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Opinion: Positivity at Starlight Children’s Foundation

4 min read

How can you build a positive culture in the workplace, and why should you even want to?

At Starlight Children’s Foundation, the answer is simple: positive workplaces have been proven to enable people to be more creative, more innovative, more engaged, more inclusive and make better decisions.

And as custodians of the donor dollar, we need our organisation to be as effective and efficient as possible.

Starlight started working with The Positivity Institute in 2013, after hearing Dr Suzy Green, founder of The Positivity Institute speak about the potential of positive psychology to create positive workplaces.

Almost ten years later, and the principles of positive psychology are now embedded in every level of our organisation, helping our people to flourish, and underpinning our purpose: brightening the lives of seriously ill and hospitalised children.

Is positivity just about happiness?

No, it’s more complex than that. It’s about supporting our people to be their best selves and to foster the best kind of emotions in our workplace.

We now know that emotions are contagious – the effect is known as the social and emotional contagion effect, and while many of us have experienced this in the workplace around negative emotions, it’s just as true for positive emotions.

We want our people to feel their full range of emotions and be supported to have a positive mindset and fully realise their strengths.

“It’s certainly not about being happy all the time – we want to normalise the full range of emotions. Especially at an organisation like Starlight, it’s normal for their team to be experiencing emotions like fear, sadness, and anger. They’re working with families who are experiencing really hard things. It’s about building up positive emotions, so they become a buffer to help deal with those negative and hard emotions,” says Dr Suzy Green.

In the same way, having a positive workplace culture doesn’t mean having a team who always has to agree with each other. Positive and respectful debate and disagreement, where people feel valued and their voices are heard, is actually encouraged at the Starlight Foundation.

Education comes first

Knowing where to begin can feel daunting, but knowing the responsibility organisations have for the wellbeing and mental health of their people, the most important thing is to start somewhere.

At Starlight, we worked with The Positivity Institute to create and implement Positivity @ Starlight – a well-being education program based on positive psychology, which helps our people build knowledge, awareness and skills to support their best selves.

We also established objectives for the partnership, including:

● Introducing the principles of positive psychology to the national team to support their wellbeing, resilience and flourishing.

● To nurture and increase engagement across the organisation.

● To equip our People Managers with the knowledge, skills and tools to be positive leaders and coaches.

We wanted a partner who could tailor something just right for us – as a positive organisation, we have a huge responsibility for our people to show up in a positive way, especially when they’re engaging with the community and the kids we’re helping.

“The Positivity Institute’s approach isn’t just a program, it’s about collaborating with organisations to identify what’s working well, and what could be improved, and then tailoring our education and support around that,” says Suzy.

The result was a tailored program that has been embraced by our leaders and people and helped us build the capabilities and capacity of our organisation.

Connecting to purpose

A core principle of a positive psychology approach is the link between purpose and positivity.

“Linking individuals to the overall purpose of an organisation is powerful, and so is helping people find meaning in the work they’re doing in their everyday life. It has an overall impact on wellbeing, and helps people to know themselves and their teammates better, as we also learn about each other’s strengths,” says Suzy.

In the not-for-profit sector, it’s common for people to have a strong connection to purpose, but the key is to make sure they’re engaged in the right way, and that they remain connected, no matter what their role is.

One initiative that’s working for us is the ‘get connected’ initiative. It means everyone in our organisation has firsthand experience of our programs, at least once per quarter. And it means they feel connected to our overarching purpose. It’s a reminder of the impact we’re all having – for people who work in teams that otherwise wouldn’t be seeing this impact firsthand.

Everyone has different strengths, and we believe that should be celebrated. We need to all bring something different to the organisation for our organisation to thrive, and positive psychology is the key to appreciating this at Starlight.

The bottom line

It’s not just a nice to have – it’s actually delivering business outcomes, and it’s giving our people the tools to build a high-performing team.

This positive culture means we can deliver on powerful business metrics and is the reason we’ve been recognised with many external accolades, including AON Hewitt Best Employer, BRW Best Place to Work and the AFR Most Innovative Companies list.

A positive approach

Today, principles of positive psychology underpin every aspect of the Starlight employment experience and our organisational culture. A positive approach is now embedded in our DNA. Practical examples of this include:

● Recruitment & Selection – Selecting people in the roles that are right for them where they can work to their strengths and be their authentic selves.

● Onboarding – Setting team members up for success with meaningful goals – aligned to their strengths and core values – which drive their growth and performance.

● Reward & Recognition – We celebrate success and achievements and have a culture of praising one another.

We want to promote flourishing and optimal human functioning, and support our people to shine – to shine in the work we do, to shine with positivity, and to shine in our purpose: well-being and happiness of children are at the heart of everything we do.

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Susan Henry is an experienced Human Resources Executive and is Head of People and Culture with the Starlight Children’s Foundation. She is passionate about all aspects of organisational culture and the impact positive people strategies have on business performance. Susan’s qualifications include a Diploma of Teaching, Graduate Diploma of Employment Relations, an MBA from the University of Technology Sydney and a Diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.


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