A Test of Two Positive Psychology Interventions to Increase
Seth Kaplan •Jill C. Bradley-Geist •Afra Ahmad •
Amanda Anderson •Amber K. Hargrove •
Published online: 9 August 2013
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
Purpose Despite an abundance of organizational research
on how contextual and individual difference factors impact
well-being, little research has examined whether individ-
uals themselves can take an active role in enhancing their
own well-being. The current study assessed the effective-
ness of two simple, self-guided workplace interventions
(‘‘gratitude’’ and ‘‘social connectedness’’) in impacting
Design/Methodology/Approach Sixty-seven university
employees participated in one of the two self-guided
interventions for 2 weeks and completed self-report mea-
sures prior to the intervention, immediately following the
intervention, and one-month post-intervention. Growth
curve modeling was used to examine the effects of each
Findings Partially supporting hypotheses, the gratitude
intervention resulted in signiﬁcant increases in positive
affective well-being and self-reported gratitude but not did
signiﬁcantly impact negative affective well-being or self-
reported social connectedness. The social connectedness
exercise did not signiﬁcantly impact any of those four
outcomes. However, both interventions related to a
reduction in workplace absence due to illness.
Implications The study suggests that self-guided, positive
psychology interventions (particularly gratitude) hold
potential for enhancing employee well-being. Because the
interventions are short, simple, and self-guided, there is
little in the way of costs or drawbacks for organizations.
Thus, these types of interventions seem like a potentially
useful component of workplace wellness initiatives.
Originality/Value This study is one of the few to examine
whether self-guided, positive psychology interventions can
enhance well-being. Moreover, this is the ﬁrst study to
examine a social connectedness workplace intervention
and the ﬁrst to demonstrate effects on illness-related
Keywords Positive psychology Intervention
Workplace well-being Gratitude Social
Employee psychological well-being has substantial conse-
quences for individual and organizational health and
functioning (e.g., Harter et al. 2003). Although workplace
well-being long has been a concern for organizational
scholars (e.g., (Roethlisberger and Dickson 1939), recent
ﬁndings suggest that attention to employee psychological
functioning may now be especially pressing. Owing to
factors such as decreased job security, the economic
downturn, and the inability to ‘‘turn off’’ work, over three-
quarters of Americans list work as a signiﬁcant source of
stress (American Psychological Association 2007) and
mean-level job satisfaction has declined signiﬁcantly in
recent years (e.g., Ray and Rizzacasa 2012).
Within the tremendous body of research cataloging the
antecedents of various indices of workplace well-being
(see Warr 2007), the focus primarily has been on identi-
fying the contextual (e.g., organizational and environ-
mental ones) and personal (e.g., personality traits and
S. Kaplan (&)A. Ahmad A. Anderson
A. K. Hargrove A. Lindsey
Department of Psychology, George Mason University,
4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030-4444, USA
J. C. Bradley-Geist
Craig School of Business, California State University, Fresno,
J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380
demographics) factors that contribute to or detract from
well-being. This research implicitly has adopted a ‘‘top-
down’’ perspective, wherein these contextual (e.g., Hack-
man and Oldham 1976) and personal (Thoresen et al. 2003)
characteristics impact employee reactions and outcomes.
Almost completely lost in all this is the recognition that
individuals act on their own to impact their well-being in
spite of, not due to, the inﬂuence of these other factors (but
see Berg et al. 2010; Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2001 for
rare and notable exceptions).
Recent research from the area of positive psychology,
however, demonstrates that programs encouraging speciﬁc
behaviors and activities can have dramatic and enduring
effects on psychological well-being. In fact, empirical
work suggests that these behaviors and activities may be at
least as consequential as ‘‘objective’’ contextual factors in
determining one’s level of happiness (see Lyubomirsky
et al. 2005).
Given the above observations, we designed a study to
translate this burgeoning work in positive psychology into
the organizational domain. Speciﬁcally, we developed two
well-being interventions, a ‘‘gratitude’’ exercise and a
‘‘social connectedness’’ exercise, and had participants
complete one of the two exercises for 2 weeks to examine
potential changes in job-related affective well-being and
absence (due to physical illness). Below, we brieﬂy review
research emphasizing the role of volitional behaviors in
well-being. Following that, we describe the two interven-
tions used in the current study and propose hypotheses
linking completion of these interventions to enhanced well-
How our Actions Inﬂuence Well-Being
Underlying this project is the notion that volitional actions
can inﬂuence well-being, that is, people can intentionally
facilitate cognitions and behaviors to increase their own
happiness and well-being. We base our argument in large
part on Lyubomirsky et al. (2005) model of happiness. This
model suggests that happiness is a function of three major
factors: life circumstances, temperament/disposition, and
positive cognitive or behavioral activities. Citing prior
research on happiness, Lyubomirsky et al. argue that life
circumstances (e.g., marital status, income, health, and
religiosity) jointly account for only 8–15 % of the total
variance in happiness levels. They attribute another 50 %
of the variance to a dispositional set point that tends to be
stable over time and circumstances. The remaining 40 % or
so of the variance in happiness levels is surmised to be due
to cognitive and behavioral activities in which a person
engages. Examples of these activities and practices include
choosing goals that are enjoyable and self-determined
(Sheldon and Elliot 1999), avoiding social comparisons
(Lyubomirsky and Ross 1997), and savoring the moment
(Hurley and Kwon 2012).
An implication of the notion that engaging in these
simple activities can enhance well-being is that interven-
tions can be developed to teach and facilitate the execution
of these activities. Adopting this logic, several studies have
introduced interventions that incorporate simple activities
meant to promote the cognitions and behaviors that can
enhance resultant well-being (for reviews of this research,
see Lyubomirsky 2008; Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009).
Examples of these interventions include having partici-
pants write about that for which they are grateful (Wood
et al. 2010), write about one’s ‘‘best’’ or ‘‘ideal’’ possible
self (e.g., Sheldon and Lyubomirsky 2006), learn about and
use one’s strengths (Seligman et al. 2005), learn to set
appropriate goals (Sheldon et al. 2002), and learn to
‘‘savor’’ positive experiences (Seligman et al. 2006).
