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date: 23 January 2021

(p. xvii) Foreword: The Abundant Organization

(p. xvii) Foreword: The Abundant Organization

In 1988 Bobby McFerrin produced and sang the #1 hit “Don't worry, be happy.” His message was to relax in times of trouble, to not worry, but be happy. In the ensuing 20 years, this simple message of being happy has become a complex collection of theories around the quest to help people find enduring joy. The quest for personal peace is ever more important in an increasingly hectic world where technological, global, economic, demographic, and social change has increased emotional demands on people (Cascio, Chapter 2, this volume). People need to find places and ways to find a respite from the inevitable pressures of modern life.

Traditionally, people find happiness in families, friendship groups, social networks, neighborhoods, and community based organizations. While these settings continue to be a place for emotional reprieve, work organizations are increasingly becoming a primary setting where people may (or may not) meet their personal needs because we spend an increasing amount of time at work, because with technology the boundaries of work and non-work have blurred (Grantham, Ware, & Williamson, 2007), because organizations have become a primary social setting for many people, and because work shapes so much of our personal identity. Too many organizations have failed to help people find happiness in work settings because leaders have not appreciated that employee well-being relates to organization success and have not fully understood the ways that they can shape organization settings for individual well-being.

This outstanding handbook synthesizes the ways that people can find meaning and purpose in work settings. The mindset shift from deficit based thinking (what is wrong?) to abundance thinking (what is right?) underlies this work (Linley, Harrington, & Garcea, Chapter 1, this volume). Abundance emphasizes building on the positive, expanding opportunities, and focusing on the future. This collection of thoughtful chapters answers three questions (see Figure F.1), each discussed below.

What is Abundance?

Foreword: The Abundant Organization

Figure F.1 Overview of abundance.

Foreword: The Abundant Organization

Figure F.2 Overview of disciplines focusing on abundance.

The search for happiness is not new. Traditional management and organization scholars like Douglas McGregor and Peter Drucker have emphasized positive (p. xviii) assumptions that shape how leaders think and behave. More recently, the quest for abundance can be discovered through insights from diverse disciplines, each offering unique perspectives into how people find enduring happiness. These diverse views are well represented in this handbook (see Figure F.2):

Positive psychology. In psychology, the traditional metaphor has been to focus on what's wrong, not what is right. A Rorschach Test diagnoses underlying pathologies so that they can be solved rather than highlighting and building on what is right. Into this space, Martin Seligman and his associates have suggested that true happiness is not just avoiding what's wrong, but discovering what is right (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Researchers in positive psychology have discovered that when we identify and build on our strengths, we feel better about ourselves and those around us; we find greater happiness (Hodges & Asplund, Chapter 17, this volume). Positive organization scholarship (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003) has adapted these principles into an organization setting to build a positive work environment (Mroz & Quinn, Chapter 20, this volume).

Commitment. The study of talent has evolved from competence (ability to do the work) to commitment (willingness to do the work). Employees who are competent but not committed will not perform to their full potential. Commitment comes from building an employee value proposition that engages employees to use their discretionary energy to pursue organization goals (Stairs & Galpin, Chapter 13, this volume).

Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In the field of organization development and change, problem solving has traditionally focused on fixing problems. Appreciative inquiry processes of discovery, dream, design, and destiny provides a positive alternative to problem-solving in organizations (Sekerka & Fredrickson, Chapter 7, this volume).

Demographics. In the field of demographics, scholars try to figure out what engages each generation. The GenMe generation (Generation Y, the millennials) (p. xix) has grown up concerned with self-esteem, narcissism, and leisure time, which affects how they define fulfillment at work (Twenge & Campbell, Chapter 3; Barendsen & Gardner, Chapter 24, this volume).

Social responsibility. With an awareness of scarce resources, many organizations have begun to engage in a triple bottom line where the organization is concerned about its carbon footprint, its philanthropy, and its core values (Savitz & Weber, 2006).

High performing teams. As the nature of work becomes more complex, individuals increasingly work in teams. High performing teams operate with clear purposes, good governance, positive team member relationships, and the ability to learn (Gratton, 2007; Wageman, Nunes, Burruss, & Hackman, 2008; Richardson & West, Chapter 19, this volume).

Community based organizations. People often seek meaning through the community organizations they join. The book Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren has sold over 30 million copies, indicating a market for finding purpose in community organizations (Warren, 2002).

Work-family. Lessons from non-work settings clearly apply to finding abundance at work. Gottman's work on marriage, for example, offers thoughtful insights on enduring relationships (Gottman, 1994; Gottman & Silver, 2004). Also, work-family issues clearly affect how employees experience work (Baltes, Clark, & Chakrabarti, Chapter 16, this volume).

As shown in Figure F.2, each of these distinct disciplines offers insights into how to create an abundant organization where positive, expansive, and future-focused actions occur.

What are the Antecedents of Abundance?

Leaders throughout an organization make choices that increase (or decrease) abundance. At times, leaders model through their actions what they hope others will do. Avolio, Griffith, Wernsing, and Walumbwa (Chapter 4, this volume) define authentic leadership as a way for leaders to be self-aware so that they can shape others' behavior. At other times, leaders craft organization policies and practices that embed abundance into the culture and fabric of the organization (Wooten & Cameron, Chapter 5, this volume). When these policies are implemented effectively, they build positive emotion among employees (Higgs, Chapter 6, this volume). Either acting by themselves or through organization systems, there are eight factors that should be considered in building abundant organizations.

