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‘How positive psychology, employee engagement, others boost productivity’


Jummy Okoya

Dr. Jummy Okoya is the MBA Director at the University of East London and visiting lecturer at Imperial College Business School. She is an International consultant and speaker on leadership development, mental health, wellness and resilience. She is a United Kingdom based expert who is passionate about uniquely embedding positive psychology in achieving high performing organisations and flourishing employees. The educator is in Lagos for ‘HREA 2019, the art of employee engagement’, where she will be speaking to industry leaders on psychological capital. She visited The Guardian corporate office and shared insight with Emeka Nwachukwu on how positive psychology can improve productivity and profitability. Excerpts

What is positive psychology all about, how is it linked to employee engagement?
Psychology itself is a discipline that is so much focused on individual health, wellbeing and flourishing; how individuals can experience more of positive emotions and do well in different domains of their lives. Whether it’s personal, professional, and even in relationships? But the link between positive psychology and employee engagement is to think of how individuals can be their best self at work so that they can have healthy high performance, one not detrimental to their wellbeing but good enough for their employers. Positive psychology provides the resources and tools to make people be the best at work.

For example, if I am the best of myself, if I am aware of my character strength, the kind of tasks that brings my skills alive, then I am more able to contribute even better at work. And when I know that positive psychology is being implemented in my work place in terms of maybe my manager or team leader providing an environment that allows me be the best of myself, I am able to perform better. So in order to achieve or reap the benefit of employee engagement, leaders have to pay attention to people’s wellbeing and their mental health.

Your program in Nigeria, what is it all about and your role in it?
The event that’s actually running in Nigeria is a programme put together by HR Expo and they invited leading and professionals from the UK to talk on different strands of human resources. My role is looking at bringing HR and positive psychology together. I care about people, about human beings doing well at work and outside work. I work with many prestigious business schools in the UK because executives of MBA programs are people involved in too many things, so I work with them to manage their high-pressure jobs and their executive programs in leading universities. It is about helping people to manage their many roles and hats that they wear so that their mental wellbeing doesn’t suffer.

So what I am offering to leaders of organizations who may be interested is let’s have regular workshops where leaders have the skills to support employees. We expect so much from leaders but they are just ordinary humans like us, so unless we give them the skills, unless they have the knowledge to deal with things, they wouldn’t be able to do them. So I will be running some master classes for leaders on how to work with employees in order to improve engagement by using positive psychology to get to a place where they are flourishing. I use a psychometric tool to help employers in supporting their teams especially for senior leaders at individual and organizational level. The tool is called Workplace Resilience and Wellbeing (WRAW). I go into different organizations and use that tool to diagnose the well being fact of the organization and then the pillars to put in action plan for them. Also, six months later I come back to review how they are doing, which is followed by a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the six months journey.

The rising incidents of suicides recorded recently, what do you think is lacking and what is the solution?
A society where government doesn’t provide support for the people, such is bound to happen. It’s actually shameful and awful. But individuals need to take their wellbeing as their own responsibility. The society in Nigeria is such that people keep secret; people don’t want to share when things are going wrong with them because they are scared of being stigmatized. The first thing to do is to think how the society can begin to destigmatise mental health such that people who are in senior positions come out openly to talk about how they are dealing with it privately or if it is something they have experienced. By this, they can send signal to others that it’s okay to talk about it. For example, in the UK, I talk about the five pillars of well-being, in which strong relationship is the most important. Others are energy, inner drive, future focus, flexible thinking.

When people have mental health issues, it’s by the fact that they have strong relationship in their lives that they overcome. When overwhelmed or depressed, how many close relationship do you have that you can talk to? When you talk to someone about what is going on in your life, they necessarily don’t have to give you a remedy or solution but the fact that you offload those worries, it actually minimises the pressure of what you are feeling. As a society we need to go back to the way we used to live, a state of communal living. It’s now a race of self-survival, no one takes care of the next person. We have become so individualised.

How can positive psychology affect economic growth?
When employees are supported in what they do, they would be better engaged and when they are engaged there is higher performance, which leads to productivity and ultimately profitability. Also organizations will grow which translates into better economy. This definitely has positive impact in the growth and development of the country. Let’s start from the nucleus and create the desired impact. Let’s stop waiting for the government to do everything. What can you do in your own sphere of influence as leaders? Let’s be the change we are looking for.

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Jummy Okoya
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