Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Perceived Organisational Support for Strengths Use: The Factorial Validity and Reliability of a New Scale in the Banking Industry

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Perceived Organisational Support for Strengths Use: The Factorial Validity and Reliability of a New Scale in the Banking Industry

Article excerpt


Background to the study

Using the postulation that the potential for performance improvement lies in identifying the weaknesses of people, most organisations follow an approach that focuses on their employees' deficiencies (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001; Stienstra, 2010). Training, coaching and other means then improve the weaknesses (Clifton & Harter, 2003). Leadership development efforts that companies used in the past tended to be conservative and concentrated on correcting weaknesses and, at best, achieving only minimal improvements without providing a strategy for making good leaders great (Trinka, 2004). When weaknesses are the focus of employees' development plans, the aim is to identify and rectify employees' limitations (Bouskila-Yam & Kluger, 2011; Clifton & Harter, 2003; Harris & Thoresen, 2006).

All organisations must identify weaknesses. Identifying weaknesses is associated with reducing unrealistic expectations, dealing with, and realising the reality of, situations and allowing others to contribute to them (Linley, Govindji & West, 2007). However, it also links to negativity, including the likelihood of draining the energy levels of employees and leading to negative feelings like frustration and anxiety (Page & Vella-Broderick, 2008). Furthermore, focusing only on weaknesses might prevent employees from contributing, hinder their performance and their sense of well-being (Roberts, Spreitzer, Dutton, Quinn, Heaphy & Barker, 2005). Studies that support this approach show only minimal improvement in employee behaviour and provide little, if any, evidence that it promotes excellence (Trinka, 2004).

With the emergence of the positive psychology paradigm, organisational psychologists have realised that organisations need to manage weaknesses and that the focus should move towards improving employee strengths and talents. Therefore, the aim is to reach optimal functioning, not by improving weaknesses but by building strengths (Roberts et al., 2005). They see focusing on strengths as a positive technique, which aims to improve individual and organisational productivity by emphasising the identification, development, use and appreciation of employee strengths (Stienstra, 2010).

It is clear that focusing on strengths benefits the employees and their organisations (Harter, Schmidt & Hayes, 2002; Elston & Boniwell, 2011). Benefits for the employees include the experience of positive emotions (Govindji & Linley, 2007), an increased sense of authenticity and enthusiasm for taking action (Elston & Boniwell, 2011). It also relates to increased well-being (Proctor, Maltby & Linley, 2010; Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005). Employees who capitalise on their strengths are more engaged in the work setting (Harter et al., 2002), show increased rates of development (Minhas, 2010) and ultimately produce better work (Smedley, 2007; Stefanyszyn, 2007). The focus on strengths also links to increases in employee engagement, which has strong links with business outcomes like profitability, turnover, safety and customer satisfaction (Harter et al., 2002). Clifton and Harter (2003) conducted a meta-analytical study on the results of 65 firms that used employee engagement interventions. Four of these organisations used strengths-based interventions (the study group), whilst the rest of the sample (the control group) did not. The findings highlighted significantly higher levels of engagement for the study group compared to the control group (Page & Vella-Brodrick, 2008). Therefore, focusing on strengths is likely to have an effect on the bottom-line of companies.

Although it seems important to study the effectiveness of focusing on strengths, researchers have conducted limited empirical research on how employees perceive whether their organisations identify and use their strengths (Gable & Haidt, 2005). The available research appears to be mostly theoretical in nature and concerned with positive subjective experiences and positive individual characteristics rather than positive organisations and communities (Gable & Haidt, 2005). …

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