Psychological Capital

Matthijs Steeneveld
3 min readJun 3, 2016

Many organizations are not against employee well-being, engagement and positive interventions. However, the bottom line for many organizations is the bottom line — are we making profit? That’s why Luthans and his associates start developing Psychological Capital. Their mission was to create a collection of positive capacities that are trainable and have a significant effect on results. Using several constructs from psychology, PsyCap was established.

PsyCap is composed of four positive capacities: hope, optimism, self-efficacy and resilience. Through research these four stood up as independent and malleable capacities. Higher PsyCap is associated with better performance, but also with lower stress level and higher well-being.

The four PsyCap capacities

Hope is — as Rick Snyder described — “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (1) agency (goal-drected energy) and (2) pathways (planning to meet goals)”. You score high on hope if you have both the will (agency) to reach a certain goal, and have ideas how to attain that goal. You can be hopeful to accomplish something when you have inspiring (slightly challenging) and realistic goals.

Optimism is defined as not only expecting good things to come, but also on the attribution style as Seligman described. You score high on optimism if you interpret positive events to personal, permanent and pervasive causes; and negative events to external, temporary and situation-specific causes. In short, optimism is about having faith in your own ability to improve a situation.

Self-efficacy is a concept borrowed from Albert Bandura. It’s often defined as task-specific self-confidence, the confidence you’re able to accomplish a task successfully. More generalized self-efficacy also exists, for example a skilled employee who sees herself as a good problem solver (Parker, 1998).

Resilience is based on the work of Ann Masten with children. Resilience is seen as the ability to bounce back and beyond when faced with adversity. That is, return to former level of functioning and learning from the experience. That’s not to say that you should go looking for trouble, merely that you can develop in how well you can cope with obstacles.

In practice

One of the powers of the concept of PsyCap is the training of the four capacities in four micro-interventions — 2 hour training sessions. Several studies showed that this relatively short training leads to higher PsyCap, lower stress and better performance. We studied the effects of our own training in the Netherlands and discovered that stress was lowered and PsyCap raised in a group of students, even 6 weeks later. In a group of 20 employees, the training produced similar results.

A simple exercise you can do yourself to improve your PsyCap is this hope-intervention.

  1. Write down a specific goal you want to accomplish
  2. Rewrite this goal as a desirable “approach-goal”. What is it you do want, instead of what you don’t want? E.g., don’t say you want less stress but more relaxation time, confidence, etc.
  3. Brainstorm about all kind of actions you can take to accomplish your goal. Ask others to brainstorm with you. These actions may be anything you like — it’s about quantity, not quality.
  4. Choose 3 of the best ideas and write down potential obstacles. For each obstacle, write down what you can try to do about it (e.g. ask for help, try something else, persevere, …)
  5. Execute the first step. Good luck!

Interested in more (Dutch) exercises for Psychological Capital? My book is full of easy to read theory and practical exercises to grow your PsyCap.

Luthans, F., Youssef-Morgan, C.M., & Avolio, B.J. (2015). Psychological Capital and beyond. Oxford University Press, New York.

Parker, S. (1998). Enhancing role-breadth self-efficacy. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 835–852.

This blog first appeared on Positive Psychology Program

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Matthijs Steeneveld

Trainer, coach, teacher, psychologist. Works with positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, mindfulness. For organization & individual. Eager to learn & grow.