The evolving nature of human resource management and the shift toward positive psychology

The evolving nature of human resource management and the shift toward positive psychology

 Outstanding people search

by Alexa Thompson

The Evolving Nature of Human Resource Management and the Shift Toward Positive Psychology

Over the past century, the general perspective on the average employee’s role in an organization has evolved dramatically. For decades, management’s attempts to increase productivity in employees mainly consisted of pushing harder, mandating longer hours and limiting pay as much as possible. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, however, studies increasingly found that employees worked more intelligently and profits increased when workers were recognized for their individuality and treated as important resources for a company’s success. Soon, the field of human resources developed into a necessity for every major company and most small companies as well, and employee psychology began to be viewed as a primary factor in a company’s long-term success.

Every business leader is likely familiar with the lucrative long-term yield often found by investing in stocks, real estate and natural resources. Yet, many managers fail to take advantage of the resources present in their own workforce. Research on organizational health has shown that levels of employee morale directly contribute to a range of people and performance-related outcomes including discretionary performance, aspects of task performance and a range of withdrawal and counterproductive behaviors. Employees who are recognized for their successes and efforts throughout the workday, teamwork among employees and participative decision-making have all been recognized as core necessities of positive employee psychology. Essentially, modern psychology shows that employees who feel respected and acknowledged at work are more engaged, productive, and innovative in their work.

Creating a positive work environment by investing in human capital creates long-term success for companies. While short-term gains made by cutting employee benefits or increasing demands on employees may prove tempting, the long-term effect can be devastating. Studies in 2008 have linked long work hours to a higher risk of depression and anxiety among employees. A study in 2005 by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute found that 20% of employees reporting high overwork levels also report high levels of mistakes at work. Furthermore, a 2007 American Psychological Association study found one in five employees misses work as a result of stress.

For employers, investing in a healthy, positive work environment is clear, as it leads to maximizing the value of employees who are already on the payroll. The results of studies into workplace psychology have only increased the scope of human resource management’s role, and the burden of human resource managers to maintain productive communication among employees and managers.

Creating a positive workplace culture does not necessarily require a great deal of money, but it may require making changes to the daily routines of an office. For managers who are not used to expressing empathy for employees, providing positive feedback and coaching may prove difficult. But small steps such as acknowledging effort and giving credit to groups or individuals for good work can make a notable difference. For human resources personnel, creating a positive company culture and maintaining open communication among managers and employees are invaluable steps toward creating an empathetic and productive environment. Praising employees, listening to their concerns and asking for feedback on company decisions does not only inspire employees to feel good about their work, but it also opens up a new resource for ideas and innovation.

Recommendations to Increase Positive Workplace Psychology:

1. Ensure managers are trained to be empathetic, but not sympathetic.

This way they will understand their employees’ positions but still maintain a managerial demeanor

2. Work to maintain open communication.

This does not mean managers should tolerate insubordination, but they should listen to suggestions.

3. Remember that, first and foremost, a company’s biggest investment are the ones that work there.


Alexa Thompson is a researcher and author who regularly covers issues in psychology education and the latest developments in the fields of psychology, including organizational psychology. Here, she discusses how human resource management has evolved along with the identification and implementation of positive psychology as a boon to employees’ well-being and corporations’ productivity. Alexa touches upon the role that today’s HR representatives play in modern companies, a subject recently addressed in an Employer Branding Today blog post.