1 1. Introduction

Chapter 1

The positive sides of work

The latest studies on work life tend to focus on overburdened working conditions;
negative concepts like stress, burnout and lassitude are some of the most common
descriptors in work-related research, which is less than surprising in the present
economic situation. It is true that accelerated changes in work life, as well as
efficiency-based demands, tend to exert greater levels of stress on employees. On
the other hand, the image of work life becomes unilateral if we focus only on the
problems and drawbacks of work.

The nature of work life is changing. Motivation to work is no longer dependent
on salary alone. Instead, employees’ personalities and moral valuations have
increasingly had a considerable effect, even to the extent that it has already been
stated that the admiration of social skills has gone almost too far in today’s
working life. Therefore, it appears that there is a need for studies that bring
other aspects of work life to the discussion and that shed light on the positive
sides of work. This is one purpose of this book: to not only explore how to cope
with work but also how to succeed. We also want to respond to the need for
qualitative research to survey human experiences, although this kind of research
introduces a methodological challenge, namely, how to examine experiences
without placing them into predetermined categories. The importance of positive
feeling as a source of human strength is a strong foundation for our research.
Therefore, following in the footsteps of some of the great names in positive
psychology, Diener, Csikszentmihalyi, Seligman, Peterson, Fredrickson, Isen,
among others, we place the theoretical framework for success at work in positive

This book has a positive starting point, which is, instead of focusing on all the
problems and stress factors of today’s working life this research concentrates on
the positive sides of work and success (Almost and Spence Laschinger 2002 ;
Spence Laschinger et al . 2004 ). But what is success at work? How can it be
defined, and whose definition counts?

In this book, we analyse the concept of success from a particular point of view.
The purpose is to explain our viewpoint and open up the fundamental idea of
considering success as something positive. But in what way is it positive? Is
success manifested in some other, perhaps material, dimension? Does it mean
that successful people are also happy? Could it mean that? In this book, we
discuss success as a form of positive human development.

‘Success is as ice cold and lonely as the north pole’

Nicki Baum’s thought, as presented in heading, gets straight to the point: this is
what success is traditionally associated with. Similarly, success at work is often
correlated with career-oriented individuals who make sacrifi ces in other areas of
life in order to achieve success. Materialistic values and career orientation are
emphasised. Consequently, control, production, results and money have become
central (see, for example, Riikonen et al . 2002 ).

According to an online dictionary, ‘success’ as a noun means (1) the favorable
outcome of something attempted; (2) the attainment of wealth, fame, etc.; (3) an
action, performance, etc., that is characterised by success; (4) a person or thing
that is successful. The defi nitions give and maintain the impression that success
is something that only a few of us can achieve. Success is associated with fancy
cars, suits, huge offices, fine dining and cocktail parties – in other words, with
money. It also has connotations of opportunism, heartlessness, toughness, goal orientation,
and less of friendliness, altruism, love and care. Indeed, financial
success has formed the core component of people’s dreams and, for example, in
the 1990s three-fourths of Americans declared that a very important life goal was
being financially rich (Myers and Diener 1995 ).

Interestingly, David Myers and Ed Diener conducted a multidimensional
analysis of people’s happiness – including money and work dimensions. Although
the goal of being well-off ranked higher than, say, helping others, the researchers
observed that once people were able to afford life’s necessities, increasing levels
of affluence mattered surprisingly little. Rather it appeared that the idea of having
a high income as a means to happiness was important, but the actual correlation
between income and happiness appeared modest.

Indeed, there has been a change in attitudes toward life goals and career
expectations in general over the past few decades. Up until the 1970s, Finnish
workers valued work more highly in their lives than home and leisure time
outside work, and we assume that this tendency has been similar in many other
countries too. Likewise, success at work was mainly seen as climbing hierarchical
ladders. In the 1980s values began changing as the home and family began
witnessing greater levels of appreciation (Maljojoki 1989 ). Today, these factors
are of greater importance to employees’ lives than ever before, and workplaces
have become less and less hierarchical. So, let’s have a look at success in today’s
world. Is it still something ice cold? Could a positive climate change have

Description of the book

The book consists of six chapters. The purpose of this first chapter is to have
readers think about the multidimensional nature of success, to ignite thoughts,
opinions, viewpoints and interest in questions such as ‘What is success at work?’
and ‘Who defines success?’

The second chapter provides a theoretical basis for the research on success at
work. Numerous theories that purport to explain success are introduced and their
role in this positive phenomenon is discussed. Relevant theories of work motivation,
career orientation, work characteristics and positive work states, such as
engagement, joy of work and fl ow, are introduced along with the offerings of
positive psychology. We also introduce the research on which this book is based.
The fundamental idea is to discover whether everyone can succeed at work.

The third chapter covers research results describing the core characteristics of
top workers, their attitude toward work and life in general, and their way of working:
what are they like, how do they perceive their work and how do they cope
with the challenges at work? In addition, a specific strength-based viewpoint to
success is introduced.

Success is not a self-supporting endpoint and it is influenced by many factors
in various areas of employees’ lives. In Chapter 4, we discuss how success can
be promoted and, starting with home and school, how to help children and pupils
discover their strengths and resources. We will also introduce university leaders’
viewpoints on how to support students’ success and provide an all-encompassing
illustration of the factors influencing study success.

Chapter 5 looks at the exogenous factors enhancing success at work in adulthood.
Top workers also have to solve the eternal dilemma of how to combine
work, hobbies and leisure, and family life. We introduce possible solutions and
key factors in fi nding the successful combination of work and family. The role of
hobbies and leisure time is also discussed in the light of top workers’ experiences.
Moreover, the importance of supportive work communities will be brought out in
the context of leadership studies.

The sixth chapter concludes the book and focuses on the holistic nature of
success. The purpose is fi rst to show that success is not a static state but a process,
and no one becomes a top worker just like that, in the twinkling of an eye.
Success is a process that involves many phases. Chapter 6 describes the process
of becoming successful by looking at the autobiographical narratives of top workers,
their roads to success, ups and downs, crossroads and pit stops. Knowledge
about the various phases and even hardships that are also faced by top workers
can help other people discover the good causes in their lives, maintain belief and
encourage them to make even difficult decisions in the pursuit of fulfilling lives.
Also, the process of developing expertise is described. We then look at the
phenomenon from yet another perspective and find the common denominator for
the process, i.e., love as a human strength. The role of love for work as a source
of human happiness and wellbeing is discussed.

This chapter answers the question ‘Why pursue success at work?’ We present
an analysis of the concept of success and its connection with happiness and wellbeing.
The question of whether success at work – when defined as a positive
manifestation of human development – results in wellbeing and happiness or vice
versa is discussed.

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Maljojoki , P. ( 1989 ) Ammatinvalinnanohjauksen taustoja ja kehityspiirteitä Suomessa
[Background and Development of Occupational Guidance in Finland] . Reports of
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Myers, D. G. and Diener, E. ( 1995) ‘ Who is happy?’ Psychological Science , 6( 1), pp. 10– 19

Riikonen , E. , Makkonen , M. and Vilkkumaa , I . ( 2002 ) Hullun työn tauti. Lukemisto tulevan
työhyvinvointikeskustelun pohjaksi [Mad Work Disease. Digest for future discussion
about well-being at work] . Jyväskylä : Gummerus

Spence Laschinger , H. K. , Finegan , J. E. , Shamian , J. and Wilk , P. ( 2004 ) ‘ A longitudinal
analysis of workplace empowerment on work satisfaction ’. Journal of Organizational
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