The psychological mechanisms underlying the effec-
tiveness of happiness interventions likely vary depending
on the particular intervention (Lyubomirsky and Layous
2013). For example, an intervention designed to help
individuals identify and use their strengths might increase
well-being through building self-efﬁcacy while an inter-
vention focusing on setting appropriate goals could boost
well-being through the reinforcing effects of meeting goals.
As discussed subsequently, in the current study, we draw
from theories on cognitive dissonance, adaptation (hedonic
treadmill), theories on needs (e.g., status, belonging), and
social support to argue for the effectiveness of two inter-
ventions in increasing well-being.
Although research on positive psychology interventions
is still fairly nascent, some conclusions to date are
encouraging. For example, gratitude interventions have
produced improvements in well-being similar in effect size
to those associated with techniques used in clinical therapy
(e.g., Emmons and McCullough 2003). Also, a meta-
analysis of 51 studies revealed that these interventions do
indeed increase well-being (meta-analytic r=.29) and
decrease depressive symptoms (r=.31). In addition,
unlike the transitory beneﬁts of most discrete events (Ly-
ubomirsky et al. 2005), the beneﬁts of these interventions
can endure for several months and perhaps even longer
(Seligman et al. 2005). Moreover, the impact of these
interventions does not appear to be a mere placebo effect
(see Sheldon and Lyubomirsky 2007).
Organizational scholars also have begun introducing and
investigating these types of programs, albeit to a relatively
limited degree to date. In a recent review of positive psy-
chology interventions in organizations, Meyers and col-
leagues were able to locate 15 studies carried out with
workplace populations (Meyers et al. 2013). These inter-
ventions included loving kindness meditation, appreciative
368 J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380
inquiry, coaching interventions, interventions meant to
foster resilience, and interventions meant to foster psy-
chological capital, among others. Even among these 15
studies, though, some were not the types of self-guided
interventions we are investigating here (e.g., instead
examining the effects of ‘‘coaching’’ interventions or the
effects of one-time computer-based training, for examples).
Given their effectiveness outside of the workplace, these
interventions also appear to hold promise in enhancing
well-being at work. In fact, Meyers et al. reported that
87 % (13/15) of the studies they reviewed reported effects
on at least one workplace well-being variable.
In addition to adding to this growing body of research on
positive psychology interventions in the organizational
arena, we attempt to make three additional contributions
with this research. First, we created what seems to be a
novel intervention with the social connectedness interven-
tion (see description below). Although social relations are a
robust predictor of well-being (e.g., Baumeister and Leary
1995), self-guided programs to facilitate such relations
appear to be lacking, both inside and outside of the
workplace. Also, unlike many studies in this area, we
measured multiple well-being outcomes including more
proximal ones that may, in turn, impact other outcomes.
Somewhat surprisingly, studies in this domain include
measures of well-being (e.g., happiness) but do not include
measures of intervening variables through which the
intervention might have its effects on those distal outcomes
(e.g., a gratitude intervention increasing gratitude and
gratitude, in turn, increasing happiness). Including both
proximal and distal measures can provide knowledge about
the mechanisms through which the interventions are
functioning. Finally, unlike the majority of the studies
noted above, we examine the effects of the interventions
over time, beyond intervention completion. Investigating
the degree to which the interventions’ beneﬁts persist is
paramount, as most changes in well-being are ﬂeeting
(Watkins 2004), thereby calling into question the value of
immediate change absent longer-term effects.
The Current Interventions
Whereas the Lyubormirsky model focuses on happiness
and well-being in somewhat general terms, we believe that
brief interventions like the current ones are more likely to
impact some aspects of well-being compared to others.
Speciﬁcally, we chose to focus on job-related positive and
negative affective well-being (PAWB and NAWB) as the
main outcomes. Research from outside the organizational
domain suggests that effect sizes associated with these
types of interventions are larger for the components of
subjective well-being (including affect) than for other
psychological outcomes such as eudaimonic well-being or
depression (Bolier et al. 2013). Also, affective states appear
to be more transient and therefore more malleable, than are
constructs such as job attitudes (see Weiss 2002).
We do not attempt to conﬁrm or refute the precise
estimates of variance that the Lyubormirsky model attri-
butes to each of the three sources of happiness (or affect, in
this case); instead, we point to the model as an indicator
that intentional behaviors have the potential to have a
substantial and meaningful impact on well-being. Below,
we describe the two interventions we designed and develop
hypotheses linking the completion of the interventions to
decreased negative affect and enhanced positive affect.
Each intervention was designed with consideration for both
ease of performing within a work setting and potential
efﬁcacy based on prior research and theory.
We follow Wood et al. (2010, p. 891) in deﬁning gratitude
as an ‘‘orientation towards noticing and appreciating the
positive ‘in one’s work life’ (versus ‘in the world’).’’ In
recent years, researchers have amassed a considerable body
of ﬁndings linking gratitude to greater psychological well-
being (for reviews, see Emmons and McCullough 2004;
Wood et al. 2010). After reviewing the literature on grat-
itude and well-being, Wood et al. conclude that gratitude is
robustly related to well-being, regardless of how well-
being is conceptualized (e.g., in terms of psychopathology
and in more humanistic terms). Among the most impres-
sive ﬁndings in this literature is that gratitude could explain
20 % of the variance in satisfaction with life after con-
trolling for facets and domains associated with the Big Five
personality traits (Wood et al. 2008).
Although Wood and colleagues’ discussion tends to
focus on the dispositional orientation to experience grati-
tude, we argue that gratitude can be enhanced through
intentional practice (see Adler and Fagley 2005). Consis-
tent with the notion that gratitude can be practiced and
increased, gratitude interventions have been associated
with lasting reductions in worry (Geraghty et al. 2010) and
increased happiness and life satisfaction (Emmons and
McCullough 2003; Seligman et al. 2005).
There are several theoretical explanations behind the
beneﬁts of gratitude. First, expressing gratitude might be
incompatible with simultaneous experiences of negative
thoughts and emotions (e.g., worry; Geraghty et al. 2010).
