Multiplying happiness in the workplace by focusing on the power of personal strengths

Research shows people are happier and more productive when employers focus on their strengths


An organizational culture based on highlighting the good that people have within it directly impacts the well-being and happiness of the people in that organization. As a consequence, productivity and level of commitment increase, and turnover rates decrease. Gallup has found that people who can use their strengths every day are six times more engaged in their work, three times happier with their lives, and increase their performance by 13%. 

Don Clifton, an American psychologist, educator and entrepreneur says, «There is no more effective way to empower people than to see each person in terms of his or her strengths.»

Transforming the business culture by focusing on strengths is easier than it seems, but even with such effective results, there are still few companies that are innovating in this regard. 

I interviewed Eugenia Machado, an IE HST professor and a psychologist specialized in positive psychology. Eugenia is also the founder of Wakku, a consulting firm focused on multiplying happiness. Her international professional career has been focused on the development of strategies that promote the development of sustainable and positive organizational cultures.

Me: Which is the difference between talents and strengths?

Eugenia: Talent is a natural inclination we have to be good at something.  We are born with that inclination and we may or may not develop it. It is easier to see it in children, the one who is an innate leader, the one who draws and has an artistic streak, the one who breaks things, and so forth. 

Strength is the result of that talent adding knowledge and experience repeated enough times until it becomes a skill and is a predictable pattern of behavior.

Me: Which tools do you suggest to discover and connect with our strengths? 

Eugenia: The tools are secondary to a process of introspection, if you don’t increase your self-awareness, doing assessments can be of no more help than an horoscope. It is important you own the process so it can help you make decisions around it. Before doing a test, it is recommended to analyze common patterns in these 4 areas:

Childhood behavior: How did I used to behave when I was little?

Spontaneous reactions: How did I react to different circumstances? When I get excited? When I was scared? When I get surprised?

Rapid Learning: What things do I learn quickly and easily without a need to study?

Intrinsic satisfaction: Which activities give you energy when you do them? Can you see yourself doing these kinds of activities always?

Once you have the fertile terrain of self-knowledge you can do some tests. There is an intersection point between all the tests and where the greatest coincidence is, what you have developed the most and what will give you the most happiness and well-being. They may have other names but in essence describe the same thing.

Research has found that only one-third of the population has an active awareness of their strengths. It is like being asked to think of a color that you have never seen, but you cannot even imagine it and much less use it.

As for the test, the one I like the most is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths. There are also others such as the VIA survey that help you discover your unique character strengths profile.

This process does not end with knowing your strengths; it’s actually quite the opposite. Once you learn strength you have to learn how to use it. Constantly.

Understand what your goals are and how your strengths help you achieve your goal. That understanding helps you use them consciously.

Me: As a leader, how can I enhance the strengths of my team? 

Eugenia: Once a leader discovers the strengths of their team they have three possible pathways:

  1. Assigned roles based on strengths
  2. Help their team members understand how they can use their strengths to accomplish their current role´s mission.
  3. Have a database with everyone’s profile so you can create teams for projects based on strengths (depending on whether you need strategists, creatives, analytics, etc.) . With this approach people can still have their current roles and get assigned to different projects based on their strengths.

It is important to notice that having a talent doesn’t mean that is yet a strength. Therefore as a leader it is important that you give your team members little challenges that allow them to strengthen little by little their natural talents. Psychologically safe environments are fertile for this to prosper as you can share your shadow with your teammates and help each other improve.

Ideally, the strengths should be in all the processes. For example, the recruitment process should include not only tasks but strengths needed to do the role, when building a team you should look for complementary strengths, in feedback conversations and in performance management processes. You can also use strengths with the goal of motivation and team integration by providing a space to recognize each other.








Me: What happens if I only focus on strengths and neglect working on my weaknesses? 


It’s not about neglecting working on your weaknesses is about learning how to manage your personal-professional life around your strengths.  That means that:

  1. it is important that you develop your weaknesses only to the point in which they don’t prevent you from shining in what you are naturally good at. For example: if you are not a natural communicator don’t expect to be the one who engages the audience but work on it until it allows you to share your ideas so people can connect with them.
  2. Is important to acknowledge that people have other strengths that complement you so you don’t need to be holistic as a human being but holistic as a team to achieve a goal.

Focusing on employees’ strengths relates to improved health and well-being, reducing your stress. According to Barbara Frederickson positive emotions open our awareness, increase our positive emotions and enhance creativity. In times in which we need to reinvent ourselves connecting with our strengths will be key to open our minds and foster our resilience.

Maia Saps is a Uruguayan sociologist with experience in managing non-profit organizations and training in emotional and social Intelligence. She is now pursuing the Master in Talent Development & Human Resources at HST and is a member of the Student Advisory Board for the IE Center for Health, Well-being, & Happiness.