How to nurture your workplace wellbeing with the PERMA model

Image shows heart made up of lots of colourful balls. IMage to demonstrate wellbeing in the workplace.

Key takeaways

  • PERMA is a 5-part framework that can help us accomplish better workplace wellbeing.
  • When we focus on each aspect of PERMA, it promotes the concept of “flourishing”, thereby improving our wellbeing.
  • However, to have optimal workplace wellbeing, we must focus on the PLUS of PERMA.
  • We can take practical steps to introduce more aspects of the PERMA plus model in to our lives.
  • Each part of the model is important, but some parts may be more important to individuals than others.
  • Focusing on one part of PERMA at a time is key — don't put pressure on yourself to be perfect at all of them all at once!

Workplace wellbeing is a term we may hear thrown around a lot. Yet sometimes, it can seem that wellbeing is a fuzzy concept, hard to pin down or define specifically, that’s where the PERMA model comes in.

What factors define wellbeing?

In 2011, Martin Seligman, an American psychologist and pioneer of positive psychology, said that wellbeing was formed of 5 building blocks, encompassed in the acronym PERMA. In fact, he coined the term “flourishing”. This described a concept of wellbeing that encompassed a more holistic approach that went beyond simple happiness. Seligman says that by paying careful attention to each aspect of PERMA, we can nourish our own plant of wellbeing, allowing it to grow and flourish.

So let’s dive in to PERMA. Take a deep breath — we’re going to take a plunge in to the fundamentals of flourishing…

What are the five elements of the PERMA model?

Here are the five elements that make up the PERMA model which we will explore in more details below:

  1. Positive emotion
  2. Engagement
  3. Relationships
  4. Meaning
  5. Accomplishments

1. Positive emotion

The first aspect of PERMA is positive emotions.

Positive emotions — isn’t that just being happy? Think again, there are actually a huge range of positive emotions out there — joy, gratitude, hope, excitement, love, fulfilment and PERMA encompasses these all. Being able to cultivate these is a key part of the PERMA model, and an important aspect of workplace wellbeing. In fact, positive emotions can undo the effects of negative emotions and promote resilience. Yet the first part of PERMA goes beyond just having positive emotions — it is about actively cultivating them so they feature more in our lives! But how?

How do you cultivate positive emotions?

  • Making time for the people who bring you joy! This could be a work colleague, a friend, or family member.
  • Do activities you enjoy. Perhaps there is a part of your job that makes you come alive! Why not see where you can find more time to focus on that area!
  • Cultivate gratitude — when we practice gratitude we are actively choosing to shift our focus away from negative thought patterns and focus on more positive emotions.

2. Engagement

Think of a time when you have been completely absorbed in a task. Oblivious to your surroundings, you deploy all of your skills and energy in to completing your goal. You might say you are “in the flow”.

And so, in fact, would Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term flow  to describe this state we reach when we are fully immersed and present in the task at hand. Being in the zone is actually described as an autotelic experience — meaning it is worth doing simply for the experience, rather than what you might get out of it. Even if you are not achieving any specific achievement, the act itself has a positive effect. Flow can be super important to your workplace wellbeing — doesn’t your day feel so much less stressful when you are “in the zone”?

How do you cultivate flow?

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow comes when our skills are perfectly balanced with a challenge.  A great example of flow is a video game  — too challenging, and you may give up. Too easy, and you get bored.

Flow could come from a super interesting conversation, a captivating piece of music, or an amazing book.

  • Identify your strengths and take part in things you excel at — is there a part of your job you ace?
  • Practicing yoga or meditation — making time to focus on being in the present moment is a super important part of flow!
  • Participate in activities where you lose track of time — it doesn’t have to be something huge, it could be as simple as doing some mindful colouring, or going for a walk.

3. Relationships

As humans we are innately social beings (although perhaps you don’t feel like it all the time!). We have relied on forming social bonds for our survival, yet the relationships we form have effects that go way beyond that. The ability to connect with others not only cultivate positive emotions, but provide security, support, guidance and reassurance, all of which are essential to our workplace wellbeing. In fact, research has shown that  social disconnection  is as harmful to our health as commonly accepted factors such as smoking, and physical inactivity.

How do you cultivate relationships?

Cultivating relationships goes way beyond making new friends — it could be  strengthening old ones , reconnecting with past relationships, or cutting off toxic ones.

  • Join a group or community with shared interests.
  • Try organising regular catch-ups with your existing network.
  • Set healthy boundaries with your friends and loved ones.
  • Taking time out of your day to connect with people you may not often talk to — even if that’s just a quick “hello” to a colleague you’ve never spoken with before.

4. Meaning

This is all about your “why”! As humans, finding meaning can be integral to our wellbeing. It gives us a sense of purpose, and increases our sense of self worth.  And with 70% of employees saying their personal sense of purpose is defined by their work, finding meaning is just as crucial to our workplace wellbeing as it is to our personal!

How do you find meaning?

  • Being in a job that strongly aligns with your personal values — something to consider before submitting that application form!
  • Being part of a wider vision — such as belonging to a faith, religion or group with shared interests.
  • Going back to basics — finding the WHY behind your job? Discovering what drives you?
  • Finding a time to do something that aligns with your values, such as volunteering.

5. Accomplishments

Accomplishment does not equal achievements. People can gain a sense of accomplishment without necessarily gaining material achievements. You’ve probably hear the quote “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, and while we admit it sounds (just a little) cliché, focusing on small wins, even if you have not reached your intended goal, can play a key part in our overall wellbeing. In fact, reaching internal goals such as growth or connection, can provide a greater boost to our wellbeing  than achieving external goals such as fame or money.

How do you create a sense of accomplishment?

A practical way to create a sense of accomplishment? Break down your tasks in to smaller tasks. Need to write a 10,000 word essay? Break it down in to 1000 word sprints, celebrating each time you reach a milestone.

So what’s next?

So, you have your cornerstones of wellbeing. But remember us talking about your wellbeing plant? Well, consider the foundations your plant grows in — the roots and soil. These are essential for your plant to thrive! We like to call this the plus part of PERMA.

The plus in PERMA image

What’s PERMA+?

PERMA + includes:

  • Physical activity
  • Nutrition
  • Optimism
  • Sleep

Think about it — not only are these the corner stones of wellbeing, but they are the foundations upon which our health is built on! You’ve probably experienced it before — when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, you’re grumpy and exhausted. It’ll be a lot harder to work on your workplace wellbeing when you aren’t 100% yourself.  You’ll find it difficult to implement any of the elements of PERMA if you don’t have these nailed down.

So what does this all mean?

It all sounds a lot right? But the key is not to be overwhelmed. You don’t need to focus on EVERY aspect of the model at once — but maybe choose one part to work on first. Perhaps you could work on your physical activity first — getting a walk at lunch, taking time for some yoga or stretching after work. Or maybe you could focus on meaning first — finding a hobby that really fulfils you. And remember, some aspects may be more important to your own personal wellbeing than others — you don’t have to be amazing at them all!  The good news is, the elements support each other — when you focus on one, the others will boost themselves.

So get green fingered and start nourishing your wellbeing plant — it’s probably been neglected for too long!

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