What are we talking about…

For years we heard about “engagement” surveys, then “work passion” came in, and now “vitality” or “vigour” join the conversation, but “thriving” seems to be winning the game. Of course, we would have preferred “Zest” to win the game 😉, but we do understand why “thriving” wins. In scientific terms, Zest belongs more to personality whereas Thriving is a dynamic state (that can change more rapidly).

Let’s explore in more details how to define the word “thriving” and most importantly, what HR and Occupational Health professionals can learn from recent research about the conditions that lead to thriving at work.

Thriving is one of numerous constructs related to personal energy at work. Some companies, like Microsoft, came up with their own definition of thriving: “to be energized and empowered to do meaningful work.”

In Academic research, the concept of thriving is clarified by Spreitzer et al. (2005) as being

“the psychological state in which individuals experience both a sense of vitality and a sense of learning at work”

Good news for L&D Department, Spreitzer et al. established a hard link between learning & development and thriving: “people CANNOT thrive without learning and development”!

Thriving is seen as a dynamic state, a sense of progress or forward movement in the employee’s self-development. With a dynamic state, it means that employees can experience higher or lower states at any point in time.

Similarities can be found between the concept of vigour and thriving. Both concepts refer to experiencing a sense of vitality, feeling energetic, and feeling alert.

So, what factors allow one to thrive?

What was found in the literature review “Personal Energy at work: A Systemic Review”[1] review is that the main antecedents to thriving and vigour are either linked to the person (Personal Factors) or to the environment in which he / she operates (Contextual Factors) and also depend on the “strain-recovery” processes through which the person go.

So what?

  • Help them grow!

Competence is positively related to personal energy at work. This means feeling capable to perform your tasks. Interestingly, “Political skill – the ability to understand social and political aspects in the workplace and use that understanding to effectively influence others” has been found to enhance workplace thriving.

  • Cultivate the right work behaviours!

Task focus, exploration and heedful relating are work behaviours that drive thriving at work. Openness also relates to the vigour component in work engagement.

  • Help then know why!

Those who are more active and purposeful at work are more likely to experience and sustain vitality and learning (Paterson et al.).

  • Bonding is the key

Employees become more attached to their organization and experience more beneficial outcomes like feeling energized, when they have stronger relational attachment – “cumulative experience of feeling connected, attached and close to others at work” (Erhhardt et al.).

  • Some personality might thrive more than others

Neurotism is one of the big 5 personality traits that has a negative relationship with thriving and can inhibit personal energy at work. Neuroticism is defined by a propensity toward anxiety, negativity, and self-doubt. As with all personality traits, neuroticism exists on a spectrum, so everyone is at least a little bit neurotic…

and what else?

  • They don’t leave their company, they leave their line manager…

According to the Gallup studies, the line manager accounts for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units[1]. A good leader-member exchange, relationship harmony and mutual understanding are important to nurture to build a thriving environment. Conversely, leaders that cause overload or role ambiguity can negatively impact energy.

  • Keep them high

Creating a climate that stimulates involvement of employees, e.g., employees can make opportunities to learn and are rewarded positively, relates to thriving!

  • But not too high…

Personal strain (severe excessive demands on the strengths, resources, or abilities of someone) can be a negative influencer but can also serve as an enhancer of energy if there is sufficient recovery! (Techniques to switch between strain and recovery have shown to be of impact on all dimensions of energy: Check out our Energy for Life Program, that’s what you learn there!).

  • … and give them space to relax and recharge

Stimulating recovery through psychological, mental, or physical relaxation during work time (e.g., proper time for a lunch break). Lifestyle intervention offerings, like mindfulness trainings, are also positive contributors to thriving.


There are so many aspects that can be looked at and worked on, where will you start?


[1] Alexandra Francina Janneke Klijn, Maria Tims, Evgenia I. Lysova and Svetlana N. Kapova. Department of Management and Organisation, School of Business and Economics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

[2] Harter, JK ; Schmidt, F.L. ; Keyes, C.L.M.. Well being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes. A review of the Gallup studies.

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