Consistent with cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger
1957), expressions of gratitude might create dissonance
with negative thoughts and feelings; as such, individuals
might reduce dissonance by internalizing positive feelings
and cognitions to be consistent with their expressions of
gratitude. Second, expressing gratitude allows people to re-
J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380 369
experience the joys and positives in life (Sheldon and
Lyubomirsky 2006). Relatedly, adaptation theory (e.g.,
Brickman and Campbell 1971) suggests that people tend to
adapt to positive changes in the environment and return
rather quickly to a state of hedonic neutrality. Following
from this logic, others (e.g., Watkins 2004) have suggested
that increased gratitude can prevent succumbing to this
‘‘hedonic treadmill’’ in which the positives in life (e.g.,
healthy family and having a stable job) are taken for
granted. Taken a step further, Sheldon and Lyubomirsky
(2006) suggest that practicing gratitude can encourage
people to cope with negative situations by reinterpreting
them in a more positive light. For example, a woman might
reinterpret a job layoff as an opportunity to pursue her
dream of going back to school or starting a business. Based
on prior research and theory showing the beneﬁts of grat-
itude interventions in clinical and general life contexts, we
predicted similar beneﬁts in a work setting.
Hypothesis 1 Participant PAWB will be signiﬁcantly
higher after performing a gratitude intervention than before
Hypothesis 2 Participant NAWB will be signiﬁcantly
lower after performing a gratitude intervention than before
In addition to measuring PAWB and NAWB, we also
included dependent variables speciﬁc to the interventions
themselves (i.e., gratitude and social connectedness). We
included these measures for several reasons. First, they
provide a way to assess discriminant validity between the
different intervention conditions. Also, we were interested in
whether increases in these variables lead to changes in other
well-being variables. Finally, including these measures
allows for inspection of whether participants were merely
falling prey to demand characteristics. Speciﬁcally, we
anticipated that participants completing the gratitude inter-
vention would report higher gratitude post-intervention than
would participants completing the social connectedness
intervention. Likewise, we anticipated higher reports of
social connectedness in the participants who completed that
intervention rather than the gratitude intervention. Although
we would expect general positive impacts of the interven-
tion, we also expected to see more dramatic effects that were
speciﬁc to the nature of the intervention performed.
Hypothesis 3a Self-reported gratitude will be signiﬁ-
cantly higher after performing the gratitude intervention
than before the intervention.
Hypothesis 3b Post-intervention self-reported gratitude
will be signiﬁcantly higher for participants completing the
gratitude intervention than participants completing the
social connectedness intervention.
The second intervention we implemented was one meant to
foster social connectedness at work. Workplace social
connectedness involves feelings of relatedness and com-
panionship with one’s work colleagues (Lee and Robbins
1995). Whereas there is research from outside the organi-
zational domain to support the effectiveness of gratitude
interventions (see above), we are not aware of interventions
focused speciﬁcally on increasing social interaction and
connectedness. We chose to develop a social connected-
ness intervention for several reasons. First, the evidence
linking social interaction and supportive social relation-
ships to psychological health is overwhelming. Consis-
tently, research demonstrates that feelings of social
afﬁliation, integration, and the like are among the strongest
predictors of happiness and well-being (Myers 2000). In
the workplace as well, social interaction and coworker
relations are some of the most important inﬂuences on
employee job attitudes and psychological health (Chiaburu
and Harrison 2008; Halbesleben 2006). Thus, increasing
the strength of social ties seems an especially effective
means to increase worker well-being.
Also driving our decision to institute, this particular type
of intervention was the recognition that the beneﬁts of
social interaction and relationships may increasingly be in
jeopardy. Owing to the increase in practices like telework
and distributed teamwork and to a greater reliance on
computer-mediated communication in general, employees
may communicate with each other less overall. They also
may be engaging in less of the kind of impromptu (versus
scheduled) social interactions that may be especially
important for well-being (Allen et al. 2003; Sarbaugh-
Thompson and Feldman 1998). Our goal then was to
develop an intervention to increase overall, and especially
face-to-face, social interaction. Ultimately, these types of
interactions then should tend to foster more and more
meaningful social ties and relationships and ultimately
greater well-being (Myers 2000).
With regard to the main outcome of interest here, studies
indicate that social contact can have an immediate impact
on affect, and especially positive affect. As argued by
Taylor and Brown (1988), norms for social interaction
typically (though not always) tend to be biased in a positive
direction such that they encourage positive feedback and
self-evaluation. As such, social interaction tends to
enhance well-being. Similarly, social contact can fulﬁll the
strong basic human need for acceptance and belonging
(Baumeister and Leary 1995), also a boon to well-being. In
a seminal paper in this area, Watson and colleagues
showed in three studies that social activity was positively
related to positive affect at both the between- and within-
370 J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380
person levels of analysis (Watson et al. 1992). Similarly,
Reis and colleagues showed that daily feelings of related-
ness predicted daily positive affect (Reis et al. 2000).
Within the work domain as well, ﬁndings document the
importance of positive social interaction on affect (e.g.,
Basch and Fisher 2000). In a recent study, for example,
Dimotakis et al. (2011) found that daily positive social
interaction predicted greater positive affect and, in turn,
higher state job satisfaction.
Hypothesis 4 Participant PAWB will be signiﬁcantly
higher after performing a social connectedness intervention
than before the intervention.
The effects of social interaction on state negative affect
are less certain. While negative and conﬂict-ridden inter-
actions clearly can increase negative affect (e.g., Bolger
et al. 1989), the inﬂuence of social interaction, more gen-
erally, in decreasing negative affect (NAWB) is not as
clear. Theoretically, interacting with others serves purposes
such as reducing loneliness and self-focused attention and
in obtaining social support (Baumeister and Leary 1995).
While some results indeed support the notion that social
support and social interaction decreases felt negative affect
(Westermann et al. 1996), other studies indicate no rela-
tionship. For example, in a highly cited series of studies on
social interaction and affect, Watson et al. (1992) failed to
ﬁnd signiﬁcant correlations between social activity and
negative affect. More recently, in a workplace study, Di-
motakis et al. (2011) also found nonsigniﬁcant relation-
ships between ‘‘positive interactions’’ and negative affect.
