Tack TMI, 18th August 2021

The dictionary definition of optimism reads, “An inclination to put the most favourable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome” (source). While this is a useful starting point, there are many more ways to interpret optimism, particularly in the context of business, leadership and positive impact on achievement.

Optimism can also be characterised by looking for opportunities in every situation and trying to search for a glimmer of light, even when times are tough or life is challenging. The old adage, ‘glass half-full’ is often applied to optimists and pessimists, but optimistic people will often go further than trying to see the positives. Optimists will be proactive and choose to act in the hope of changing outcomes or making an impact, finding a driving force to motivate them.

What is the difference between optimism, pessimism and realism?

The terms optimist, pessimist and realist often appear in the same sentences. While optimists will look for the positives in every situation and try to create opportunities and improve outcomes to achieve the best results, pessimists have a tendency to focus on the negatives and assume that a situation will get worse. Realism is more difficult to define. A realist will see a situation ‘as it is.’ Realism is often perceived as the middle ground between optimism and pessimism. While an optimist may believe a situation will get much better and a pessimist will think it will get much worse, the realist will assert that there is a small chance of either eventuality happening, suggesting instead that the situation will end up somewhere between the two extreme parameters.


What are the benefits of optimism in the workplace?

A study by Forbes indicates that optimistic employees are 103% more inspired to give their best at work. Research also suggests that optimism can create more harmonious, positive working environments, foster health and wellbeing, increase engagement and reduce the risk of work-related stress. Here are some of the key benefits of optimism in the workplace:

  1. Enhanced employee health and wellbeing
    Up to 75% of employees experience stress, an ailment that costs the US economy around $500 billion per year, according to the American Psychological Association. Positive thinking, resilience and optimism can play an influential role in creating a culture that promotes wellbeing, personal and collaborative achievement and self-care. Optimistic people are five times less likely to experience burnout.
  2. Career progression
    Research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that people who are optimistic are 40% more likely to secure promotions at work and six times more likely to actively engage at work.
  3. Creating a culture that prioritises solutions over problems
    Creating opportunities, solving problems, overcoming hurdles and barriers and finding opportunities are integral to the mindset of optimists. As a leader or a business owner, encouraging and nurturing optimism can help you to create a culture that prioritises identifying and implementing solutions over worrying about problems. Every employee and organisation will face challenges. An optimistic team will always believe that there are ways to improve the outcome.


Tips to bring out optimistic traits in employees

It is not always easy to promote optimism and to build a workforce that is optimistic either by nature or by changing their mindset and embracing new ideas and concepts. To spread optimism and make it easier to work with people who may be pessimists, it’s useful to consider these tips:

  • Provide facts and figures wherever possible: if people are sceptical, they’re inclined to focus on what could go wrong, rather than what could go right. If they’re struggling to see the value in an idea, providing facts and figures can help to clarify objectives, demonstrate the validity of the idea, target or project and give context to new goals or ways of working.
  • Emphasise positivity: some people find it more difficult to see the positives than others. As a leader, set a good example and emphasise positivity in every situation.
  • Discuss optimism and pessimism: talking and communicating is incredibly valuable for every team. Discuss the benefits of optimism and underline the potential implications of pessimistic mindsets. Pessimism doesn’t help anyone and it can hold individuals and groups back.
  • Celebrate success: however minor or small, always celebrate success. This will increase motivation, provide reassurance and lift the collective mood.
  • Socialise and talk: workplaces can be high-pressure environments. Some employees may find that being at work makes it difficult to be optimistic, especially during challenging or stressful times. Talk to employees outside of the office and encourage socialisation away from the workplace.
  • Always be aware of goals: goals can drive people and encourage them to be more optimistic. Remind your team of their goals and targets and encourage them to find a force to motivate them and help them stay positive. Work and work-related goals should align with personal values, company ethos and culture and purpose. Employees are much more likely to take satisfaction from achieving goals if they mean something to them.
  • Play to your strengths: understanding the strengths of your team and providing praise, rewards and recognition can help to encourage and build optimism. A report by Gallup revealed that 80% of employees are motivated by honest, genuine, personalised feedback.
  • Prioritise passion and personality over competence: when hiring, it’s beneficial to think about how candidates will fit into the team and how they fit with the company ethos. Look for passion rather than focusing solely on academic achievements or qualifications.

Optimism is often described as viewing the glass as half-full, rather than half-empty. In the context of the workplace, being optimistic means much more than thinking positively. Optimism at work can increase motivation and togetherness, enhance health and wellbeing, improve productivity and help employers to champion progression and development. Creating a culture that supports and encourages optimism can help employees to get through challenging times together, increase confidence, reduce the risk of stress and burnout and set meaningful targets and goals.

For more information about Tack TMI’s approach to optimism, leading in uncertain times, and the programmes we are delivering with Global clients to grow leaders who build optimism in their teams to achieve success, please get in touch.

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