Exploring the shared meaning of being at one’s best in work
This research takes an iterative multiple case study approach and seeks new insight from common language in the workplace – specifically exploring what we mean when we say that we’re at our best in work. Being at your best is a common term in the workplace but one that is not reflected in the academic literature. Given that it is commonly used, perhaps there is a common or shared meaning. Exploring that shared meaning could help identify how to get more from individuals and support the development of positive workplaces. There are three strands to this research thesis. Firstly, the notion of being at one’s best is introduced. The literature review identifies an overlap in the concepts of work performance, engagement and commitment. These three concepts are complex and have challenges of definition and measurement. It is suggested that being at one’s best can be understood as involving high performance, engagement and commitment and will involve factors that are consistent to each of the three concepts. The overlap of the concepts is demonstrated in the pilot studies undertaken in three retail stores: the highest performing store; the store with the highest staff engagement survey results; and the store with the longest serving (committed) staff. Interviews, wordlists and questionnaires were interrogated and consistent themes across the 3 contexts formed a tentative framework of positive subjective states and positive behavioural patterns. Secondly, this thesis explores the possibility of a shared meaning of being at one’s best – extending the research to wider organisations. Further case studies are undertaken involving a total of 154 individuals in: a highly engaged hotel team; a high performing executive search team; the top performing shop managers in one company; and a study of individuals with at least five years’ service and intending to stay in their jobs. The common experiences of these individuals form the refined framework that describes being at one’s best in terms of: Positive subjective states (feelings); Positive behavioural patterns; and values. Individuals were feeling positive about themselves, their job, and their colleagues. They also showed positive behaviours related to achieving, supporting, and interacting. The connection between an individual’s values and their work was also highlighted as playing a role in being at one’s. The third and final strand of the research is the opportunity to reflect on techniques used to explore shared meaning. There is little consistency in the literature regarding how to explore shared meaning. The iterative approach of this research allowed for reflection on: interviews, questionnaires, word lists, focus groups and mental model activities as potential techniques for exploring shared meaning. The reflections provide insight regarding each technique and lead to the suggestion that focus groups are used earlier in the process of exploring shared meaning in the future.