These results are in line with Watson’s (2000) assertion
that social activity has stronger effects on positive, relative
to negative moods. Likely, the nature of the interaction
impacts felt negative affect. Stressful or conﬂict-ridden
ones obviously would not be expected to reduce negative
We also investigated the inﬂuence of completing this
intervention on self-reported social connectedness. Because
actual social interaction increases feelings of connectedness
(Baumeister and Leary 1995), we anticipated that social
connectedness would increase and that participants in
this condition would report higher connectedness post-
intervention than would participants completing the grati-
Hypothesis 5a Self-reported social connectedness will be
signiﬁcantly higher after performing the social connected-
ness intervention than before the intervention.
Hypothesis 5b Self-reported post-intervention social
connectedness will be signiﬁcantly higher for participants
completing the social connectedness intervention than
participants completing the gratitude intervention.
Staff members from two large public universities were invited
to participate in a study on workplace well-being. Members of
the research team contacted and met with various departments
in both universities to recruit potential participants. A total of
112 employees agreed to participate. Employees who com-
pleted the study received a $10 gift certiﬁcate for participating.
Of the 112 employees who completed the initial set of mea-
sures, 67 completed the intervention program and also
responded to both sets of follow-up measures.
The ﬁnal sample was predominately female (86.6 %),
had been at their organization for about nine years on
average (M=9.39, SD =9.03), worked about forty hours
per week (M=42.07, SD =7.94), and had a mean age of
about 43 (M=42.93, SD =12.25). The majority of the
sample (92.3 %) had general administrative type jobs
(administrative assistant, program coordinator, ﬁnancial aid
counselor, ofﬁce manager) while 5.1 % had jobs in the
health care ﬁeld (e.g., nurse, physician, and dietician) and
2.6 % did not report their job title or description. Com-
parison on the initial set of measures revealed no signiﬁcant
differences between the two groups (the initial sample of
112 versus the 67 employees who completed the interven-
tion program and follow-up measures) on any demograph-
ics or study variables. Participants were randomly assigned
to one of the two conditions with 33 in the gratitude con-
dition and 34 in the social connectedness condition.
The researchers made contact with the supervisors of var-
ious nonacademic departments (e.g., dining services,
admissions, and Information Technology) at the two uni-
versities. Researchers asked departmental supervisors to
send out a recruitment e-mail along with a link to the initial
measures. Upon visiting the link, participants viewed and
agreed to the informed consent. Included as part of the
consent, the participants were told that the purpose of the
study was to explore avenues to increase well-being at
work. Following the consent, participants were asked to
provide demographic information and to complete the
other measures. Participants then created a personal iden-
tiﬁer code (e.g., ‘‘your mother’s maiden name’’ or ‘‘the
name of the street on which you grew up’’) and were asked
to record this identiﬁer (e.g., ‘‘in your planner or on your
cell phone’’). They were also provided with an e-mail
address to contact the researchers if they subsequently
forgot it or could not locate their code. These identiﬁer
codes allowed the three surveys to be linked.
J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380 371
After completing the initial battery of measures, par-
ticipants randomly were assigned to one of two interven-
tion conditions (gratitude or social connectedness).
Participants received detailed instructions on completing
the intervention (for their condition) via a slide presenta-
tion that was e-mailed to them (see Appendix 1 for the
information presented in the slide presentations). These
presentations contained instructions indicating that partic-
ipants were to complete their assigned well-being inter-
vention on 3 days per week for a two-week period. During
the two-week period, participants then received both
weekly and daily participation reminders. The daily
reminder e-mails contained the link to a secure Web site
where participants either recorded that for which they were
grateful at work (in the gratitude condition) or where they
described their attempts at fostering social connectedness
that day (in the social connectedness condition). The con-
ditions are described in more detail below.
After the two-week intervention and then again four
weeks after that (i.e., 6 weeks after beginning the study),
participants responded to the same set of measures given in
the initial battery.
In the gratitude condition, participants were asked to log in
at least three times per week to record things that they are
grateful for related to their job (Emmons and McCullough
2003). Each time, they followed the link (embedded in
their daily reminder e-mails) to the secure Web site and
they typed responses to the following prompt:
Try to think about the many things in your job/work,
both large and small, for which you are grateful.
These might include supportive work relationships,
sacriﬁces or contributions that others have made for
you, advantages or opportunities at work, or thank-
fulness for the opportunity to have your job in gen-
eral. Try to think of new ideas that you have not
focused on in the past.
Increasing Social Connectedness Condition
In the increasing social connectedness condition, partici-
pants were asked to engage in speciﬁc strategies to increase
their social ties at work social three times per week and to
document those experiences on a secure Web site. To
clarify, whereas, in the gratitude condition, participants
completed the intervention online, participants in the social
connectedness condition were reminded to engage in
additional social activities in the reminder e-mails and only
recorded those activities online. In the initial slide pre-
sentation and in the reminder e-mails, participants were
provided with a list of suggestions for increasing social ties
such as physically going to talk with a colleague instead of
e-mailing him or her and doing something during work
with a coworker, such as getting coffee or going for a walk
(see Appendix 1 for full list of suggestions).
Participants completed the study measures at three time
points: directly before and after the intervention period and
again 1 month after completion of the intervention. Given
the time frame of the study, participants were asked to
report their well-being (e.g., gratitude and PAWB) ‘‘over
the past 30 days,’’ ‘‘over the past 2 weeks,’’ and ‘‘over the
past 30 days,’’ at the ﬁrst, second, and third survey
administrations, respectively. The full measures are pre-
sented in ‘‘Appendix 2.’’
We used the three-item gratitude adjective checklist (GAC)
developed by McCullough et al. (2002). This is a fre-
quently used measure of gratitude with strong psycho-
metric properties and validity-related evidence (e.g., Froh
et al. 2009). Participants reported the degree to which they
experienced each gratitude-related adjective at work,
ranging from 1 (very slightly or not at all)to5(extremely).
Exploratory factor analyses supported a strong unidimen-
sional solution for the measure, and the coefﬁcient areli-
abilities ranged from .94 to .96 over the three time points.
