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Taking a positive approach

Positive approaches foster work and workplaces that allow all employees, work teams and organisations to thrive and reach their full potential. Positive approaches go beyond a risk-based approach to workplace mental health and wellbeing.

Part of the Creating an environment that supports thriving module.

Bringing out the positive of work

The ‘Protect’ pillar of the Blueprint for Mentally Healthy Workplaces emphasises work health and safety approaches that eliminate or reduce psychosocial hazards that may negatively impact mental health.

The ‘Respond’ pillar focuses on how workplaces can support people who are already experiencing mental ill-health and help them manage their mental health or get better.

The ‘Promote’ pillar shows that work can also have a powerful positive influence on mental health. Positive approaches to workplace mental health help people, teams and organisations reach their full potential and thrive. 

Mental health as a positive state

The World Health Organization defines positive mental health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It is a state of wellbeing in which everyone can:

  • realise their own abilities
  • cope with the normal stresses of life
  • work productively and fruitfully
  • contribute to work, family and community.

Benefits of positive approaches

Positive approaches are a valuable complement to risk-based or negatively framed approaches. In fact, research suggests workforces that experience positive mental health and wellbeing contribute to their organisation’s bottom line via higher job performance. These workers are also more likely to be self-motivated, persist in the face of challenges and setbacks, put in the extra effort to help achieve organisational goals and assist their colleagues to achieve.

People who belong to teams and organisations that readily adopt positive approaches to workplace mental health also tend to describe their workplace as having high levels of positive workplace relationships, effective team working and a supportive team environment. These people also indicate managers set a good example of a content, healthy and productive workplace and are accessible when you need them and will listen. As a result, these workers are more engaged, perform better and intend to stay longer in their role.

Positive approaches in the workplace

Positive approaches to workplace mental health involve taking a strengths-based perspective, focusing on opportunities, strengths and resources that help foster a healthy, supportive and productive workplace culture.

Put simply, these approaches aim to identify and enhance what is being done well, rather than trying to identify and fix what is ‘wrong’ in an individual, team or organisation.

These are some key positive approaches:

  • establishing positive leadership practices and treating people with dignity
  • ensuring people can find meaning and purpose at or from work
  • providing an opportunity for people to grow and develop
  • building a positive organisational climate where people feel connected and supported
  • identifying and leveraging the strengths of people and teams.

Common misconceptions about positive approaches

There are some common misconceptions about positive approaches to workplace mental health, such as being too ‘soft’ or ‘fluffy’. Or they can be equated with ‘Pollyannaishness’ and simply ‘putting on a happy face’ amid serious challenges and problems.

They can also be thought of as ‘nice to have’, rather than ‘must have’ competencies for organising and managing work and workplaces. However, these approaches are increasingly important to business performance as well as mental health.

Toxic positivity

There is a risk of ‘overplaying’ positive approaches to workplace mental health. ‘Toxic positivity’ is an excessive and distorted form of positive thinking; it attempts to put a positive spin on all experiences, no matter how dire or serious. Toxic positivity can erode team morale and trust, and adversely affect people’s mental health. It can be experienced as denying, avoiding or dismissing feelings, which in turn, increases psychological distress.

You can avoid toxic positivity by implementing positive and genuine approaches as part of an integrated strategy to improve workplace mental health. It is about striking the right balance.     

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