Table of Contents

  • It is difficult to understand the factors that create health, balance and meaningful lives through studying sickness, dissatisfaction and suffering (Snyder & Lopez, 2007). Research on work and organizational psychology has been occupied primarily with the strains experienced in the workplace, e.g. stress, burnout, sick leave, turnover, and negative health symptoms. This research hopefully will contribute towards interventions aimed at the prevention of negative events at work, and therefore be of significance for future research. In the previous five years there have been increasing demands for an equivalent focus on the positive factors at work, namely those leading to job satisfaction, engagement, good health, and productivity. A central hypothesis in this research is that job satisfaction, engagement and good health are not simply the opposite of dissatisfaction, burnout and ill health. If one wants to create a good and healthy work environment it is not sufficient just to remove the negative aspects or reduce the workload, one also will have to add something positive. This is also underlined by the global tendencies in work life, where there are constantly increasing demands and changes affecting workers, leading to new challenges and increasing job insecurity, which in turn may have negative impacts on workers’ health. It is not realistic simply to stake a lot on reducing the demands at work. Changes and job insecurity also seem likely to be an ever present feature of our work environment in the future. However, there seem to be good opportunities for different positive factors at work to modify the negative impacts through various positive mechanisms. There has been a need for a corresponding positive change of focus in psychological research. The main aim of the present project, ‘Positive factors at work’, is to develop theory and methods concerning positive factors at work adapted to Scandinavian working conditions. The project started in January of 2006 and is planned to have duration of three years. The project is cooperation between researchers from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Our aims in this report are to give an overview of existing Nordic projects focusing on positive factors, both theoretically and methodologically, and to build a theoretical model for studying positive factors at work. In the second year of the project our aims are to show the psychometric validity of the chosen positive constructs in Nordic data sets and to develop a Nordic standard for the investigation of positive factors in the context of work. In the third year our goal is to carry out a pilot study in at least one of the Nordic countries based on the project’s previous findings.

  • The report is based on the project ‘Positive factors at work’ financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The project is a joint venture project between the Nordic countries of Norway (Department of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology; The Norwegian Business School), Sweden (Department of Psychology at the University of Stockholm), Denmark (The National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark), and Finland (The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health).

  • What is positive psychology? Why is there a need for positive psychology? Psychological research has always been mainly occupied with negative subjects such as pathology and treatment of illnesses. There are several explanations for this focus. One is that negative emotions require more urgent attention compared to positive emotions, and according to evolutionary scientists, make more sense in relation to immediate action when faced with danger. History also reveals some explanations for this negative focus. In the past, when societies faced military threats, poverty, and instability, they would focus on how to defend themselves and limit the damage (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). When Martin Seligman became President of The American Psychological Association (APA) in 1998, he introduced the concept of ‘positive psychology’, a science containing three pillars: positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Positive psychology turns the negative focus in psychology around to look at what makes people flourish and function optimally (Gable & Haidt, 2005). The Journal of Positive Psychology gives the following definition of positive psychology: ‘Positive psychology is about scientifically formed perspectives on what makes life worth living. It focuses on aspects of the human condition that lead to happiness, fulfilment and flourishing (Linley, Joseph, Harrington & Wood, 2006, p. 5).

  • The purpose of the study was to investigate the association between resources of the workplace and health, retention, sick leave, and the quality of care in municipal long-term care for the elderly.

  • The recent calls for ‘Positive Organizational Behavior’ (Luthans, 2002) and for ‘Positive Organizational Scholarship’ (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003) are, firstly, based on the observation that there has been a strong negative bias in psychological research. The ratio of scientific publications on positive states versus negative states has been 1:14 (Myers, 2000). Thus, it is apparent that there is a clear gap in the knowledge of positive factors and their consequences for human flourishing. Secondly, it has been found that positive and negative affect are not totally independent, bipolar constructs (Tellegen, Watson, & Clark, 1999). In addition, positive and negative emotions may have different functions and consequences (Fredrickson, 2001). Similarly, burnout (an indicator of chronic not well-being) and work engagement (true well-being) have been found to be negatively associated, but also partly independent phenomena, with partially different predictors and consequences (e.g. Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Roma, & Bakker, 2002; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004; Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006). As another example, not being an optimist does not necessarily imply that one is a pessimist. Hence, investigating positive factors is expected to widen our understanding of the factors promoting well-being and other positive outcomes. In order to foster employees’ well-being and health, as well as the success of modern organizations, it is salient to widen the focus of research from risk factors and negative symptoms and consequences to what really promotes good health, motivation, long-term health, and good performance at work.