Skip to main content

A Test of Two Positive Psychology Interventions to Increase Employee Well-Being

Abstract

Purpose

Despite an abundance of organizational research on how contextual and individual difference factors impact well-being, little research has examined whether individuals themselves can take an active role in enhancing their own well-being. The current study assessed the effectiveness of two simple, self-guided workplace interventions (“gratitude” and “social connectedness”) in impacting well-being.

Design/Methodology/Approach

Sixty-seven university employees participated in one of the two self-guided interventions for 2 weeks and completed self-report measures prior to the intervention, immediately following the intervention, and one-month post-intervention. Growth curve modeling was used to examine the effects of each intervention.

Findings

Partially supporting hypotheses, the gratitude intervention resulted in significant increases in positive affective well-being and self-reported gratitude but not did significantly impact negative affective well-being or self-reported social connectedness. The social connectedness exercise did not significantly impact any of those four outcomes. However, both interventions related to a reduction in workplace absence due to illness.

Implications

The study suggests that self-guided, positive psychology interventions (particularly gratitude) hold potential for enhancing employee well-being. Because the interventions are short, simple, and self-guided, there is little in the way of costs or drawbacks for organizations. Thus, these types of interventions seem like a potentially useful component of workplace wellness initiatives.

Originality/Value

This study is one of the few to examine whether self-guided, positive psychology interventions can enhance well-being. Moreover, this is the first study to examine a social connectedness workplace intervention and the first to demonstrate effects on illness-related absence.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    We also conducted all of the analyses coding time as 0, 1, 2 (instead of number of weeks into study). The conclusions from the two sets of analyses were identical. We also examined potential nonlinear effects, but they were not statistically significant.

References

  1. Adler, M. G., & Fagley, N. S. (2005). Appreciation: individual differences in finding value and meaning as a unique predictor of subjective well-being. Journal of Personality, 73, 79–114.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Allen, D. G., Renn, R. W., & Griffeth, R. W. (2003). The impact of telecommuting design on social systems, self-regulation, and role boundaries. Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management, 22, 125–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. American Psychological Association. (2007). Stress in America. Retrieved from www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx. Accessed 3 May 2013.

  4. Basch, J., & Fisher, C. D. (2000). Affective events-emotions matrix: A classification of work events and associated emotions. In N. M. Ashkanasy, D. E. J. Hartel, & W. J. Zerbe (Eds.), Emotions in the workplace: Research, theory, and practice (pp. 36–48). Westport: Quorum Books.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Berg, J. M., Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2010). Perceiving and responding to challenges in job crafting at different ranks: When proactivity requires adaptivity. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 158–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bolger, N., DeLongis, A., Kessler, R. C., & Schilling, E. A. (1989). Effects of daily stress on negative mood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 808–818.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G. J., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health, 13, 119.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the food society. In M. H. Appley (Ed.), Adaptation level theory (pp. 287–305). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Burton, C. M., & King, L. A. (2004). The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 150–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Campion, M. A., & McClelland, C. L. (1993). Follow-up and extension of the interdisciplinary costs and benefits of enlarged jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 339–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Chiaburu, D. S., & Harrison, D. A. (2008). Do peers make the place? Conceptual synthesis and meta-analysis of coworker effects on perceptions, attitudes, OCBs, and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1082–1103.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dimotakis, N., Scott, B. A., & Koopman, J. (2011). An experience sampling investigation of workplace interactions, affective states, and employee well-being. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 572–588.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (Eds.). (2004). The psychology of gratitude. USA: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Eysenbach, G. (2005). The law of attrition. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 7(1). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1550631/. Accessed 3 May 2013.

  17. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Fisher, C. D. (2010). Happiness at work. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12, 384–412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Froh, J. J., Yurkewicz, C., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Gratitude and subjective well-being in early adolescents: Examining gender differences. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 633–640.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Geraghty, A. W. A., Wood, A. M., & Hyland, M. E. (2010). Dissociating the facets of hope: Agency and pathways predict dropout from unguided self-help therapy in opposite directions. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 155–158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 250–279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Halbesleben, J. R. B. (2006). Sources of social support and burnout: a meta-analytic test of the conservation of resources model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 1134–1145.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Harris, A. H. S. (2006). Does expressive writing reduce health care utilization? A meta-analysis of randomized trials. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 243–252.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Keyes, C. L. (2003). Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes: A review of the Gallup studies. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: The positive person and the good life (pp. 205–224). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hurley, D. B., & Kwon, P. (2012). Results of a study to increase savoring the moment: differential impact on positive and negative outcomes. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 579–588.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Lee, R. M., & Robbins, S. B. (1995). Measuring belongingness: The social connectedness and the social assurance scales. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 232–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Lyubomirsky, S., & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 57–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Lyubomirsky, S., & Ross, L. (1997). Hedonic consequences of social comparison: a contrast of happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1141–1157.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005a). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803–855.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005b). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. MacKinnon, D. P. (2008). Introduction to statistical mediation analysis. New York: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  33. McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112–127.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Meyers, C., van Woerkom, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2013). The added value of the positive: A literature review of positive psychology interventions in organizations. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.

  35. Myers, D. G. (2000). The funds, friends, and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55, 56–67.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Raudenbush, S. W., Bryk, A. S., & Congdon, R. (2004). HLM 6 for Windows (Computer software). Lincolnwood, IL: Scientific Software International.

  37. Ray, R. L., & Rizzacasa, T. (2012). Job Satisfaction: 2012 Edition (No. TCB_R-1495-12-RR). The Conference Board, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.conference-board.org/publications/publicationdetail.cfm?publicationid=2258. Accessed 3 May 2013.

