We’re all familiar with the ups and downs of daily life working on a mainframe, but does it make you happy? Perhaps the best branch of psychology to use to see whether mainframers are happy at work is positive psychology. Positive psychology uses scientific understanding and effective intervention to aid in the achievement of a satisfactory life. Its focus is on personal growth.
According to positive psychology, happiness is improved and affected in a large number of different ways; for example, social ties with a partner, family, friends and wider networks through work, clubs, or social organizations. As we suspected, happiness increases with increasing financial income, but it reaches a plateau and no additional pay rises make you any happier. It’s also worth noting that physical exercise correlates with improved mental well-being.
As well as helping people change their negative style of thinking about other people, their future, and themselves, positive psychology also helps families and schools to allow children to grow; and it can be used to create workplaces that aim for satisfaction and high productivity. I guess we’ve all met other staff, never us, of course, who seem to be negative about everything. They’re not working in an environment designed to use positive psychology principles. Managers like positive psychology: what manager doesn’t want productivity to be as high as possible?
Positive psychology focuses on positive emotions (being content with your past, being happy in the present, and having hope for the future); positive individual traits (your strengths and virtues); and positive institutions (strengths to improve a community of people). One problem people often have with work is remembering the good parts. We’ve all done it—most of the day was good except for an hour in the afternoon when CICS wasn’t working properly. And that’s the bit we remember and that’s what we tell people about our day!
One way to get an accurate record of how staff feel during a typical day is to have people (scientists) use beepers to remind staff to write down the details of how they currently feel—hopefully not irritated because a beeper has just gone off. Basically, this illustrates the difference between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self.” Nobel-prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, identified a cognitive bias that he called the Peak-End Effect, meaning that people remember the dramatic parts of a day and the end. So try not to let your mainframe staff leave work each day without giving them a few minutes of a pleasant experience—particularly on a bad day because that will color how they remember the whole day.
Martin Seligman came up with the acronym PERMA (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Purpose, and Accomplishments) for well-being. Positive Emotions include happiness, joy, excitement, satisfaction, pride, and awe. Engagement refers to involvement in activities that draw and build on a person’s interests (what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow”); it involves passion for and concentration on the task at hand. Relationships are about receiving, sharing, and spreading positivity to others. Meaning (or purpose) drives people to continue striving for a desirable goal. Accomplishments are the pursuit of success and mastery, which may not result in positive emotions, meaning, or relationships.
You can see that PERMA can apply to working on a mainframe. We do have “positive emotions” about the mainframe—or why else would we defend it so vigorously when attacked by distributed platform people. We can spend large parts of the day (providing the phone doesn’t ring too often) in the flow—totally “engaged.” When we’re solving a problem and we’re completely absorbed in the task; when we need all our years of knowledge and experience to identify the solution—that’s being engaged. And when we’re chatting to co-workers positively about work-related matters, that’s ticking the “relationships” box. “Meaning” is what drives us to achieve our goal (of fixing that problem with CICS). Finally, “accomplishments” make us study to pass exams to learn more about how the mainframe works and how different software packages work.
All these things can happen every day to us mainframe folk. And if we did measure every ten minutes how happy we were, we’d probably find that the experience of each day was actually quite good rather than, perhaps, how we usually remember it. And, of course, we should make sure that we leave work on a high point—whatever that might be. And, maybe, we could try to run or cycle into work (or at lunch time). But even without that, I bet that for most people working on a mainframe does make them happy.
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