• Managing people

Happiness and Sustainable Performance

Building vitality and learning into their jobs for employees to thrive and for sustained organizational performance


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In our complex and highly competitive business world there is surely no time for leaders to worry about how happy their employees are. In fact, for hard-nosed business reasons, rather than purely altruistic one, staff happiness matters.  

Happy employees produce more than unhappy ones. This is the core finding supported by research from Christine Porath at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business and Gretchen M. Spreitzer from Michigan Ross School of Business as described in an article in Harvard Business Review. The authors also look at what steps leaders can take to help employees thrive at work, and to develop a happy and consistently high-performing workforce that is more loyal and more productive for the organization. 

Employees who are thriving, not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future, make for sustainable individual and organizational performance.

The authors found that employees who are ‘thriving’, not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future, make for sustainable individual and organizational performance. People who fit this description demonstrated 16% better overall performance, 125% less burnout, 32% more commitment to the organization, and 46% more job satisfaction than their peers.

Thriving has two components: vitality, or the sense of being alive and excited, and learning, or the growth that comes from gaining knowledge and skills. Some people naturally build vitality and learning into their jobs, but most employees are influenced by their environment.

Four mechanisms, none of which requires heroic effort or major resources, create the conditions for employees to thrive:

  1. Providing decision-making discretion: empowering individuals to make decisions that affect their work gives employees a greater sense of control. Employees at Facebook, for example, have a lot of leeway to solve problems on their own.
  2. Share information: working in an information vacuum is tedious and uninspiring. People can contribute more effectively when they understand the larger impact of their work. We can highlight the case of workers at Zingerman’s - a restaurant where all employees, down to the busboys, get up-to-the-minute feedback on every aspect of the business.
  3. Minimize incivility: research shows that employees that experience uncivil behaviour at work may be more likely to intentionally decrease their efforts. Faced with incivility, they are likely to narrow their focus to avoid risks, losing opportunities to learn in the process.
  4. Offering performance feedback:this creates opportunities for learning and the energy that is critical for a culture of thriving. The quicker and more direct the feedback the more useful it is.

The mechanisms above reinforce each other; so try adopting them all, rather than one or two from the menu.

Individuals can also adopt strategies to help them thrive where organizational support to do so might not yet be available by for example: taking regular breaks; crafting their own work to be more meaningful; exploring opportunities to innovate and learn; invest in relationships that energize them.

Since its founding in 1957, the McDonough School of Business has garnered global recognition for excellence in international business.

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