The Role of Positive Intentionality in Individual Well-Being

Employee burnout is a real thing; we’ve all heard the stories. Gallup found that 87 percent of the world’s workers are disengaged. Imagine what that does to an organization’s bottom line.

We’re working to change that, but you might be asking — what does well-being at work really mean? The Well-Being at Work initiative from SAP SuccessFactors brings together a true understanding of individual well-being as well as an organization’s readiness to sponsor, promote, and act on those insights to create thriving environments.

Well-Being at Work fosters individual well-being in five major dimensions: one’s body, mind, motivations, connections, and resources. It also addresses the organizational factors needed to meet employees on their well-being journey, including leadership actions, team dynamics, job and work conditions, organizational practices, and company purpose. In order for an individual to thrive, organizations need to meet employees on their well-being journey and address these areas.

When it comes to an employee’s psychological well-being, we’ve all been there… Tired, working late to catch up to a normal amount of being behind, and that email arrives. You know, the email that arrives from the Outer Rim of your Important Person Solar System, requesting you create a work of art or send a ton of documents that would normally take weeks to compile — and you have less than 24 hours. Couple that with an already long task list, jam-packed schedule, and demanding personal life, and you have the “perfect storm of stressors,” which can quickly and easily wreak havoc on your well-being.

Let’s face it, we are a wired, constantly plugged-in society, to the point that we brag about being “unplugged” or judge the success of vacation by forgetting our password upon return. It begs the question of how do we balance everything and cope in the digital world in which we live? Thinking back to that email, there are plenty of ways that we could respond, including shutting the laptop and heading to the nearest bar.

Alternatively, I have learned to take a different approach in these types of circumstances, and that is to practice positive intentionality. Positive what? Yes, positive intentionality, a term coined in the early 1970s about choosing to be positive and intentional with one’s choices and actions. Let me break it down for you.

With the increased focus on and research in the field of Positive Psychology, we know the positive results that people and organizations can achieve when utilizing appreciative inquiry or similar processes to focus on what is going right (Meinert, 2018). Now, for those of us who have always looked at the world “sunny-side up,” that is no revelation. We have always focused on our glass being half-full and the silver lining in that email (it did come from the Outer Rim which means they know of your work, right?). Next, combine the positive part with intention, which is defined as “done on purpose, deliberate” (Merriam-Webster, 2018). Yes, I am proposing that we deliberately focus on what is going right — in that email. It sounds simple, but positive intentionality requires a choice and a reset in your brain (literally).

Consider mindfulness, which is the state of active, open attention to the present. When you are mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future (Psychology Today, 2018).

I first heard the term in a hot yoga class while attempting poses that should be restricted to Cirque du Soleil professionals. Bending like a pretzel and gasping for air, I realized what being awake to my current experience meant, rather than dwelling on other thoughts. It was in that yoga session that I worked to find the positive attributes of the situation and intentionally focus on those thoughts.

Workplace mindfulness is making headlines as an effective coping mechanism for work stressors, increasing employee well-being, preventing burnout and protecting the bottom line. To me, positive intentionality is similar to mindfulness as it is a key component of it and includes identifying positive aspects of your current state. Large technology companies like Google and SAP have created workplace mindfulness programs to help all employees hone skills that will allow them to focus their attention on the business at hand. For instance, SAP has mindfulness meetings where participants observe a moment of silence before the agenda is covered, which helps employees get in a helpful frame of mind to thoughtfully discuss the topic at hand.

Another example is how mindfulness is being used to develop skills that will be augmented by artificial intelligence (AI) tools and adapt to new job roles as AI replaces many tasks (Lawton, 2018). Peter Bostelmann, director of the Global Mindfulness Practice at SAP, sees workplace mindfulness training as a megatrend that companies will need to adopt to keep up with such speed because it can be an important factor in allowing teams to innovate faster and create sustainable differentiation (Lawton, 2018). Thus, SAP offers mindfulness-based training to support a cultural shift toward an increasing capacity of creativity, focus, resilience, and well-being at all levels of the organization.

