Engage Employees through Psychologically Rich Jobs - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #885

Engage Employees through Psychologically Rich Jobs

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The introduction of “psychological richness” as a dimension for a desirable life beyond the traditional dimensions of “happiness” or “meaningfulness” offers leaders new alternatives for ensuring the well-being and engagement of employees.


Since the time of Aristotle, philosophers have been debating the characteristics of a “good life,” that is, the characteristics of a life that would be most desirable to people. Over time, these debates have led to multiple theories of well-being a concept relevant to leadership today as the best leaders recognize the importance of well-being for the success of their employees and the organization.

At the heart of many of these theories of well-being are the two dimensions of a good life that have come to dominate psychological thought: happiness and meaningfulness. That is, the most desirable lives are those that are happy (i.e., comfortable, safe, stable, prosperous) and/or meaningful (significant, purposeful, authentic). These dimensions spill over into the workplace as leaders today seek to ensure that employees are happy and find meaning in their work.

However, University of Virginia psychology professor Shigehiro Oishi presents a new dimension of a good life that goes beyond this long-standing dichotomy. A good life, he and his research colleagues argue, can also be psychologically rich, that is, one filled with surprises, novelty, complexity, and changes in perspective. A life with experiences that lead to changes in perspective is particularly important in this new dimension.

Through a long series of empirical studies spanning several years, Oishi and his colleagues have shown that psychological richness is a distinct dimension from happiness and meaningfulness, with distinct causes and facilitators and distinct outcomes.

As an example of dimension distinction, someone who lives a psychologically rich life may or may not be a happy person, as psychologically rich lives often lack the comfort and stability that characterizes a happy life. Perspective-changing experiences are not necessarily happy ones and can sometimes be even tragic. Nor does a variety of stimulating, perspective-changing experiences necessarily correlate with contributing to society.

In terms of personal characteristics, the research shows that individuals who lead psychologically rich lives tend to be more curious and open to new experiences than those seeking happiness or meaning. They lead complex lives, with a diversity of relationships and interests, often driven by intense emotions. They are also more complex thinkers, recognizing, for example, that there are not always simple answers, that different and even conflicting points of view can be equally valid, and that beliefs and assumptions can change.

In terms of outcome, while a happy life leads to personal satisfaction and a meaningful life of societal contribution, a psychologically rich life leads to what Oishi and his colleagues summarize as “wisdom,” which includes knowledge and good judgment but also the humility to accept that one’s beliefs or opinions are not definitive and universal: that is, their beliefs and opinions are not the only valid beliefs and opinions in all circumstances and for all people.

The distinctions described above do not mean that psychological richness is wholly independent of happiness or meaning. In fact, they often correlate positively. For example, an individual’s activities that satisfy curiosity or offer perspective-changing opportunities can be activities that contribute to society. These three dimensions of a good life happiness, meaning, and psychological richness are distinct but interrelated.

Finally, a psychologically rich life is not better nor more preferable than a happy or meaningful life. The final arbiter of what constitutes a good life is the person living that life. A good life is living the life that one desires.


The modern leader recognizes that well-being both psychological and physical is vital to employee engagement and performance. Meaning and purpose have received much of the recent attention related to enriching jobs in order to motivate and excite employees. This research offers a new path for employee engagement efforts: making the job psychologically rich for the employee. Imagine a job designed to offer employees novelty, surprises, and/or experiences that change their perspectives. There may always be routine and mundane facets of the job but incorporating some facets of the psychological richness dimension perhaps through job rotation, off-site retreats, or opportunities for travel, for example, can keep employees more engaged and motivated.



Shigehiro Oishi’s profile at University of Virginia

Erin Westgate’s profile at the University of Florida


A Psychologically Rich Life: Beyond Happiness and Meaning. Shigehiro Oishi, Erin C. Westgate. Psychological Review (July 2022).

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Idea conceived

June 2, 2024

Idea posted

May 2024
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