Five Components to Cultivate a Glass-Full Attitude

Accepted wisdom says that an individual’s manager can make the difference in employee engagement, but this ignores one of the most important factors of all — the individual’s mindset.

For example, the people in the U.S. who are happiest with their work-life balance — those who are self employed — actually work the longest hours. Work-life balance is not always about things such as hours at work. It’s about how people look at those hours: Do they feel in control and believe in what they’re doing?

Research shows five mindsets individuals need to adopt to feel engaged.

Optimism: In the 21st century, a manager needs to be as much amateur psychologist as a creator of budgets or overseer of workflow. This involves coaching teams to look at the world through a more positive lens. But above all, it is about managers actively inspiring their teams to choose how they view their work.

Purpose: A study by Amy Wrzesniewski from the Yale School of Management broke down the perception of work into three main categories: job, career and calling. A job is done for the pay check. A career focuses on achievements such as advancement. A calling is a passionate commitment to work.

In Wrzesniewski’s research, 135 people from a variety of occupations were studied, from physicians to computer programmers. The results showed an even split between those who saw their work as a job, a career or a calling. A hospital janitor was as likely to see his or her work as a calling or job as a surgeon. It didn’t matter what people did; what mattered was how they thought about it. Those who saw their work as a calling enjoyed significantly higher life and job satisfaction.

Autonomy: Autonomy is the feeling of being in control of one’s decisions and future. Some say a person’s level of autonomy depends on his or her job. Not so. It is not the situation that affects a sense of autonomy, but how someone sees it.

A group of secretaries at professional services firm EY — formerly Ernst & Young — protested that it was always the partners’ needs and desires that controlled their work, not their own needs and desires. However, once they listed all of the things they could control — such as how they organized their workflow, how often they checked the partners’ email and the kind of relationship they had with the partner — they reported feeling more autonomous and in control.

Competence: What’s important here is not so much an actual level of competence, but someone’s belief in what they can achieve. When people start to feel disengaged and incompetent, it’s often not that their actual ability got worse. But if someone makes another person feel less competent — for example, through poorly delivered feedback — a person may start to hold this perception of his or her competence. And as self-confidence drops, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to more disengagement.

One of the most effective ways to boost confidence is to reflect daily on three things that have gone well and then, most importantly, what part the individual played in making these happen.

Resilience: Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity. Joshua Margolis from Harvard Business School has developed an approach called “the resilience regime” to help people coach themselves and others to bounce back from adversity. The resilience regime is about being mindful of one’s thinking and shifting out of the tendency to look back and analyze events. It’s about forcing oneself to look forward and take positive action. An important part of the approach is to encourage people to look for solutions collaboratively when they experience setbacks.

Sebastian Bailey is president of Mind Gym Inc., a performance management firm. He can be reached at