The PERMA model: Strategies for promoting workplace flourishing

By: Natasha Kenny, Director, Educational Development Unit, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Workplace happiness and well-being have received increasing attention, as organizations strive to address the challenges associated with employee stress and burnout. Universities are dedicated to creating positive workplace cultures that support the well-being of the faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral scholars. However, we are not immune to the obstacles that organizations across the globe are facing. The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy communicates the institution’s vision for creating a caring community that helps all individuals thrive and realize their potential. I hold a strong commitment to promoting mental health and well-being, and intentionally strive to ensure that the faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral scholars I lead and collaborate with are able to flourish in their roles.

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor acknowledges that it takes ongoing work and practice to sustain our well-being and happiness. Based on my personal and leadership experiences, I could not agree more.  What motivates me most are the many benefits that employee happiness and well-being bring, including: enhanced individual and organization learning, problem solving and creativity; improved social relationships; better workplace performance and productivity; decreased susceptibility to burnout, absenteeism and turnover; increased job satisfaction; and higher rates of organizational citizenship and community volunteerism (Fredrickson, 1998; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).

Happiness and well-being are complex, dynamic and multi-faceted (Forgeared et al., 2011). The PERMA ‘flourishing’ model (Seligman, 2012) is an accessible framework for promoting workplace well-being.  The framework presents five facets:

  • Positive Emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Building upon the work of Oades et al. (2011) and Slavin (2012), I have intentionally integrated this framework in my leadership and personal practices. Table 1 contains descriptions of the facets and some examples of how I have put PERMA to work for me.

Table 1: A framework for using PERMA to promote workplace flourishing (Oades, 2011; Slavin, 2012, Seligman, 2012)

Seligman’s (2012) PERMA model: Description of the 5 facets for flourishing   Recommendations for promoting flourishing What do I do to support myself in this area? What do I do to support others in this area?
Positive Emotions: feeling joy, hope and contentment   reduce stressors, promote positive coping & resilience   Established a self-care plan: I need 8 hours sleep, daily mindfulness and physical activity, 1 full day off a week, and dinner with my family in order to cope with the stressors in my life. Normalize help seeking in meetings with staff, set clear expectations on work hours by not sending work-related emails on weekends and in evenings, be aware of the language I use, focus on a solution-focussed discourse of hope
Engagement: feeling attached, involved and an ability to concentrate on activities   create meaningful opportunities to draw on strengths & interests   Jump on opportunities that are of intrinsic interest to me, such as helping with the campus mental health strategy Establish strength-based goal setting and leadership practices.  Ensure faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars have regular opportunities to identify the projects and goals that they are working  on that build on their strengths and interests.
Relationships: feeling connected, supported and cared about   promote opportunities for collaboration & interaction within & amongst teams   Eat my lunch with staff in the lunch room at least 3 times/week. Hold walking or lunch meetings to connect more deeply with staff. Establish an ethos of holding “active meetings” that provide intentional opportunities for staff to connect and interact with each other. Take time in gatherings to acknowledge and appreciate where and how positive partnerships and collaborations have occurred. End each monthly update meeting with the following question: “How can I be of further support?”
Meaning: feeling valued and connected to something greater than self   connect to purpose & promote reflection   Reflect regularly on the following question: How does my work connect to the greater whole?  What difference am I making? Update my educational development philosophy statement and portfolio annually to reflect upon where and how I am making a difference. Establish clear unit priorities and goals. Provide regular opportunities for staff to reflect on: What difference are we making? How do we know?
Achievement: progressing towards goals, feeling capable and a sense of accomplishment     provide autonomy & celebrate success   Establish clear annual goals, and document my progress towards these goals monthly. Document and give voice to accomplishments by sending emails to acknowledge and explicitly name where and how success has occurred. Take a coach-approach to leadership that helps others develop solutions on their own.

There is no easy solution to helping ourselves and others thrive. We each must find a path that aligns with our ethos of life and practice. Often relatively simple actions can make a big difference.  Seligman’s PERMA framework provides an accessible tool for reflecting upon and establishing practices to help ourselves and others thrive. I encourage you to reflect on the descriptions, recommendations and questions presented in Table 1 and see if this framework works for you.

References:

Achor, S. (2011). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. Random House.

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What Good Are Positive Emotions? Review of General Psychology : Journal of Division 1, of the American Psychological Association, 2(3), 300–319.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131 (6), 803-855.

Oedes et al. (2011).  Towards a positive university.  The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(6), 432-439.

Seligman, M. (2012).  Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Atria books.

Slavin et al. 2012. PERMA: a model for institutional leadership and cultural change. Academic Medicine. 87, 1481.

2 Comments

  1. Great suggestions Natasha! I like the PERMA model – easy to remember and a great reflection tool. Under “meaning” I would include my daily mindfulness meditation practice – I think that is the one thing – along with loving relationships – that helps keep me sane 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • I could not agree more Rachael! I look forward to you sharing your expertise via this blog series! Is there a link to a mindfulness resource page that you could provide us?

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