Positive psychology

Recent field of psychology (1998) that is dedicated to the study of optimal human functioning. It is a dynamic field that is the focus of numerous scientific studies on what promotes health, well-being, and performance. The main subjects of studies are for example: positive emotions and gratitude, the meaning of life and the commitment towards a goal, healthy relationships, empathy, motivation, satisfaction, the optimal experience (flow), hope and optimism, resilience, the mindfulness.

What positive psychology is not…

“Positive psychology must not be confused with a naive psychology that would negate any feelings of blues and concerns. (…) It is therefore not a Coué method of self-persuasion according to which “everything is for the best in the best of worlds”

Jacques Lecomte (dir.) (2009). Introduction à la psychologie positive, Paris, Dunod

Not to be confused with positive thinking!

Positive psychology is not about “putting on rose colored glasses” it does not deny challenges and problems, it studies the determinants of human satisfaction. How to develop a life full of meaning and potential? What makes people who are well, well? What makes people who perform well, perform well? By which mechanisms do people overcome challenges, reinforce themselves?



The neurosciences are the scientific studies of the nervous system, its structure and mode of functioning, from the molecular level up to the organs, such as the brain, or even of the entire body.

Originally emerging as a branch of biology, the neurosciences have rapidly evolved toward a more interdisciplinary status that is today at the crossroads of biology, science, medicine, psychology, chemistry, IT and mathematics.

One of the great discoveries in neuroscience is cerebral neuroplasticity: The brain structure evolves beyond the effects of age and pathology. This means that the brain can transform at any age and that it is capable of recreating “circuits of communication” (particularly after a lesion). For example, some research shows that a training of mindfulness allows the modification of both the structure of the brain and its functioning.

The cognitive neurosciences aliment research in positive psychology. They study topics such as vigilance, attention, motivation, decision-making, emotions, memory, empathy and use the cerebral imagery.
The research studies for example the role of emotions in the decision-making process that are supposed to be “rational” (as e.g. the buys and sells on the stock exchange) showing that the areas of the brain associated with pleasure or suffering are active during the process.



Mindfulness is about intentionally focusing your attention on the present moment without judgment.
“It is not about “emptying” the spirit but noticing how well it is filled.”
Jon Kabat Zinn

Meditation is first and foremost a training of the spirit, a way of going “against the current” and opposed to the over solicitation of our brains, a practice where we take time for ourselves in these “connected” times where everything goes so fast…
“We cannot stop the waves but you can learn to surf”
Jon Kabat Zinn

Even if meditation is a several thousand years old spiritual practice, it can be practiced outside of any religion, as is the case of the programs proposed for companies.

Other points of view on meditation…

• Meditation has the same root as medicine “Med” and can be designated as a “participatory medicine” that allows you to mobilize your own resources.
• The calligraphy for “mindfulness” in Chinese is composed of “the present moment” and “the heart”, therefore it would mean the presence and the fullness of the heart, ” mindfulness” in Chinese can be referred to as ” heartfulness”…
• The Sanskrit and Tibetan terms for meditation are “to grow” and “to familiarize yourself”. Meditation is about familiarizing yourself with a clear and fair vision of things, and to cultivate the dormant qualities as long as we do not make the effort to awaken and to develop them… Each of us has in him or herself the necessary potential to be free of mental states that produce suffering and dissatisfaction, both to ourselves and to those around us, and to find more inner peace while contributing to the happiness of others”.
(Sébastien Henry, Ces décideurs qui méditent et s’engagent, Dunod 2014)
“Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find
A thousand regions in your mind, yet undiscovered
Travel them, and be expert in home-cosmography.”
(Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)


Quality of Work Life (QWL) and well-being at work

The QWL concept has no single and official definition in France. The models come mainly from Northern Europe and research from Anglo-Saxon countries. This term first appeared in France in the 1970s, in response to a strong social demand encouraged by political influence. It aimed to develop innovative organizational methods capable of combining efficiency and interest in your job. At the time, the objective was to improve both the professional satisfaction of employees and companies’ performances.
The QWL coexists with other close concepts such as well-being at work, better-being at work…

Different visions of the QWL:

According to the ANACT there are 6 key determining QWL factors:
• The social and work relationships,
• The work content,
• The physical work environment,
• The work organization,
• The professional development and satisfaction,
• The work/life balance.

According to social partners (a June 2012 synthesis document prior to the (QWL) agreement of June 2013):

“The notion of the quality of life at work consists of multiple elements, related part to each of the employees, but also closely related to objective items that structure the company. It may be perceived as a feeling of individual and group well-being at work that incorporates the atmosphere, the company culture, the interests of the job, engagement, equality, the right for everyone to make a mistake, and a recognition and valorization of the completed work. The quality of work life describes the recurrent themes, addressing in particular work organizations allowing to reconcile the improvement of the working conditions for employees and the overall company performance.”