We chose four items from the social connectedness sub-
scale from Lee and Robbins’ (1995) measure of belong-
ingness. We selected items that appeared less dispositional
in nature and, therefore, on which one’s standing poten-
tially could change as a function of intervention comple-
tion. The response scale for this measure ranged from 1
(strongly disagree)to5(strongly agree). Exploratory fac-
tor analyses supported a strong one-factor solution. The
coefﬁcient areliability ranged from .85 to .93 across the
three time points.
PAWB and NAWB were measured with the Job-Related
Affective Well-being Scale (JAWS). The JAWS (Van
Katwyk et al. 2000) is a 30-item scale (15 PAWB items
and 15 NAWB items) designed to measure emotional
reactions to one’s job. Items were asked on a ﬁve-point
Likert-type scale (1 =strongly disagree to 5 =strongly
372 J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380
agree). Exploratory factor analyses conﬁrmed that the
items loaded onto one of two intended factors (i.e., sub-
scales). Across the three time points, positive affect
a’s =.94–.95 and negative affect a’s =.93–.94.
Absence Due to Illness
In addition to the primary variables described above, we also
evaluated whether completing these interventions impacted
employee absence due to illness. Some research indicates
that completing positive psychology interventions similar to
the current ones (e.g., writing activities; see Harris 2006) can
actually improve physical health as well as psychological
health. Obviously, results showing that intervention com-
pletion can aid physical health (and, in turn, reduce absence)
would have substantial implications both for employees and
organizations. Because we are uncertain whether completing
these interventions for 2 weeks actually could impact
physical health, we chose not to offer a formal proposal for
this outcome, instead examining this in an exploratory
manner. At each time point, participants responded to the
following question, ‘‘Over the last month (or 2 weeks for the
post-intervention assessment), about how many different
times (i.e., instances) were you absent from work because
you were sick/not feeling well?’’
Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations for the study
variables at the three time points appear in Table 1. Also,
the descriptive statistics for the outcomes for the two
conditions at each time point appear in Table 2. For the
primary analyses, we conducted growth curve modeling
using the HLM software program (Raudenbush et al.
2004). We began by examining the effects of each condi-
tion separately. For each condition, ‘‘time’’ was the level-1
predictor, represented by weeks into the study (0, 2, and
Because participants came from two different univer-
sities, a dummy code for university was included in the
level-2 intercept and slope equations. The results from
these analyses are presented in Table 3.
Tests of Hypotheses
Turning ﬁrst to the gratitude condition, we predicted in the
ﬁrst hypothesis that PAWB would increase after complet-
ing the gratitude intervention. As seen in Table 3, PAWB
did indeed increase for this group, thereby supporting
Hypothesis 1. The means in Table 2reveal that PAWB
increased at each time point. Hypothesis 2 predicted that
NAWB would decrease as a function of performing the
gratitude exercise. Although mean NAWB scores did
decrease, the drop was not signiﬁcant. Thus, Hypothesis 2
was not supported. Consistent with Hypothesis 3a, self-
reported gratitude signiﬁcantly increased following the
intervention (see Tables 2,3). Although not explicitly
hypothesized, we also evaluated whether completing the
gratitude exercise was associated with an increase in self-
reported social connectedness. Tables 2and 3reveal no
signiﬁcant effect. In sum, the gratitude intervention was
associated with signiﬁcant increases in PAWB and self-
reported gratitude but not signiﬁcant changes in NAWB or
self-reported social connectedness.
We then evaluated the same basic model for the social
connectedness condition. Hypothesis 4 predicted that posi-
tive affect would increase after participating in the social
connectedness intervention. However, as seen in Tables 2
and 3, PAWB did not signiﬁcantly increase over time. Thus,
Hypothesis 4 was not supported. Hypothesis 5 predicted that
self-reported social connectedness would increase following
the social connectedness intervention. However, Hypothesis
5 was not supported because results indicated no signiﬁcant
change in self-reported social connectedness. Finally,
although not hypothesized, we also evaluated whether this
condition increased self-reported gratitude. Tables 2and 3
reveal there was no signiﬁcant effect of the social connect-
edness intervention on gratitude. In sum, the social con-
nectedness exercise did not signiﬁcantly improve PAWB or
self-reported social connectedness or gratitude.
Hypotheses 3b and 5b were comparative predictions.
According to Hypothesis 3b, self-reported gratitude would
be increased more by the gratitude intervention than by the
social connectedness intervention. According to Hypothesis
5b, self-reported social connectedness would be increased
more by the social connectedness intervention than by the
gratitude intervention. To examine these hypotheses, we
combined data from the two conditions. We evaluated the
same model as described above but also included condition
as a level-2 predictor of the slopes and intercepts. The
analysis for gratitude revealed that, across conditions, self-
reported gratitude did increase over time (c=.11, p\.01).
The cross-level interaction for condition was also signiﬁ-
cant (c=-.11, p\.01). Inspection of the means in
Table 2and of the graph of this equation showed that self-
reported gratitude only increased for those in the gratitude
condition; the line for the social connectedness condition
was essentially ﬂat. These results support Hypothesis 3b.
The same analyses with self-reported social connectedness
as the outcome revealed that this variable did not signiﬁ-
cantly increase over time across conditions (c=.00,
We also conducted all of the analyses coding time as 0, 1, 2 (instead
of number of weeks into study). The conclusions from the two sets of
analyses were identical. We also examined potential nonlinear effects,
but they were not statistically signiﬁcant.
J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380 373
p[.10) and did not change more dramatically for one
condition versus the other (cfor cross-level interaction =
-.04, p[.10). Thus, Hypothesis 5b was not supported.
Analyses also were conducted to compare the two
interventions in terms of their effects on PAWB and
NAWB. Across the two conditions, positive affect
increased (c=.05, p\.05). However, the cross-level
interaction for condition was signiﬁcant (c=-.05,
p\.05). Inspection of the means in Table 2and of the
graph from this equation showed that PAWB only
increased for those in the gratitude group. Notably, when
the two samples were considered together, the decrease in
negative affect also approached statistical signiﬁcance
(c=-.05, p=.055). The cross-level interaction for
condition was not signiﬁcant (c=.02, p[.10), suggesting
that the change was roughly equal across conditions. The
graph of this equation conﬁrmed this conclusion.
