Let’s Make Work a Healthy Life Experience!

I had an idea awhile back that work could be a healthy life experience, not the exhausting and stressful experience it sometimes is for people. I had that idea as a young person working in a very dysfunctional workplace. It was a place where we saw 50% turnover each year. The math was easy. We had about 35 people working in the office and I saw 17 of them leave in the first year I was there.

What was incredulous to me was that no one with any power saw this as a problem. I had a friend at work that became the ‘toxic handler’ – a person whose door is always open to lend an ear to those who are being treated unfairly. When no one with power to change things will listen, these toxic handlers show up. That is until they burnout or leave from the strain of the toxicity, which she eventually did.

The experience got me thinking though, that ‘there had to be a better way’ and that was the impetus for my life’s work to inspire leaders to shift work culture in a positive direction.   In a positive work culture, the focus is on possibility versus constraint. As Robert Quinn describes in a new book called The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs, people flourish and generally exceed expectations in these organizations. (See https://thepositiveorganization.wordpress.com/ for more.)

A positive work culture creates the foundation for wellness and innovation. This is not just good for people, but for the organizations they serve. Creativity increases when people are not chronically over-worked. Ability to handle crises also increases, because outside of a crisis-culture (where every day is a crisis) life allows for the renewal, extra energy and capacity to handle the real crisis when it hits.

Try these ideas to get started in moving toward a positive work culture:

  1. Create a Possibility Vision

“In the face of difficulty, we can despair, get angry…or choose possibility.” – Rosamund Zander

Quinn reminds us that organizations are never stagnant, but are always becoming more negative or more positive. When yours seems to be in a downward spiral, the creation of a possibility framework or vision to live into can release people from their focus on the ‘problems’ and allow them to see the big picture. Where do you want your team or organization to be in a year? 2 years? 5 years? An excellent resource, “The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life” by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander describes the process of creating a possibility vision.

Transformational questions are useful to create this new framework and engage people in moving toward the vision. Questions like “Who are we when we are at our best?” or “What do we want our culture to be?”   Zander suggests questions like “What assumptions are we making, that we’re not aware we’re making that give us what we see?” and “What might we now invent, that we haven’t yet invented, that will give us other choices?”

  1. Invite People to Flourish

“What we believe determines what we can imagine.” – Robert Quinn

A vision of possibility is an invitation to flourish. In my early days of leading the Health Work & Wellness™ Conference, our team spent a day together crafting our mission and vision. The vision was “to see healthy organizations become ‘the expected’ versus ‘the extraordinary’.” This was a vision we believed in and could see had possibility. It inspired our work as we brought together thought-leaders each year to discuss ways to shift work cultures in a positive direction.

Inviting people to flourish means encouraging actions that increase positivity in your team. I read recently that most teams function at a positivity ration of 1:1, meaning that for every positive interaction there is a negative one. At a positivity ration this low the team will tend to languish, because the negative experiences are so much more potent than the positive. By contrast, according to Dr. Michael West, author of Effective Teamwork. Practical lessons from Organizational Research, most high-performing teams have 5.6 positive interactions to every negative one. Where the dividing line is between languishing and flourishing teams has not yet been proven, but the underlying theory that positivity increases flourishing is valid.

Barbara Fredrickson, author of “Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life” tells us that by reducing gratuitous negativity such as over-generalizing, ruminating on problems, and magnifiying setbacks, our positivity increases. Other ways of increasing team or organizational positivity include incorporating practices like appreciative inquiry, mindfulness, gratitude and meditation into the workplace. For example, starting a team meeting by asking members to share one win from the past week or something they are grateful for is a great way of boosting positivity and flourishing in your team.


Work can be a positive life experience, and where that experience exists organizations excel. Creating a possibility culture and inviting people to flourish are powerful ways to stop a downward spiral and shift your organization in a positive direction.

Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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