According to the European Commission: the 10 objectives for the quality of work life are (2000 Lisbon Summits, Laeken 2001):
• Satisfaction of workers vis-a-vis their job
• Education and training throughout life
• Equality between women and men
• Non-discrimination
• Reduction of work accidents, occupational diseases and stress
• Support for professional and geographical mobility
• Integration of the youth and of long-term unemployed people
• Work/life balance
• Social dialogue and participation of workers in the company’s life
• Improved productivity and standard of living.

These quality of work life objectives completed in 2002 as part of the European Commission for European Health and Work Safety strategy which aims at the “development of a culture of prevention and a global approach to well-being at work”. Far from opposing to the competitiveness of companies, the quality of work life is, on the contrary, essential for sustainable development and innovation.

According to the Professors Martel and Dupuis from the University of Quebec in Montreal: “Quality of work life, at a given time, corresponds to the condition of an individual in his or her dynamic pursuit of his or her hierarchically organized goals within work domains where the reduction of the gap separating the individual from these goals is reflected by a positive impact on the individual’s general quality of life, organizational performance, and consequently to the overall functioning of society.”

This definition is in line with the quality of life.
It focuses on the personal expectations that we find in the definition of qualitý of life by the WHO. The quality of life is defined by the WHO (World Health Organization) in 1994 as being “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns. It is a broad ranging concept affected in a complex way by the person’s physical health, psychological state, personal beliefs, social relationships and their relationship to salient features of their environment.”
It is interesting to note that the WHO had already defined in 1946 health as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or disability”. Not being sick or being disabled is not a sufficient and necessary condition for being in good health or having of satisfactory quality of life. This definition of health is a common basis for many of the stakeholders, in the majority of the texts and agreements on the QWL and health at work (in the general sense).


The legend of the Hummingbird

Amerindian legend, narrated by Pierre Rabhi, the founder of the Movement of the Hummingbird:

One day, said the legend, there was a huge forest fire.
All of the animals were terrified, grounded, they watched the disaster powerless.
Only the small hummingbird did something, to get a few drops of water with its beak to throw on the fire. After a moment, the armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous agitation, said to him: “Hummingbird! Are you crazy? It is not with a few drops of water that you’ll extinguish the fire!”
And the hummingbird answered: “I know, but I do my part”.


Psychosocial risks (PSR)

Definition of psychosocial risks (PSR):
(Source : site of the ANACT, National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions)

According to the services of the Ministry of Labor, the psychosocial risks cover in reality occupational risks of a varied nature and origin that involve the physical integrity and the mental health of employees and, therefore have an impact on the overall functioning of companies. They are called “psycho-social” because they are at the interface of the individual (the “psycho”) and his or her work situation”.

The (PSR) are therefore a multifaceted phenomenon in which we generally regroup work related chronic stress, bullying, sexual harassment, assault and violence, internal or external to the company, and the burnout syndrome.

However, no legal definition for these risks exists. Instead, European and national agreements propose definitions for stress, harassment and violence. The European Agency for health and work security from Bilbao wrote that “a state of stress occurs when there is imbalance between the perception that a person has of the constraints imposed by his or her environment and the perception that he or she has of his or her own resources to cope.”

The multi-factorial risks
(Source : site Work better of the French Ministry of Labor)

If everyone agrees that several factors drive the PSRs that characterize both the organization of the work and the inter-individual relationships, it is important to remember that PSRs are known and highlighted by a vast scientific literature. They can be grouped into 4 large families of factors:
• The work requirements and its organization: autonomy in the work place, degree of requirements in terms of quality and deadline, vigilance and concentration required, contradictory orders;
• The management and work relationships: nature and quality of the relationships with colleagues, managers, recognition, compensation, organizational fairness;
• The development of the work/life balance, ethical conflicts, new technologies, employment insecurity, restructuring…;
• The changes at work: conception of change, new technologies, employment insecurity, restructuring…


Prevention of psychosocial risks

It is also important to highlight the subjective nature of psychosocial risks that fall within the perception specific to each individual.
However, this does not prevent the assessment, nor a measurement with appropriate tools, in order to take steps for prevention, and to follow the evolution of the psychosocial risks over time.

There are 3 levels of prevention of psychosocial risks: primary prevention, secondary prevention and tertiary prevention.

Primary prevention: “to prevent” the risks by acting early and directly on the causes.
It is about prevention in the proper sense of the term since it takes place at the source, to remove or reduce the risk factors. In terms of psychosocial risks, primary prevention deals with organization of the work, management and managerial styles, companies’ operating models, and work conditions. This type of prevention is the one to be privileged as much as possible in companies’ action plans.