In addition to testing the study hypotheses, we also con-
ducted three sets of additional analyses. First, given that
participants in the gratitude condition experienced increa-
ses in gratitude and in job-related positive affect, we
examined whether these changes were related to one
another. To do so, we regressed the (Time 3—baseline)
Table 1 Descriptive statistics and correlations for the focal variables at the three time points
Means SDs Gratitude Soc connect PAWB NAWB
Gratitude 3.47 .97
Soc connect 4.17 .84 .28*
PAWB 3.43 .70 .54* .31**
NAWB 2.67 .83 -.32* -.37** -.58*
Absence due to illness .82 1.07 -.32* -.15 -.29* .17
Gratitude 3.86 .87
Soc connect 4.13 .77 .22
PAWB 3.46 .75 .69* .41**
NAWB 2.49 .83 -.30* -.18 -.53*
Absence due to illness .23 .51 -.12 .00 -.11 .10
Gratitude 3.86 .96
Soc connect 4.32 .72 .25
PAWB 3.65 .63 .66* .21
NAWB 2.30 .70 -.46* -.37* -.55*
Absence due to illness .29 .59 -.09 .14 .00 .14
N=33 for the gratitude condition and N=34 for the social connectedness condition
Soc connect social connectedness
*p\.05, ** p\.01
Table 2 Descriptive statistics for focal variables across study conditions
Outcome Time 1 Time 2 Time 3
Grat cond SC cond Grat cond SC cond Grat cond SC cond
MSD MSD MSD MSD MSD MSD
Gratitude 3.37 .95 3.57 1.00 3.79 .94 3.94 .80 4.08 1.00 3.65 .97
Social connectedness 4.16 .76 4.17 .91 4.13 .61 4.13 .93 4.31 .60 4.33 .83
PAWB 3.36 .71 3.51 .68 3.47 .78 3.45 .73 3.69 .69 3.61 .59
NAWB 2.70 .87 2.64 .80 2.43 .76 2.55 .89 2.34 .71 2.27 .70
Absence due to illness .88 .95 .77 1.17 .24 .53 .21 .49 .29 .56 .29 .62
N=33 for the gratitude condition and N=34 for the social connectedness condition
Grat cond gratitude condition, SC social connectedness condition, Mmean
374 J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380
residualized change scores in PAWB on the (Time 2—
baseline) residualized change scores for gratitude (see
MacKinnon, 2008, p. 199). Contrary to our expectation, the
coefﬁcient was not statistically signiﬁcant, b=.20,
p=.271. This result suggests that increases in well-being
were not due to changes in felt gratitude.
As described in the Method section above, we were also
interested in any effects of the interventions on physical
health. To explore this question, we included an item
asking about the frequency of illness-related work absence.
Using this measure, we assessed the same model as
described above but used multilevel Poisson regression
here (given that these were count data with a preponder-
ance of zero absences). As seen in Table 3, the two con-
ditions, when considered separately, were associated with a
decrease in illness-related absences. Analyses considering
the two conditions together produced the same conclusion.
Finally, we also investigated whether frequency of
intervention completion impacted the effectiveness of the
interventions. To do so, we ﬁrst computed adherence scores
by counting the number of times participants logged into
complete (or document completing) the intervention. In
general, adherence was fairly good, as participants reported
completing the intervention 2.18 times per week, on
average (i.e., 4.36/6 total requested times for the two-week
period, M=2.5, SD =1.34). Notably, total adherence
was somewhat, but not signiﬁcantly, higher for the grati-
tude condition (M=4.64, SD =2.38) as compared to the
social connectedness condition (M=4.08, SD =2.74;
F(1, 71) =.86, p=.36. We then ran a series of models
including frequency of intervention completion as a cross-
level moderator. For none of the outcomes was the inter-
action term signiﬁcant (all p’s [.10). Thus, completing the
interventions more often did not seem to amplify their
This study examined the effectiveness of two interventions
in enhancing workplace well-being. We found that a
gratitude intervention was successful in inﬂuencing three
outcomes (self-reported gratitude, PAWB, and reduced
absence due to illness) while the social connectedness
condition decreased absence due to illness.
We believe this study makes three primary contributions.
First, it contributes to a small but growing body of work
extending positive psychology research into an organiza-
tional context. As noted above, prior examinations of
workplace positive psychology interventions are relatively
Table 3 HLM results describing the effects of the two interventions on well-being outcomes
Outcome Gratitude condition Social connectedness condition
Estimate tEstimate T
Pre-intervention intercept 3.58 17.80** 3.51 23.36**
Time .05 2.62* -.02 -1.00
Pre-intervention intercept 2.42 11.01** 2.69 15.32**
Time -.02 -.84 -.04 -2.02^
Pre-intervention intercept 3.74 15.79** 3.71 18.58**
Time .09 2.73* .01 .26
Pre-intervention intercept 4.02 21.17** 4.09 21.29**
Time .00 .58 .01 .20
Absence due to physical illness
Pre-intervention intercept -.35 -.84 .27 .88
Time -1.04 (.35) -2.18* -.62 (.54) -3.26**
N=33 for the gratitude condition and N=34 for the social connectedness condition. Sample (i.e., at which of the two universities participants
worked) was also included as a level-2 control variable. Those results are not presented here for the sake of clarity of the Table
Time coefﬁcients represent changes in log absenteeism. Coefﬁcients in parentheses represent exponentiated decrease in number of days absent
^p\.10, * p\.05, ** p\.01
Results are based on Poisson model
J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380 375
few in number. Also, many of the existing studies focus more
on what organizations and leaders can do to enhance
employee well-being versus on what employees themselves
can do. Second, the longitudinal nature of the study provides
insight into the temporal effects of the interventions and
reveals that their impact extended beyond the intervention.
Finally, the results suggest that relatively fast and simple
self-guided interventions can enhance well-being. Clearly,
though, not all hypotheses were supported, suggesting more
nuanced relationships between speciﬁc interventions and
aspects of well-being.