Building on its success internally to cultivate a positive well-being culture, targeting many facets of employee well-being including mindfulness, and being a great place to work, SAP recently announced the Well-Being at Work initiative, which seeks to operationalize a culture of well-being and purpose in organizations to enrich the employee experience and drive peak performance. In our wired world, people are “always on,” resulting in blurred lines between work and personal life, thus organizations seeking a positive work-life integration.

While organizations are different, all need a way to measure and improve the overall well-being of the workforce, since work-related stress continues to cost U.S. companies approximately $30 billion a year in lost productivity. Hence, SAP SuccessFactors has Work-Life, which includes well-being self-checks and personalized recommendations, offering employees an opportunity to identify their well-being needs and be pointed to resources and existing company benefits of most relevance to them. Managers can also utilize this technology to conduct a quick poll to gather feedback on employee sentiment, improving communication and getting real-time insights to proactively support employees in their well-being journey.

Back to that email from the Outer Rim that isn’t that far away in our digital world. The important people are counting on you, and do want you to share your knowledge for the benefit of the organization. Believe me, with the war on talent being long over (and yes, talent did win), you have a unique set of skills, education, and experience that is of value. So next time, instead of going for your light saber (or keyboard — same difference), take a moment and focus on the request through a lens of positive intentionality. Be cognizant that your work could impact the future of the organization, yet be sure to take care of yourself and support the request in a way that doesn’t negatively impact your well-being. Be thankful and think about how best you can make that difference by living positively in the moment, as opposed to seeing it as an exercise in futility or weakness that you might need additional time to complete the request.

Bill McDermott recently said, “I watched my mother, Catherine McDermott, find something positive in every instance in life. I owe all my success to her and it has defined my optimism and my path” (McDermott, 2018). Knowing the important “why” behind it all, he went on to say, “We only have time and it is the most precious commodity of all. You could be a billionaire, a CEO — whatever you want — but you can’t buy another minute of time. We need to recognize that every little thing you do and every person you meet are just as important as the people waiting on you in the boardroom. We need to celebrate time, joy, and believing in each other” (McDermott, 2018).

In the same conversation, Hall of Fame recording artist and philanthropist Jon Bon Jovi said, “I was guilty about always thinking about the future, and now I can truly live in the present, and say today is a good day. With this choice, I am no longer worried about having another No. 1 song or this or that, rather I aspire to inspire and live in the moment with joy” (Bon Jovi, 2018).

You see, only you can intentionally choose to be your best self. Always remember to do the following when you get that email:

  • Breathe, live the moment, and focus on positive aspects
  • Consider how you can make a difference for the greater good of the organization
  • Take intentional action and share your knowledge, time, etc.

How we respond to each of these “micro-moments” collectively determine our well-being, so each present an opportunity to respond with positive intentionality. If you would like to share your thoughts or offer further discussion on this topic, I can be reached at

SAP SuccessFactors Work-Life helps organizations create a thriving workplace, increases employee productivity and engagement, and offers real-time data that can be measured and connected to real behavior change and outcomes that matter. Learn more here.

Dawn Runge is an HR executive advisor for SAP SuccessFactors.


  • Bon Jovi, J. SAPPHIRE NOW Keynote Speech. SAPPHIRE NOW Event. June 7, 2018.
  • Lawton, G. “Workplace ‘Mindfulness’ as a Coping Mechanism for AI Disruption.” Retrieved April 2018.
  • Meinert, D. “Focus on the Positive.” HR Magazine. Society for Human Resource Management: April 2018.
  • McDermott, B. “A Discussion on Digital Transformation and the Future.” SAP Publication. June 2017.
  • McDermott, B. Sapphire Keynote Speech. Sapphire Event. June 7, 2018.
  • Merriam-Webster. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  • Psychology Today. Retrieved June 6, 2018.