A new, exciting field of research is looking at our strengths – personal qualities which are admired and valued, and recognised by all cultures. It is by engaging in activities which use our signature strengths that we achieve flow, a mental state of immersion in a task. Through flow we achieve fulfilment and happiness, as well as performing at a higher level.
But what do we mean by a strength? According to researcher Martin Selgiman, a strength is a trait– a consistent feature of a person – which is not only valued in their own culture but across most world societies. This means that some traits which are valued in Western culture, such as assertiveness or wealth, are not counted in Seligman’s scheme as they are not valued in other cultures.
A strength is:
- Valued for itself – not just as a means to an end (for example, justice is seen universally as a good thing in its own right)
- What parents would want for their children
- Supported in a culture through institutions (such as schools), rituals (such as awards for valour), role models (inspiring heroes such as Gandhi for courage and justice), parables and children’s stories.
When people use strengths in virtuous actions:
- They inspire onlookers (for example when helping others)
- They experience more mental wellbeing (for example the boost to self-esteem from being courageous, or the enrichment from learning new skills, or the flow that comes from using strengths in a work task).
Seligman and his colleagues have identified 24 strengths, grouped into six main categories:
- Wisdom (including curiosity, ingenuity and critical thinking)
- Courage (including perseverance and integrity)
- Humanity and love (including kindness and generosity)
- Justice (including leadership, fairness and teamwork)
- Temperance (including self-control and discretion)
- Transcendence (including optimism, gratitude and zest)
You can identify your own signature strengths by taking the VIA test on Seligman’s website for free. The test gives you a ranking of all the strengths; your top 5 are considered your ‘signature’ strengths.
Several other tests have been devised to measure strengths. These include the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0, which does require a payment, and numerous others (visit this article for a list of options).
So how are strengths relevant to the workplace? The fact is that many employees are not as well-suited to their jobs as they could be. If job tasks are not matched to an employee’s strengths, they will struggle to work at peak performance. They won’t achieve flow, that condition in which they are fully immersed and engaged in a task.
Managers therefore might look at an employee’s duties and make some adjustments to maximise that employee’s engagement with their strengths. The result will be more experiences of flow for that employee, leading to better performance and productivity.
You can also look at the strengths of the team as a whole and reassign roles accordingly. For example, the team leader should be one whose strengths include leadership, but also fairness and justice. Employees will not respond well if a leader is seen as favouring some team members more than others, or as not judging contributions fairly. Those working face to face making sales to customers should have strengths such as social intelligence, zest, and perseverance. Those working with difficult clients should have bravery as well as discretion and self-control.
The strengths concept is also valuable in recruiting. Job applicants could be given a strengths test to see if they are suited to the job. Or successful applicants could take the test, and the results used to make modifications to their responsibilities.
So what can you expect from matching strengths to duties? As well as better performance, and therefore productivity (e.g. more sales), there are other benefits. Employees will experience more job satisfaction and better mental wellbeing, and as a result have fewer sickness absences. And just as important they will feel more valued, and therefore be more loyal to the organisation.
And this can work for anyone. As we have shown in our blogs, mental health and wellbeing fall on a continuum. So it’s not only those who are struggling at work who can benefit from the Strengths approach. Even those employees who are already doing well can get a boost from modifying their jobs to ensure they are using their strengths. This turns a productive worker into a workplace superhero: someone who achieves a lot for the company, and inspires others.
For further ideas on how to modify jobs, see our article on job crafting. This will help you to understand the ways in which companies are successfully engaging workers more and getting the most out of their most valuable resource – their people.
Let’s finish with some practical steps a manager can take.
- Ask your team to take the free VIA strengths test and work out what their strengths are.
- Discuss how to use those strengths in a modified set of job duties.
- Have a follow up chat to see how the changes are going, and how they are feeling about their job. Work together to come up with solutions to any problems.
If you’d like to learn more about mental health, you can get started with our bite-size Mental Health Awareness online course. It’s free if you use coupon code: DELPHIS-STRENGTHS on sign up.
Delphis also offers on-site mental health workshops, including our strengths-based leadership workshop, which are delivered and developed by highly educated business managers, academics and teachers. We guide companies along the path to creating mentally healthy, productive and rewarding working environments for their staff. The financial argument is compelling and caring for your employees is the right thing to do.
One major multi-national client says this about our workshops:
“Very relevant and informative with an engaging and inclusive style. Worth spending a whole day on. Loved the takeaway workbook, pretty much perfect, we need to roll out to whole company.”
Get in touch to discuss how we can provide customised mental health training for your organisation that fits your needs.