Regarding theoretical implications, this study clearly points
to the importance of further research into the mediating
mechanisms underlying intervention effectiveness. Prior
studies have carried out little in the way of showing why
the interventions work, and the current study suggests that
the variables considered here (i.e., self-reported gratitude
and self-reported social connectedness) were not respon-
sible for the enhanced well-being observed. Arguably,
then, the results might be inconsistent with an adaptation
theory explanation in which gratitude interventions
enhance well-being by preventing people from adapting to,
or taking for granted, the positives in life. It is possible that
increases in PAWB are due to cumulative experiences of
short-term boosts in positive mood that are experienced
during and shortly after the intervention. However, because
we did not measure state affect when the intervention
activities were completed, we can only point to this as a
direction for future research. Likewise, decreases in
absences in the social connectedness intervention were not
due to increased reports of social connectedness. Thus, we
can only speculate that the effects on the absences due to
illnesses are due to other theoretical mechanisms such as
reductions in stress that come from participating in the
social connectedness intervention.
This study has a number of practical implications.
Importantly, the interventions were simple and quick to
complete. Also, there was no cost to the participants’ orga-
nizations, other than the few minutes of employee time
necessary to complete the interventions. These practical
advantages are important as most organizational interven-
tions require systemic or structural changes, such as training
leaders or altering policies (e.g., Campion and McClelland
1993). Although management can encourage employee
participation in this type of intervention, the actual mecha-
nism of change is in the control of the employee.
In qualitative feedback at the end of the study, partici-
pants indicated enthusiasm about the interventions and
described them as uplifting and easy to complete. A sample
comment from participants in the gratitude condition was,
‘‘I’ve continued to have a greater awareness of the ‘bright’
side of my job. On the days I feel overwhelmed, I think
back to what I enjoy most about my job and that tends to
lift my mood.’’ Notably, several participants reported
already completing something like the gratitude interven-
tion prior to the study. A sample comment from the social
connectedness intervention was, ‘‘Anything that I can do to
keep the atmosphere at work and with my colleagues
enjoyable is worth the extra effort! I continue to try to
make a face-to-face visit as opposed to ONLY e-mailing.’’
However, some participants indicated that making social
connections was difﬁcult due to the structure of their work
environment, time constraints, and ofﬁce politics.
A few important differences between the conditions bear
mention, especially as they partially might explain differ-
ences in the relatively stronger effects for the gratitude
condition. First, the social connectedness intervention
necessarily involves the willingness of another person to
participate in the social interaction, whereas the gratitude
condition was the sole responsibility of the study partici-
pant. Second, the social connectedness intervention argu-
ably required more time and behavioral change while the
gratitude intervention was more reﬂective and cognitive in
nature. Third, not all social interaction is positive, and even
interactions that may reduce negative affect by reducing
loneliness, for example, are not necessarily ‘‘fun’’ or
‘‘engaging.’’ Also, as a reviewer keenly noted, people
actually may feel less, not more, happy if they fail to ini-
tiate social contact when instructed to do so.
These potential burdens and factors notwithstanding,
results to a question on the ﬁnal survey indicated that
participants actually would have chosen the social con-
nectedness intervention over the gratitude intervention if
given a choice. Thus, employees seem to value an inter-
vention promoting social connectedness. However, it must
be easy to complete, appropriate for the employee and
workplace, and facilitate, rather than hinder, workday
A ﬁnal practical implication that bears emphasis is the
potential for these types of interventions to actually
improve health and, in turn, reduce absence. Although
tentative, the current ﬁndings are quite promising and are
consistent with research showing that writing about posi-
tive experiences and aspects of oneself can improve
objectively measured physical health (e.g., Burton and
King 2004). To the degree that these interventions can
improve physical health and reduce associated organiza-
tional costs (e.g., lost productivity and insurance costs),
their beneﬁt to organizations obviously increases dramati-
cally. Studies trying to replicate the present results and
extend these ﬁndings by including more objective out-
comes (e.g., physiological indicators) and examining
mediating mechanisms certainly would be of value.
376 J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380
Several limitations of the study warrant mention. First, the
sample size was relatively modest. As such, statistical power
was limited, potentially leading to some of the nonsigniﬁcant
results. In particular, the results from the combined analyses
for NAWB reported above, along with the decreasing mean
values for NAWB over time (in Table 2), suggest that these
interventions may reduce negative affect to some degree. A
larger sample size would be necessary to detect statistically
signiﬁcant results though. Notably, however, small sample
sizes are not atypical for intervention research (e.g., Ly-
ubomirsky et al. 2005). Despite participants reporting
favorable reactions to the interventions, recruiting partici-
pants was challenging. Our impression was that initial
reluctance to participate was mainly a function of limited
time. Qualitative comments from participants seemed to
conﬁrm that time was a limiting factor. Thus, future inter-
ventions should emphasize activities that are brief and easy
to complete. Also, recruiting a larger initial sample of par-
ticipants will increase power.
Related to the small sample, we opted to forgo a control
group in order to maximize the number of participants in
intervention conditions. Although a control group would be
ideal, two ﬁndings potentially mitigate concerns over the
lack of a control group. First, we gain conﬁdence from the
fact that the two interventions impacted different out-
comes. Also, the primarily nonsigniﬁcant results for the
social connectedness condition suggest that there was not a
general ‘‘placebo effect.’’ Had we found uniformly positive
changes across all variables and conditions, we would be
concerned about demand characteristics and the need for a
formal control group. Similar pretest–posttest designs sans
control group are relatively common in some areas of
research, for example, when small sample size or the ethics
of withholding treatment make a control group impractical.
Also, we did have considerable attrition; 60 % of the
people who responded to the initial set of measures com-
pleted the intervention and all follow-up surveys. Again,
qualitative feedback suggested that the time required was
the main concern. Another potential cause for attrition was
that all contact with participants was online; past research
suggests that the lack of face-to-face contact can increase
attrition (Eysenbach 2005). We were not aware of this
effect prior to the study and did not wish to burden par-
ticipants with training sessions. That said, future studies
might beneﬁt from in-person contact.