Secondary prevention:
“to manage” the risks that cannot be removed.
This prevention is about reducing infringements on the health of employees by teaching them to manage stressful situations, and to manage their own stress. As we cannot eliminate all risks, we train the employees in order to limit the impacts on their health.
An example of secondary prevention is: training employees that are in contact with the public on how to manage and handle aggressive behavior. The risk of verbal abuse is increasing and it is important to minimize the negative effects on employees by teaching them how to manage these situations. This does not rule out of course analyzing the sources of dissatisfaction of customers who are at the origin of the verbal assaults in order to act at the primary prevention level.

Tertiary prevention: “to deal with”, act in a curative perspective when the damage has already taken place.
Tertiary prevention consists of assisting employees that are in difficulty, it has a curative dimension, and we repair the damages. For example, it could be the implementation of a psychological support unit following a violent work place attack, or the suicide of an employee.



(Source : « Mieux vivre en entreprise », P. Angel, P. Amar, MJ Gava, Brigitte Vaudolon, Dunod 2010)

Burn-out was first identified in the health care sector (doctors, nurses).
It usually occurs after an important personal and emotional investment, when this investment becomes too heavy to handle. People threatened by burn-out are often too demanding vis-a-vis themselves and their entourage.

Burn-out comprises three phases:
• A sense of emotional exhaustion: impression of being “emptied”, to have “burned through your reserves”
• A strong depersonalization: decline in self-esteem, isolation, impression to no longer meet professional expectations
• A feeling of deterioration of personal accomplishment at work



(Source : « Mieux vivre en entreprise », P. Angel, P. Amar, MJ Gava, Brigitte Vaudolon, Dunod 2010)

The father of the modern stress, Selye (1907-1982), defines it “as a response of the body to adapt to all of the demands of its environment”; therefore stress is a natural reaction of adaptation, but potentially a source of disruption if it is too intense or frequent.

The Lazarus model (1984) defines stress as an imbalance between the demands of the environment and the resources of the individual. The diagnostic that the person makes of the situation, and the perception of the usable resources plays a key role here, regardless of the event.

Karaseck (1979) particularly insisted on three dimensions of health at work: the requirements of the tasks, the ability to make your own decision, and the social support of the colleagues and of the hierarchy.

Beyond the specificities of each model, the studies about stress at work involve three types of components:
• The stress factors or stressors
• The person and his or her management of the stress
• The observable consequences of the stress from where we derive prevention proposals.


The Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

(Source : « Développer le bien-être au travail », P. Angel, P. Amar, MJ Gava, Brigitte Vaudolon, Dunod 2005)

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a resource put in place by the company that provides the employees and their near family with, anonymous and confidential psychological help including evaluation, advice, information and psychological support. The EAPs were launched in the United States in the 1930s in industries sensitive to the well-being and the health of their employees. Today almost 90% of major U.S. companies benefit from an EAP.

The operating principle of EAPs are:
• A limited follow-up in terms of the number of interviews. The Counselors prefer brief therapy and coaching approaches: they help the employee identify, assess the issue he or she is facing, and put into place an action plan. The EAP is oriented on problem solving.
• The respect of anonymity: the names of the employees calling the EAPs are not communicated to the company. Only a statistical reporting is provided.
• A free access to the service for the employee: the cost of the service is covered by the company.

The results of an EAP:
• The return on investment ratios listed in the American studies ranged from $3 to $15 for $1 invested.
• Among the main results observed: a decrease in absenteeism, work accidents, conflicts.



Coaching is custom made guidance to help a manager fully mobilize his or her resources, bring about his or her own solutions, and reveal his or her talent.

For Be Positive, coaching is also:
• An opportunity to better know yourself, to discover or rediscover your talents, to trust yourself
• A time for yourself, a window of reflection in a dense professional life
• A valuable “step back” from a world that is going faster and faster
• An outside professional for a “pause”, an analysis of situations, and help with decisions
• A mirror to see how you operate
• A rear view mirror to be aware of the “blind spots”
• The possibility to work on yourself in a secure environment
• A unique human adventure, result of a co-construction
• A commitment in an intense relationship, limited in time


Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

«The Appreciative Inquiry» is a change management method that came to light at the end of the 1980s in the United States, then largely grew from 1990 to now to spread across five continents…

The Appreciative Inquiry focuses on successes, the achievements and the positive energy of the company, according to a precise methodology. In this sense, it is a step change from the traditional approach through problem solving which aims to remove a problem in order to search for the reasons of success in order to reach a successful state. This core success is the energising and inspiring support for the elaboration of new projects.

« Appreciate » : Value, respect, show appreciation, recognise the best around us, recognise the strengths, the successes and the potential, perceive what contributes to life (health, vitality, energy, excellence…)

« Inquiry » : Explore, discover, ask questions, study, research…

Jean Pagès « Le coaching avec la méthode Appreciative Inquiry – Conduire le changement en s’appuyant sur les réussites » Eyrolles 2014