  38. Reis, H. T., Sheldon, K. M., Gable, S. L., Roscoe, J., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Daily well-being: The role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 419–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Roethlisberger, F. J., & Dickson, W. J. (1939). Management and the worker: an account of a research program conducted by the Western Electric Company. Chicago: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Sarbaugh-Thompson, M., & Feldman, M. S. (1998). Electronic mail and organizational communication: does saying “hi” really matter? Organization Science, 9, 685–698.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Seligman, M. E. P., Rashid, T., & Parks, A. C. (2006). Positive psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 61, 774–788.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1999). Goal striving, need satisfaction, and longitudinal well-being: the self-concordance model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 482.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: Change your actions, not your circumstances. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 55–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Is it possible to become happier? (and if so, how?). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 129–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Sheldon, K. M., Kasser, T., Smith, K., & Share, T. (2002). Personal goals and psychological growth: Testing an intervention to enhance goal attainment and personality integration. Journal of Personality, 70, 5–31.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: a practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65, 467–487.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193–210.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Thoresen, C. J., Kaplan, S. A., Barsky, A. P., Warren, C. R., & de Chermont, K. (2003). The affective underpinnings of job perceptions and attitudes: A meta-analytic review and integration. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 914–945.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Van Katwyk, P. T., Fox, S., Spector, P. E., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000). Using the job-related affective well-being scale (JAWS) to investigate affective responses to work stressors. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 219–230.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Warr, P. (2007). Work, happiness, and unhappiness. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Watkins, P. C. (2004). Gratitude and subjective well-being. In R. A. Emmons & M. E. McCullough (Eds.), Psychology of gratitude (pp. 167–194). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  53. Watson, D. (2000). Mood and temperament. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., McIntyre, C. W., & Hamaker, S. (1992). Affect, personality, and social activity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 1011.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Weiss, H. M. (2002). Deconstructing job satisfaction: Separating evaluations, beliefs and affective experiences. Human Resource Management Review, 12, 173–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Westermann, R., Spies, K., Stahl, G., & Hesse, F. W. (1996). Relative effectiveness and validity of mood induction procedures: A meta-analysis. European Journal of Social Psychology, 26, 557–580.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 890–905.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Maltby, J. (2008). Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the five factor model. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 49–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. The Academy of Management Review, 26, 179–201.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Seth Kaplan.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Intervention instructions presented via e-mailed slide presentations

Social Connectedness Intervention Instructions

  • We would like you to increase your social ties with your coworkers. We are going to provide different strategies to do this.

  • Log in 3 times a week (you can choose which days you want to log in) and try to do the different strategies 3 times a week.

  • You can do the same thing three times or choose different ones each time.

  • Do the activity for 2 weeks beginning NEXT Monday or the first day you will return to work.

Sample Strategies to Increase Social Ties

  1. 1.

    Instead of e-mailing someone, call him or her or go to his or her desk to discuss the topic you were going to e-mail about.

  2. 2.

    Do something social outside of work hours with a coworker (e.g., go to dinner, happy hour, and the gym).

  3. 3.

    Do something social during work hours with a coworker (e.g., get coffee, go for a walk, and take a lunch break together).

  4. 4.

    Talk with one coworker who you do not normally talk to (e.g., could be work related or not work related).

  5. 5.

    Start or join a team or group activity with your coworkers (e.g., softball team, kickball team, book club, and road race).

  6. 6.

    Ask around to see whether you live close enough that you could commute to work with a coworker (carpool or take the public transportation together).

  7. 7.

    Plan or attend a group activity for your coworkers after work (e.g., a baseball game and happy hour).

Gratitude Intervention Instructions

  • We would like you to think about the many things in your job/work, both large and small, for which you are grateful. These might include supportive work relationships, sacrifices, or contributions that others have made for you, advantages or opportunities at work, or thankfulness for the opportunity to have your job in general. Try to think of new ideas that you have not focused on in the past.

  • You will log into the Web site we provide and list things about your job for which you are grateful on three days for each of the next 2 weeks (you can choose which days you want to log in).

  • Do this for 2 weeks beginning NEXT Monday or the first day you will return to work.

Appendix 2: Study Measures

For all measures, participants reported their well-being (on the measure below) “over the past 30 days,” “over the past 2 weeks,” and “over the past 30 days,” at the first, second, and third survey administrations, respectively.

Gratitude Measure

Indicate to what extent you generally have felt this way at work.

  1. 1.

    Grateful

  2. 2.

    Thankful

  3. 3.

    Appreciative

Social Connectedness Measure

  1. 1.

    I feel disconnected from the world around me at work (R)

  2. 2.

    I feel so distant from people at my job (R)

  3. 3.

    I have no sense of togetherness with my work peers (R)

  4. 4.

    I don’t feel I participate with anyone or any group at work (R)

Job-Related Affective Well-Being Measure (Positive Affect Items)

My job made me feel…

At ease, Calm, Content, Elated, Excited, Enthusiastic, Happy, Inspired, Pleased, Satisfied, Cheerful, Energetic, Ecstatic, Proud, Relaxed.

Job-Related Affective Well-Being Measure (Negative Affect Items)

My job made me feel…

Annoyed, Bored, Disgusted, Frustrated, Gloomy, Angry, Anxious, Confused, Depressed, Discouraged, Frightened, Furious, Fatigued, Intimidated, Miserable.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kaplan, S., Bradley-Geist, J.C., Ahmad, A. et al. A Test of Two Positive Psychology Interventions to Increase Employee Well-Being. J Bus Psychol 29, 367–380 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-013-9319-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Positive psychology
  • Intervention
  • Workplace well-being
  • Gratitude
  • Social connectedness
  • Affect