Identity (Who am I?). Individuals with a strong sense of identity clarify their personal values, are self-aware, appropriately build on their strengths, and connect their personal identity to the organization brand. They contribute psychological capital to their workforce (see Morris & Garrett, Chapter 8; Kaplan & Kaiser, Chapter 9; Hodges & Asplund, Chapter 17; Peterson, Stephens, Park, Lee, & Seligman, Chapter 18; Youssef & Luthans, Chapter 22, this volume).

Purpose/meaning (Where am I going?). Individuals may align their personal and organizational goals (Gratton, 2009). These employees ‘own and personalize their company’ vision or mission, and find their work energizing and enjoyable because (p. xx) it gives them purpose and meaning and allows them to work on problems of importance to them. These employees experience mindfulness where they slow down to speed up (Steger & Dik, Chapter 11; Marianetti & Passmore, Chapter 15, this volume).

Relationships (Whom do I travel with?). Social relationships in a work setting help people join and stay in their organization. Positive emotions come from transformative cooperation where people cooperate in mindful and meaningful ways. Many of these relationships come from working in high performing teams. Meaningful work friendships also give people a sense of community and connection (Harter & Blacksmith, Chapter 10; Sekerka & Fredrickson, Chapter 7; Richardson & West, Chapter 19, this volume).

Challenging work (What growth do I experience from work?). Inherent in a positive view of organizations is the opportunity for people to learn and to grow from work experiences. Growth comes from doing hard things, from finding and doing challenging work (Steger & Dik, Chapter 11, this volume).

Positive work environment (What culture can I create at work?). When trying to understand how people found happiness, positive psychology researchers discovered common spiritual disciplines in most major religious movements, such as grace, forgiveness, charity, service, and gratitude. When leaders translate these ideals into organization practices, they create a positive work environment that endures over time (Mroz & Quinn, Chapter 20; Davis, Chapter 23, this volume).

Using resources (How do I manage the temporal elements of work?). Shaping physical space, scheduling time, and accessing tools for accomplishing work (e.g., technology) help employees get work done in a timely way (Higgs, Chapter 6, this volume).

Resilience (How do I learn?). Failure is one of the most powerful ways to grow. When employees take risks, work outside their comfort zone (Gratton, 2007; 2009), and learn from failure, they become resilient. Resilience reflects a positive outlook on work and shapes learning for the future rather than lamenting on the past (Warren, Chapter 25, this volume).

Delight (What enlivens me?). Finding joy at work takes many different forms. It is laughing at oneself, appreciating the moments, relishing beauty in work routines, and having fun at work (Warren, Chapter 25, this volume).

These are clearly not the only factors (and questions) leaders should attend to in creating an abundant organization, but they are a good start. Leaders and HR professionals using these ideas can act with moral courage, which helps them do hard things (Harrington & Rayner, Chapter 21, this volume). Leaders can use these ideas as criteria for how they define strategy, create organizational processes, make decisions, and coach others (Grant & Spence, Chapter 14, this volume). By so doing they turn the idea and ideal of abundance into actions for both individuals and organizations.

What are the Outcomes of Abundance?

Abundant organizations are not just inherently good in and of themselves, but lead to both individual and organizational outcomes. Individuals who (p. xxi) work in abundant organizations will have greater commitment to their organization goals, but also mental and physical health. Commitment shows up in employees joining, engaging, and staying in their organization (Harter & Blacksmith, Chapter 10, this volume). Mental health shows up in emotional well-being (Wright, Chapter 12, this volume). Physical health benefits also occur, reflected in lower rates of illness (Stairs & Galpin, Chapter 13, this volume).

But abundant organizations also have impact on organization stakeholders. Employee well-being relates to retention, commitment, and productivity. Leaders who align their behaviors to those outside the organization create a leadership brand that turns customer expectations to leader behaviors and intangibles that build confidence from investors (Ulrich & Smallwood 2003, 2007). Customers' attitudes about doing business with an organization are often correlated with the attitude of the employees who work in the organization. Employee experience is a lead indicator of customer experience. Investors who have confidence in future earnings (often called intangibles) increase the market value of an organization. Communities create shared reputations for how organizations work.


“Don't worry, be happy” is a clever and memorable reggae tune. But enduring abundance comes when the diverse principles presented in this Oxford Handbook can be studied and applied in work settings (Garcea, Harrington, & Linley, Chapter 26, this volume). When scholars and researchers continue rigorously to assess the ideas in this volume, the science of abundance will move forward. When leaders learn and apply these insights, organizations become settings where employees, customers, and investors discover abundance. When such noble aspirations lead to specific organization actions, we are not just able to build on our strengths, but we build on our strengths that strengthen others.


Cameron, K. S., Dutton, J., & Quinn, R. E. (2003). Positive organization scholarship: Foundations for a new discipline. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2004). Seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country's foremost relationship expert. Three Rivers Press.

Grantham, C., Ware, J., & Williamson, C. (2007). Corporate agility: A revolutionary new model for competing in a flat world. New York: AMACOM.

Gratton, L. (2007). Hot spots: Why some teams, workplaces, and organizations buzz with energy—and others don't. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Gratton, L. (2009). Glow. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Savitz, A. W., & Weber, K. (2006). The triple bottom line: How today's best-run companies are achieving economic, social and environmental success—and how you can too. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14.

Ulrich, D.O., & Smallwood, N. (2003). Why the bottom line isn't. New York: Wiley.

Ulrich, D.O., & Smallwood, N. (2007). Leadership brand. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman J. R. (2008). Senior leadership teams: What it takes to make them great. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Warren, R. (2002). The purpose driven life: What on earth am I here for? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. (p. xxii)