Thriving at Work

What Thriving at Work Looks Like and How to Cultivate It


During dull, taxing days at work, do you dream of a time when your work does not drain you of energy and joy, but instead refuels and propels you forward?  For many, looking forward to work is an unrealized fantasy, as evidenced by Gallup’s (2017) survey findings that a measly 34% of employees are engaged at work. Employees are losing patience with companies that provide little more than a paycheck, and in this highly competitive and global business market, organizations can’t afford to lose these employees to the companies that strive to help their employees flourish. This demand for organizations to invest in employees is not simply a fad, as there is research to show that employees who thrive at work are more developed and better performers than those who do not (Paterson, Luthans & Jeung, 2014). Before spending thousands of dollars on flashy incentives or benefits to appease employees, businesses should consider cultivating a work environment to help them truly flourish.


What does thriving at work look like?

Thriving in the workplace can be boiled down into two main concepts: vitality and learning (Paterson et al., 2014). This means that when employees are truly thriving at work, they are energetic and committed towards the work they are doing AND they are constantly learning new things. It is crucial that both vitality and learning are present in order to reap all the benefits that thriving employees bring to the organization. Organizations can be tempted to silo their learning and development (L&D) team away from their employee engagement initiatives, thus ignoring the reinforcing relationship between vigor and learning. For example, there may be employees with boundless energy, yet this will fade if there are no opportunities to learn and develop themselves. Similarly, employees may continue learning and seeking new information, yet lack the energy to apply all that they’ve learned. A truly thriving employee is constantly learning how to do things differently and seeking opportunities to practice new techniques. A thriving employee is absorbed and excited by the work at hand. To capitalize on the benefits of both L&D and engagement, organizations need to bring efforts together through the lens of thriving to design new initiatives targeted at this unique employee experience.

A thriving employee doesn’t just sound like a great employee - there’s research to show that they drive organizational success. According to research by Paterson and colleagues (2014), employee job performance is affected more by the thriving of employees than either their job satisfaction or commitment to the organization, and thriving employees create more innovative ideas which are crucial for organizations looking to progress. In addition to contributing to organizational success, thriving employees see personal gains as well. These include improved mental and physical health and improved relationships with both their families and their communities (Paterson et al., 2014). With increasing demand for both work-life balance and decreased burnout, employees are more likely to continue working where they are energized and have improved quality of life.


What leads to thriving?

Organizations looking to develop thriving employees can look to the research of Paterson and colleagues (2014) as a guide. In a study of supervisors and employers, the researchers found that thriving in the workplace is preceded by the work environment composition, and the lens through which employees appraise their situation, or their psychological capital. Organizations should target each of these facets to most efficiently develop these highly desirable, thriving employees.

Work Environment: A positive work environment is one in which managers are genuinely challenging their employees to think outside of the box and cheering on their success. These supervisors promote thriving by creating a supportive work environment through personal care for employees, encouragement of risk taking and creativity, and encouraging employees to take control (Paterson et al., 2014).

Psychological Capital: In addition to supervisor support, an employee’s own mindset and sense of agency influences their motivation and resiliency in the learning and innovation processes. Individuals are said to be high in psychological capital when they have confidence in their ability to take on challenging tasks, are optimistic about their likelihood of success, persevere towards their goals, and bounce back in the face of adversity (Luthans, Avey, Avolio, Norman & Combs, 2006). Most specifically, employees who see themselves as capable and have a strong sense of self-efficacy are more likely to thrive in the workplace (Paterson et al., 2014).  

The impact of employee perception and work climate combines forces with the way we focus our attention and collaborate with others to propel employees to optimal levels of thriving (Paterson et al., 2014). This means that employees who are confident and work with a supportive boss have greater command of their intentions, which leads them to experience greater thriving at work and in turn, improved performance and development.


Thriving in your workplace

For those looking to cultivate this thriving among employees, consider the following empirically based tactics:

  • Capitalize on the strategic role of supervisors. Supervisors can create a supportive work environment by:
    • Encouraging employees to take risks
    • Encouraging employees to have a sense of personal control over their work
    • Promoting exploration on the job
    • Expressing genuine concern for employee well-being

Also, supervisors should monitor employee engagement and learning opportunities throughout their interactions. Supervisors and HR professionals should consider building opportunities for learning and revitalization into explicit job designs and work scheduling for employees (Paterson et al., 2014).

  • Build psychological capital among employees. Consider using a psychological capital intervention to build confidence among employees. The following research-backed initiative has been shown to increase individual self-efficacy:
    • Encourage employees to create individual goals 
    • Work together with employees to determine how success will be measured
    • Help employees cultivate an approach towards said goals
    • Encourage employees to identify small milestones on the way to reaching the main objective
    • Use group time to discuss potential set-backs in goal achievement and to rehearse what success would look like in these goals. Practice overcoming predicted obstacles (Luthans et. al, 2006).

Thriving employees are the unique advantage that can help drive an organization forward. Their energy and hunger for learning help both their development and performance. Organizations looking to compose themselves with flourishing employees can intentionally design their workplace environment and implement trainings to provide employees the optimal setting to truly thrive.  

Thriving employees are the unique advantage that can help drive an organization forward. Their energy and hunger for learning help both their development and performance. Organizations looking to compose themselves with flourishing employees can intentionally design their workplace environment and implement trainings to provide employees the optimal setting to truly thrive. 


Luthans, F., Avey, J. B., Avolio, B. J., Norman, S. M., & Combs, G. M. (2006). Psychological capital development: Toward a micro-intervention. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 387-393.

Paterson, T., Luthans, F., & Jeung, W. (2014), Thriving at work: Impact of psychological capital and supervisor support. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35, 434–446.