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Which Country Leads The World In Strengths Development?

August 29, 2016 by ·

Different countries united with their flags raised.Developing your strengths has been found to help people feel more confident, energized and engaged at work.  And while the VIA Survey makes discovering people’s strengths much easier, understanding what people can do to develop their strengths is still woefully under-researched.

In an effort to close this gap, in partnership with VIA and Live Happy, we’ve been running a free global Strengths Challenge over the past 18 months and encouraging people to discover their top five strengths, set a small daily strengths habit and practice it for one week.  Almost 4,000 people from 70 countries around the world have now taken part in the challenge, and more than a third of the participants improved their strengths knowledge, strengths use and wellbeing outcomes.

What was particularly interesting, however, was the insight the baseline data collected gave us into the development of strengths around the globe.  Remembering that this is a self-selected sample with an interest in developing their strengths and so any conclusions should be drawn with caution, here’s what they told us:

  • New Zealand participants were the most likely to say that they had the opportunity to do what they did best at work each day (62% compared to an average of 54%), to have had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (35% vs. avg. 25%) and to agree their organization was committed to building strengths (53% vs. avg. 41%). All of these strengths-based leads (within employee and employers) seem to have led to an increase in wellbeing, as New Zealand participants were the most likely to say they felt respected and valued at work (67% vs. avg. 61%), were engaged and energized at work (58% vs. avg. 50%) and the second most likely to agree they felt like they were flourishing at work over the past three months (40% vs. avg. 34%).
  • Australian participants did slightly better than average when it came to having opportunities to do what they do best at work each day (57%), and agreeing that their organization was committed to building strengths (44%). Australians sat around the average when it came to setting weekly goals to use their strengths (16%), being able to name the strengths of their co-workers (48%), and having had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (26%). Like the New Zealand participants, Australians were more likely than the rest of the sample to say they felt respected and valued at work (64%), and were engaged and energized at work (55%).
  • South African participants sat around average for knowing their strengths (65%) and led just slightly in front of the average for being able to name the strengths of their co-workers (53%). They did better than average when it came to the opportunity to do what they do best each day at work (60%), setting weekly strength goals (19%) and were the second highest rated country when it came to agreeing that their organization was committed to building strengths (50%). They scored amongst the lowest of all countries, however, when it came to having had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (19%). Despite these generally strong results, instead of exceeding the wellbeing averages, like their New Zealand and Australian counterparts, they also sat around the average for feeling respected and valued at work (58%), engaged and energized (51%) and for describing themselves as flourishing at work (36%).
  • United States participants largely followed the average on every measure, which is to be expected as they constituted 33% of the sample. However, the New Zealand and Australian results suggest that some additional focus on strengths measures may help to improve some of the wellbeing benefits academic researchers have associated with strengths development.
  • UK participants were slightly above the average when it came to agreeing their organization was committed to building strengths (45%) and sat around the average when it came to having had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (26%) and being able to name the strengths of their co-workers (48%). But when it came to knowing their own strengths (61%), having an opportunity to do what they do best each day at work (51%) and setting weekly strengths goals (10%) they consistently sat below the average, suggesting that while they do have organizational support, employees either don’t feel empowered, don’t know how or are unwilling to draw more upon their strengths currently. Perhaps they simply don’t feel the need to, as when it came to feeling respected and valued at work (60%), engaged and energized (51%) and flourishing (36%) they also sat around the average. Although we would argue, that as the New Zealand results may suggest, there is much the UK could improve when it comes to these outcomes.
  • Canadian participants sat around the average for knowing their own strengths (64%), an opportunity to do what they do best each day at work (53%), setting weekly strength goals (17%), being able to name the strengths of their co-workers (51%) and having had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (27%). But they were the least likely to agree their organization was committed to building strengths (36%), suggesting Canadian workplaces have much to gain by being more explicit in their support for the steps their managers and employees have already taken to be more strengths-focused. Canadians were also among the least likely to agree that they felt respected and valued (57%), engaged and energized (46%) and to describe themselves as flourishing (30%).

Perhaps most surprising of all was the findings in South America, Asia and Africa. As these samples numbered around 200 participants each, at first we combined their findings expecting that due to the developing state of workplaces in many of the countries included in these continents, that they would fall below the sample. We were pleasantly surprised to see that instead they met or exceed the average on every measure. So we separated their results to see what was happening.  We found that:

-While participants in Africa were more likely to agree their organization was committed to building strengths (45%), and sat around the average for an opportunity to do what they do best each day at work (56%), setting weekly strength goals (18%), being able to name the strengths of their coworkers (50%). They were much less likely to agree they could name their own strengths (64%) or that they’d had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (17%). But while they were also less likely to agree they felt respected and valued at work (56%), they sat on average when it came to feeling engaged and energized (51%) and were one of the most likely continents to describe themselves as flourishing at work (38%).

-We also found that participants in Asia were the most likely to set weekly strengths goals (20%), and sat around the average when it came to being able to name their strengths (64%), being able to name the strengths of their co-workers (48%), and slightly below average when it came to having had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (21%). But they were below average when it came to agreeing that their organization was committed to building strengths (37%) and were the least likely to agree they had the opportunity to do what they do best each day at work (47%). And while they were the least likely to describe themselves as feeling engaged and energized at work (45%), they sat just slightly below the average for agreeing they were respected and valued (59%) but just above the average when it came to agreeing that they were flourishing at work (38%).

-Finally, we found that participants in South America were the second most likely to set weekly strengths goals (19%) and sat around the average when it came to have the opportunity to do what they do best each day at work (54%). They were below the average when it came to being able to name their strengths (63%) or the strengths of their co-workers (40%), and were the least likely to agree that they’d had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their supervisor (17%) or that their organization was committed to building strengths (35%). Yet they sat around the average when it came to describing themselves as feeling engaged and energized (52%), slightly above average for feeling respected and valued at work (65%) and were the place most likely to agree they’d been flourishing at work over the last three months (46%).

So what do we make of these geographical findings?

Again it’s important to remember that this sample represents a highly educated segment of the population who are generally engaged in full-time work. While the status of strengths awareness and use in different geographies is interesting to observe, as the academic research would suggest, while it may impact wellbeing outcomes for employees like feeling engaged, appreciated or flourishing at work, it is certainly not the only factor.  In fact our African, Asian and South American samples, although small, hint at how economic and cultural factors may meditate the impact of strengths interventions in different cultures, economies and places.

Want to learn more about how strengths knowledge and use might be impacting performance in your workplace?  Then join us for the free global Strengths Challenge on 12th September as an individual participant or get specific measures for your team or workplace.

-Michelle McQuaid

michelle mcquaidMichelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, workplace wellbeing teacher and playful change activator. With more than a decade of senior leadership experience in large organizations around the world, she’s passionate about translating cutting-edge research from positive psychology and neuroscience, into practical strategies for health, happiness, and business success.

 

 

 

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