An additional consideration concerns the measure of
social connectedness (Lee and Robbins 1995). Although
this is a widely used and validated measure, it may have
failed to capture the type of connectedness we sought to
enhance here. As such, we would recommend that future
studies include (additional) measures of social relations.
Another issue concerns our decision to randomly assign
people to conditions rather than letting them choose an
intervention. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007) argued that
interventions should ﬁt with one’s personality and needs.
Thus, results may have been even more encouraging if
people chose their condition. We opted to assign people to
strengthen internal validity, but doing so potentially
increased attrition and attenuated the strength of the effects.
Also of note is that we only assessed well-being 4 weeks
post-intervention. Reassessing the outcomes several
months after the intervention would be beneﬁcial but
simply was not practical in this case. Lastly, the general-
izability of the sample is a potential issue as the sample
was entirely comprised of university employees (albeit
different departments and functions) and was predomi-
nately female (87 %).
Given the dearth of empirical information on interventions
in the organizational context, several research questions
remain. For example, researchers should examine the opti-
mal length for the intervention and the ideal frequency of
activity completion (e.g., three versus ﬁve times a week; see
Lyubomirsky and Layous 2013). Also informative would be
to compare the effectiveness of these interventions con-
ducted in the work environment versus at home. Completing
these interventions at work presumably could serve either as
a ‘‘micro break’’ and enhance well-being or could be an
interference and burden, thereby causing frustration and
greater stress. Another consideration is that completing these
interventions at work may boost adherence given the avail-
ability of support from colleagues or supervisors who might
also be completing the activities. An additional future
direction involves assessing other activities. There are a host
of these types of activities that may enhance well-being (see
Lyubomirsky 2008; Seligman et al. 2005). However, studies
primarily have not addressed their application in a work
setting (but see Meyers et al. 2013 for some exceptions).
Finally, further research is needed on the mechanisms by
which interventions impact well-being. The current results
indicate that gratitude did not, in fact, mediate the relation-
ship between the gratitude intervention and PAWB. Future
researchers may wish to explore other theoretical mecha-
nisms mentioned previously (e.g., reducing cognitive dis-
sonance and preventing ‘‘hedonic treadmill’’).
Based on our review of the literature on these types of
interventions, both in the workplace and in general, no ﬁrm
recommendations can be made about many of these issues
(e.g., frequency and duration of interventions). The num-
ber of studies experimentally examining each of these
issues is small and the results that do exist sometimes are
inconsistent—likely due to idiosyncrasies in the studies
J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380 377
(e.g., the population and context; Lyubomirsky and Layous
2013). More research is needed to work toward being able
to make ﬁrmer conclusions and recommendations regard-
ing these issues.
In sum, the current climate of employment attitudes is
changing, whereby job security, loyalty, and the average
length of employment with one company are much lower
than they have been historically (Fisher 2010). Also, due to
economic and societal changes, work seems to be becom-
ing more, not less, challenging from a psychological
standpoint (American Psychological Association 2007).
Given these recognitions, coupled with the potential ben-
eﬁts of job-related well-being, interventions to increase
well-being at work through employee-directed intentional,
positive interventions may be increasingly pertinent.
Appendix 1: Intervention instructions presented via
e-mailed slide presentations
Social Connectedness Intervention Instructions
•We would like you to increase your social ties with
your coworkers. We are going to provide different
strategies to do this.
•Log in 3 times a week (you can choose which days you
want to log in) and try to do the different strategies 3
times a week.
•You can do the same thing three times or choose
different ones each time.
•Do the activity for 2 weeks beginning NEXT Monday
or the ﬁrst day you will return to work.
Sample Strategies to Increase Social Ties
1. Instead of e-mailing someone, call him or her or go to
his or her desk to discuss the topic you were going to
2. Do something social outside of work hours with a
coworker (e.g., go to dinner, happy hour, and the gym).
3. Do something social during work hours with a
coworker (e.g., get coffee, go for a walk, and take a
lunch break together).
4. Talk with one coworker who you do not normally talk
to (e.g., could be work related or not work related).
5. Start or join a team or group activity with your
coworkers (e.g., softball team, kickball team, book
club, and road race).
6. Ask around to see whether you live close enough that
you could commute to work with a coworker (carpool
or take the public transportation together).
7. Plan or attend a group activity for your coworkers after
work (e.g., a baseball game and happy hour).
Gratitude Intervention Instructions
•We would like you to think about the many things in
your job/work, both large and small, for which you are
grateful. These might include supportive work rela-
tionships, sacriﬁces, or contributions that others have
made for you, advantages or opportunities at work, or
thankfulness for the opportunity to have your job in
general. Try to think of new ideas that you have not
focused on in the past.
•You will log into the Web site we provide and list
things about your job for which you are grateful on
three days for each of the next 2 weeks (you can choose
which days you want to log in).
•Do this for 2 weeks beginning NEXT Monday or the
ﬁrst day you will return to work.
Appendix 2: Study Measures
For all measures, participants reported their well-being (on
the measure below) ‘‘over the past 30 days,’’ ‘‘over the past
2 weeks,’’ and ‘‘over the past 30 days,’’ at the ﬁrst, second,
and third survey administrations, respectively.
Indicate to what extent you generally have felt this way at
Social Connectedness Measure
1. I feel disconnected from the world around me at work
2. I feel so distant from people at my job (R)
3. I have no sense of togetherness with my work peers (R)
4. I don’t feel I participate with anyone or any group at
Job-Related Affective Well-Being Measure (Positive
My job made me feel…
378 J Bus Psychol (2014) 29:367–380
At ease, Calm, Content, Elated, Excited, Enthusiastic,
Happy, Inspired, Pleased, Satisﬁed, Cheerful, Energetic,
Ecstatic, Proud, Relaxed.
Job-Related Affective Well-Being Measure (Negative
My job made me feel…
Annoyed, Bored, Disgusted, Frustrated, Gloomy, Angry,
Anxious, Confused, Depressed, Discouraged, Frightened,
Furious, Fatigued, Intimidated, Miserable.
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