The Science of Work Optimism
What is your brain doing at work all day long? Are your brain’s resources focused on work and creating a positive future, or is it stuck scanning for the negative? When you go in to work, do you expect good things to happen or are you dreading the worst?
Some people seem to be optimists at home, but when they get to work, they operate like pessimists. That is why the older ways of testing optimism are flawed. They assumed that your general optimism could predict work performance. What we discovered is that your optimism at work is a much better predictor of your success at work.
Thus, the first survey assesses your Work Optimism. The goal is to try to predict the likelihood of your engagement, promotion, and burnout at work.
What Does Your Score Mean?
Based upon our research on work optimism, there are four types of people at work: extreme work pessimists, work pessimists, work optimists, and visionary work optimists.
- EXTREME WORK PESSIMISTS, 18 or below: People who score 18 or below are “extreme work pessimists”. Extreme work pessimists do not expect anything good to happen at work. Extreme work pessimists are 5X as likely to burnout as optimists. It is rare for an extreme work pessimist to be highly engaged at work and even more rare for them to perform well. They do not get along well with co-workers nor their supervisors. Extreme pessimism can be a result of personality, but it can also be a result of a toxic work environment or the brain over-learning that our behavior does not matter, such as during prolonged economic downturn.
- WORK PESSIMISTS, 19-21: People who score between 19 and 21 are “work pessimists.” They are just as likely to burnout as extreme work pessimist. They also do not get along well with co-workers, and feel low engagement at work. However, moving into this category seems to improve relations with supervisors. Work pessimists get along with supervisors just as well as optimists. Similarly, work pessimists tend to perform their duties better than extreme work pessimists.
- WORK OPTIMISTS, 22-24: People who score between 22 and 24 are “work optimists.” They are 5X LESS likely to burnout than pessimists, 3X MORE likely to be highly engaged in their jobs. They are also significantly more likely to get along with co-workers. As with work pessimists, this group is more likely to perform their duties well compared to extreme work pessimists.
- VISIONARY WORK OPTIMISTS, 24 and above: If you scored above 24, you are a “visionary work optimist.” Like work optimists, visionary work optimists RARELY burnout, perform their duties quite well, and get along well with co-workers and supervisors. Yet even compared to normal work optimists, visionary work optimists are 2X as likely to be highly engaged at work and 3X as likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs.
The Importance of Work Optimism
It might be surprising to hear, but new research shows that only 10% of our long term happiness at work is based upon our external world. That means that what happens around us has less of an impact on our happiness than how we perceive our life. 90% of our long-term happiness depends on how our brain processes the world. As a result, no matter where we are, if we work at it, we can raise our levels of optimism and happiness. And boosting our happiness raises our success rates at the same time.
In previous research, we have found that optimistic sales people outsell their negative counterparts by 37%. Doctors in a positive state of mind perform diagnoses 19% faster and more accurate than doctors at neutral. Positive employees are 31% more productive than negative employees. In other words, optimism is crucial to the business outcomes we actively pursue: productivity, intelligence, creativity, endurance, and engagement.
Work optimism is not just about us. When people are sick with a cold and contagious, we want them to stay home from work so they don’t get everyone else sick. What we often forget is that our mental outlook at work is just as contagious. We know that extreme work pessimism dramatically decreases the effectiveness and happiness of the person experiencing it, but that is not the end of it. Extreme work pessimism can actually lower the work optimism scores of our co-workers. When we feel extreme work pessimism we literally become toxic and people can pick up on our pessimism like second-hand smoke. Remember, you don’t have to be the one smoking to get the negative health effects.
On the other end of the spectrum, visionary work optimists are also contagious. Positive psychology research reveals that when we are in contact with visionary work optimists, we start to feel more positive, engaged and hopeful at work. When visionary work optimists are leaders, they can actually raise the entire productivity of their team. Whereas extreme work pessimism is a disease, visionary work optimism provides enhanced health to a team. Smiles have been found to be 10X more contagious than frowns. In this research we found that visionary optimists are over 5X more likely to be engaged with their work in an effective way.