October 19th 2021
By: Anik Demers

Why Optimize the Employee Experience by Building on Their Strengths?

How can you have a happy, optimal employee experience, despite and during challenging work environments?

On this topic, the hosts of the 2nd “Time for an HR Break?” podcast introduced the guest, Dr. Andreea Vanacker, by reminding us of the importance of considering the satisfaction of the three (3) fundamental psychological needs, such as:

  1. Feeling competent;
  2. Free and autonomous;
  3. Connected with others, being part of a group.

Fulfilling these needs contributes to the optimization of well-being by leveraging the quality of motivations, which, when intrinsic, increase the positive emotions experienced, and therefore generate positive states despite the presence of challenges and difficulties. However, how can we build organizational cultures as well as human resources management and leadership practices that contribute directly to these three essential “vitamins” of happiness? Before presenting a practical guide to the best initiatives to integrate in order to optimize the employee experience at work through the use of strengths, let’s present the reasons for using these practices.

Recognized Benefits

According to organizational psychology research, the satisfaction of needs has notably a good correlation with work engagement, more precisely productivity, job satisfaction and quality of relationships (Manganelli, 2015). Task performance as well as the ability to cope with stress are also positive consequences related (Trépanier, 2015) to practices supporting these needs.

Three (3) actions related to people’s strengths are recognized as being particularly beneficial in helping to meet their needs, such as:

  1. Be able to name your strengths;
  2. Gain recognition from others for their use;
  3. Putting them into action in different contexts. (Petersen, 2004)

Data from a meta-analysis by Gallup published in 2016 shows that simply by learning their strengths, employees are 7.8% more productive, and teams that focus on their strengths every day have 12.5% higher productivity.

In other words, how about gaining approximately 4 hours of productivity per week, per team member?

Moreover, several types of strength-based interventions are also known to have positive impacts on the following variables compared to control groups without strength-based interventions (Gallup, 2016):

  • Fewer incidents/accidents related to occupational health and safety;
  • More customer satisfaction;
  • More profits and sales.

In short, research has shown the benefits of raising awareness and using the best in each person at work.

A Potential Challenge

However, two thirds of people, about 66%, are not able to spontaneously name or recognize their strengths. And only 17% generally believe that they can use them at work (Buckingham, 2007, Hill, 2010).

Thus, identifying strengths is a fundamental exercise – knowing our strengths, talents and skills allow us to make better choices in relation to our three stated needs. Awareness, use and recognition of these needs allow us to be more aware of the opportunities for control and influence in the present and future at work in order to make choices and increase the chances of feeling useful (competent) and connected to others (connection).

For example, a person who is curious, has a strong sense of initiative and a talent for writing might enjoy working in contexts and projects where they can be proactive, take an interest in many things and have the opportunity to write. Whether our person here is a barista in a coffee shop, an operations coordinator, or a nurse – once the core strengths are identified – it is the creativity and initiative of the stakeholders that will actualize the strengths into relevant tasks and projects. Therefore, it is a triple challenge to name, recognize and actualize these at work.

Maintaining a Balance

Making efforts do not necessarily lead to success, nor does it correct weaknesses. These are myths. However, developing the reflexes mentioned above does not imply throwing away all critical thinking about people’s challenges and limitations. Nor does it necessarily mean reviewing the entire role and tasks of individuals. As with any change, a gradual approach is a winning one. And above all, a constant approach!

Essentially, it’s about structuring and better defining ways to take advantage of what people naturally have – strengths and talents – and put them into action, so that they can be transformed into skills. And when we know and use our strongest levers, they generate positive emotions that can be very helpful in navigating more challenging times – whether it is to be creative (Frederickson, 2004) or resilient (Hammond, 2010).

Anik Demers
Anik Demers

Senior Consultant in Talent Management at EPSI (CPHR)


Buckingham, M. (2007), Go Put Your Strengths to Work, The Free Press.

Dubreuil, P., Forest, J., Gillet, N. et al. Facilitating well-being and Performance through the Development of Strengths at Work: Results from an Intervention Program. Int J Appl Posit Psychol 1, 1–19 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41042-016-0001-8

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden–and–build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367-1377. 10.1098/rstb.2004.1512

Gallup. (2016, July). The Relationship Between Strenghts-Based Employee Development and Organizational Outcomes 2015 Strenghts Meta-Analysis. https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/269615/strengths-meta-analysis-2015.aspx

Govindji, R. & Linley, P. A. (2007). Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: Implications for strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2, 143–153.

Hammond, W. (2010). Principles of strength-based practice. Resiliency initiatives, 12(2), 1-7.

Hodges, T. D., & Clifton, D. O. (2004). Strengths-based development in practice. In A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in practice (pp. 256-268). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Hill, J. (2001), « How well do we know our strengths? » article présenté à la British Psychological Society Centenary Conference, Écosse.

Forest, J., Courcy, F., & Dubreuil, P. (2012). Nos forces et celles des autres : comment en optimiser l’usage au travail ? Revue gestion

Linley, P. A., Harrington, S., & Garcea, N. (2010). Finding the positive in the world of work. In P. A., Linley, S. Harrington, & N. Garcea (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 3-12). Oxford: Oxford university press.

Manganelli, L., Thibault-Landry, A., Forest, J., & Carpentier, J. (2018). Self-Determination Theory Can Help You Generate Performance and Well-Being in the Workplace: A Review of the Literature. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 20(2), 227–240. https://doi.org/10.1177/1523422318757210

Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. 299

Ong, A. D., & Van, D. M. H. M. (2007). Oxford handbook of methods in positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, C., et M. E. P. Seligman (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A classification and handbook, Washington, DC, American Psychological Association/New York, Oxford University Press.

Schutte, N.S., Malouff, J.M. The Impact of Signature Character Strengths Interventions: A Meta-analysis. J Happiness Stud 20, 1179–1196 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-018-9990-2