP (2004) Strengths of character and well-being. J Soc Clin Psychol 23:603–619. doi: 10.1521/jscp.23.5.603.50748 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Park N, Peterson C, Seligman MEP (2006) Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. J Posit Psychol 1:118–129. doi: 10.1080/17439760600619567 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Peterson C (2006) The values in action (VIA) classification of strengths. In: Csikszentmihalyi M, Csikszentmihalyi IS (eds) A life worth living. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 29–48Google Scholar
  23. Peterson C, Park N (2004) Classification and measurement of character strengths: implications for practice. In: Linley PA, Joseph S (eds) Positive psychology in practice. Wiley, Hoboken, pp 433–446Google Scholar
  24. Peterson C, Park N (2006) Character strengths in organizations. J Organ Behav 27:1149–1154. doi: 10.1002/job.398 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Peterson C, Seligman MEP (2003) Character strengths before and after September 11. Psychol Sci 14:381–384. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.24482 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Peterson C, Seligman MEP (2004) Character strengths and virtues: a handbook and classification. American Psychological Association, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  27. Peterson C, Park N, Seligman MEP (2005) Assessment of character strengths. In: Koocher GP, Norcross JC, Hill SS (eds) Psychologists’ desk reference, 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 93–98Google Scholar
  28. Peterson C, Ruch W, Beermann U, Park N, Seligman MEP (2007) Strengths of character, orientation to happiness, and life satisfaction. J Posit Psychol 2:149–156. doi: 10.1080/17439760701228938 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Peterson C, Park N, Pole N, D’Andrea W, Seligman MEP (2008) Strengths of character and posttraumatic growth. J Trauma Stress 21:214–217. doi: 10.1002/jts.20332 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Peterson C, Park N, Hall N, Seligman MEP (2009) Zest and work. J Organ Behav 30:161–172. doi: 10.1002/job.584 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Peterson C, Stephens JP, Park N, Lee F, Seligman MEP (2010) Strengths of character and work. In: Linley PA, Harrington S, Garcea N (eds) Oxford handbook of positive psychology and work. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 221–231Google Scholar
  32. Proyer RT, Ruch W (2009) How virtuous are gelotophobes? Self- and peer-reported character strengths among those who fear being laughed at. Humor: Int J Humor Res 22:145–163. doi: 10.1515/HUMR.2009.007
  33. Richman LS, Kubzansky L, Maseiko J, Kawachi I, Choo P, Bauer M (2005) Positive emotion and health: going beyond the negative. Health Psychol 24:422–429. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.24.4.422 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ruch W, Huber A, Beermann U, Proyer RT (2007) Character strengths as predictors of the “good life” in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In: Romanian Academy, “George Barit” Institute of History, Department of Social Research (ed) Studies and researches in social sciences, vol 16. Argonaut Press, Cluj-Napoca, pp 123–131Google Scholar
  35. Ruch W, Proyer RT, Harzer C, Park N, Peterson C, Seligman MEP (2010a) Adaptation and validation of the German version of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) and the development of a peer-rating form. J Indiv Differ 31:138–149. doi: 10.1027/1614-0001/a000022 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ruch W, Proyer RT, Weber M (2010b) Humor as a character strength among the elderly: empirical findings on age-related changes and its contribution to satisfaction with life. Z Gerontol Geriatr 43:13–18. doi: 10.1007/s00391-009-0090-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schaarschmidt U, Fischer AW (1997) AVEM—ein diagnostisches Instrument zur Differenzierung von Typen gesundheitsrelevanten Verhaltens und Erlebens gegenüber der Arbeit [AVEM—an instrument for diagnosing different types of work - and health-related behavior and experience]. Z Differ Diagn Psychol 18:151–163Google Scholar
  38. Schaarschmidt U, Fischer AW (2001) Coping with professional demands: a new diagnostic approach. In: Kallus KW, Posthumus N, Jiménez P (eds) Current psychological research in Austria. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz, pp 145–149Google Scholar
  39. Schaarschmidt U, Fischer AW (2008) Arbeitsbezogenes Verhaltens- und Erlebensmuster AVEM, 3rd edn. Pearson PLC, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. Schaarschmidt U, Kieschke U, Fischer AW (2006) Diagnostik beruflichen Bewältigungsverhaltens auf der Grundlage eines ressourcenorientierten Ansatzes [Individual resources of coping with occupational stress. A type diagnostic approach]. Wirtsch Psychol 2:56–63Google Scholar
  41. Seligman MEP, Csikszentmihalyi M (2000) Positive psychology: an introduction. Am Psychol 55:5–14. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Seligman MEP, Steen TA, Park N, Peterson C (2005) Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. Am Psychol 60:410–421. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Snyder CR, Lopez SJ (2007) Positive psychology: the scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  44. Steger MF, Hicks BM, Kashdan TB, Krueger RF, Bouchard TJ Jr (2007) Genetic and environmental influences on the positive traits of the values in action classification, and biometric covariance with normal personality. J Res Pers 41:524–539. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2006.06.002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Vansteenkiste M, Neyrinck B, Niemiec CP, Soenens B, De Witte H, Van den Broeck A (2007) On the relations among work value orientations, psychological need satisfaction and job outcomes: a self-determination theory approach. J Occup Organ Psychol 80:251–277. doi: 10.1348/096317906X111024 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Voltmer E, Bussing A, Thomas C, Spahn C (2010a) Religiosity, spirituality, health and work-related behaviour patterns in pastors of two free protestant denominations. Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol 60:25–433. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1243225 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Voltmer E, Rosta J, Aasland OG, Spahn C (2010b) Study-related health and behavior patterns of medical students: a longitudinal study. Med Teach 32:422–428. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2010.496008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Voltmer E, Spahn C, Schaarschmidt U, Kieschke U (2011) Work-related behavior and experience patterns of entrepreneurs compared to teachers and physicians. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 84:479–490. doi: 10.1007/s00420-011-0632-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Warr P (1999) Well-being in the workplace. In: Kahneman D, Diener E, Schwarz N (eds) Well-being: the foundations of hedonic psychology. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, pp 393–412Google Scholar
  50. Watson SB, Goh YW, Sawang S (2011) Gender influences on the work-related stress-coping process. J Indiv Differ 32:39–46. doi: 10.1027/1614-0001/a000033 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Youssef CM, Luthans F (2007) Positive organizational behavior in the workplace—The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. J Manag 33:774–800. doi: 10.1177/0149206307305562 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section on Personality and Assessment, Department of PsychologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations