Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).
On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Gretchen Spreitzer, Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan about her research and teaching on thriving at work, part of the Positive Organizational Psychology scholarship.
Stew Friedman: How did you come to studying thriving at work, engaging with the work, and being productive at work?
Gretchen Spreitzer: Several colleagues and I were talking about how much we loved our work and how meaningful it was, but also that it’s the type of job that is never ending; there’s always something to be done. We wondered how we could avoid burnout, but still be on the cutting edge. What we’ve found is that people thrive in their work when they feel energized, have vitality, feel alive at work, and feel as though their learning, growing, getting better.
SF: So what’s the impediment to this? Why doesn’t everyone feel energized and alive at work?
GS: People tend to learn from difficult situations; a crisis jolts people out of their complacency. And it propels people to do better. We took the opposite tact. We wondered What about when there’s no crisis? How can we be pro-active? How can people pro-actively manage rather than wait for a crisis? How can we learn to turn on a light bulb to help people get more out of work and life?
SF: So what’s the key? How can people take control and pro-actively find ways to thrive at home and work?
GS: We designed a study that asked people to report incidents when they are thriving at work and report when they feel they’re thriving outside of work. We found that those two correlated. When I’m thriving at work I’m doing things that create energy, not deplete energy. When they finished their day and went on to other activities, they had energy.
SF: It’s what social psychologists call “positive spillover” from one life domain to another. Feelings from one domain spillover to other domains; it’s not an either/or, it’s not a zero sum game. It’s possible to have both, indeed it may be likely.
GS: We call it a “virtuous cycle.” It produce more resources rather than using up resources.
SF: Have you found that people in business are open to this idea that they can feel vitality at home and at work, or are they skeptical?
GS: Many people say they want that, but that they have too many other pressures and constraints that prevent them from making changes.
SF: They feel trapped, they feel as though they can’t make changes, that they can’t control their circumstances. What can they do?
GS: With Jane Dutton I’ve written How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact. We encourage people to figure out what small steps they can take to kick start a change in the right direction.
SF: This is similar to the Total Leadership approach I started at Ford Motor Company in the late 1990s. We asked people to experiment with things that were under their control to create demonstrable and measurable change at work, at home, in the community and for their private self; what I call four way wins. And in doing this weekly radio show I hear the same thing each week from CEOs, practitioners, researchers. So why don’t more people do this?
GS: We are kindred spirits. My point of view is that we need to look for the psychological pre-conditions that allow people to feel empowered, not the external factors. Self-empowerment includes four things: a sense of meaning or purpose in their job — a personal connection, a sense of competence, self-determination or autonomy, and impact. Being self-empowered is not about whether they are in an empowering situation. An individual can feel self-empowered by finding ways to have meaning and purpose, for example helping customers or having strong connections at work.
SF: It’s relatively easy for us professors. We have comparative freedom and resources. What about others?
GS: Everyone can do this. Our Center for Positive Organizations has developed a Job Crafting Tool. It helps you figure out what are the parts of your job where you can still do the core work, but where you can make subtle changes, for instance in how, how frequently, or with whom you do different tasks. For example, how can a cook craft a job so it’s more meaningful, more energizing? What small changes around the edges can be made while still doing the core work? Maybe you can design a presentation on the plate so it’s more creative. The tool takes you through the process to find levers to make small changes even if you have little autonomy.
SF: What’s your advice for leaders in organizations, for managers, for small business owners? How can they help to create an environment that supports and supports self-empowerment?
GS: If you are a leader you can be proactive, take the initiative, be transparent, minimize incivility in order to enhance high quality connections, provide performance feedback, and play to your own strengths. If you are striving to be the best you, you are likely to thrive at work and elsewhere.
Gretchen Spreitzer is the Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on employee empowerment and leadership development, particularly within a context of organizational change and decline. Her most recent research examines how organizations can enable thriving. This is part of a new movement in the field of organizational behavior, known as Positive Organizational Scholarship (www.bus.umich.edu/positive). To learn more, go to http://howtobeapositiveleader.com/.