If You’re Happy With Your Work, You’ll Create Much Greater Value

All unhappy people are alike – in that they negatively affect a business’ financial bottom line.

Several years ago, Gallup estimated that the cost of Americans who are actively disengaged with their work – almost 30% of all employees – are responsible for a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity annually. This is in addition to what they receive in wages. These individuals actually have a “negative” effect on the companies for whom they work.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has polled more than 1,000 adults every day since January 2008, recently reported that: “Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do.”

Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, an independent researcher, both authors of The Progress Principle, recently wrote in The New York Times about their research into micro-level causes behind this macro-level problem.

They found “that inner work life has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier. Conventional wisdom suggests that pressure enhances performance; our real-time data, however, shows that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do.”

When Amabile and Kramer analyzed 64,000 specific workday events reported in diaries kept by 238 professionals in seven different companies, diaries that captured all the events that engage people at work, they found that the single most important thing— by far — is simply making progress in meaningful work.

Is this something managers understand and take into consideration? Sadly, it’s not.

Amabile and Kramer reported that they also asked 669 managers from companies around the world to rank five employee motivators in terms of importance. The managers ranked “supporting progress” dead last. The findings continue to explain that:

“Fully 95 percent of these managers failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is the primary motivator, well ahead of traditional incentives like raises and bonuses. This failure reflects a common experience inside organizations.”

Amabile and Kramer conclude:

“Working adults spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else. Work should ennoble, not kill, the human spirit. Promoting workers’ well-being isn’t just ethical; it makes economic sense. Fostering positive inner lives sometimes requires leaders to better articulate meaning in the work for everyone across the organization. Sometimes, all that’s required is that managers address daily hassles and help with technical problems. If those who lead organizations — from C.E.O.’s to small-team leaders — believe their mission is, in part, to support workers’ everyday progress, we could end the disengagement crisis and, in the process, lift our work force’s well-being and our economy’s productivity.”

Meaningful work matters – to overall employee value and to a business’ bottom line. Here are just a few ideas for managers, based on my experience, on how business can “support progress” of their employees:

IDEA #1: Make sure everyone understands the company’s mission and how their work is directly connected to it.

IDEA #2: A decade ago, “The One Minute Manager” introduced the idea of “catch someone doing something right,” instead of pointing out what they’ve done wrong. The advice is as good today as it ever was.

IDEA #3: Ask everyone you manage: “Where do you see the greatest potential for your own growth that would allow you to do a better job?” Then, develop a plan to support that development and check in at least monthly to see how things are going.

2 comments

  1. Marianne /

    If only it really were so simple. But, it doesn’t take into consideration workplace politics. Jealous, unhappy people hate the happy worker. I could write a book about it.

    Maybe one of the most revealing questions about a potential employee is, “How do you view life; are you a happy person?” Because happiness comes from the core, not the job. Anyone can learn new skills. It’s more important to hire an employee with integrity (actually feels obligated to earn their wages) and practices from their soul, the golden rule.

  2. I could not agree more. It is quite strange how corporations are aware of this problem and yet are not more commited to doing something about it, even though there is probably (and hopefully) an upgoing trend regarding the matter.

    Me, together with some other students, made a report on the psychosocial aspect of work environment from a manager’s perspective. In the companies we looked closer into we found that the possibilty for personal development was clearly among the most prioritized matters for having a good work atmosphere. So I guess the awareness and willingess is there, but perhaps not enough commitment. Also in some companies of course there are not much possibilities for further development.

    However, we described it as a ‘win-win situation’, which I find in line with your heading ‘If You’re Happy With Your Work, You’ll Create Much Greater Value’.

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