Posting in Environment
Thought-provoking research discussed in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review suggests a link between employee contentment and their ability to produce great work.
Back when I managed a staff of close to 40 people, I used to get criticized by my higher ups for worrying about the general happiness quotient of those employees. Not that I was interested in coddling them. I just believed that if the only reason someone was sticking around the company was money, sooner or later someone would come up with a bigger wad of cash to woo him or her away. For me, productivity has always come down to the health of the organization's culture and the ability to a person to grow within that culture.
Turns out that my interest in happiness wasn't such a stupid thing, even though I was made to feel sometimes that it was. There is a fascinating, must-read article in the January/February issue of the Harvard Business Review that explores this exact issue: "Creating Sustainable Performance." The overall thesis of the authors is pretty simple: "Happy employees produce more than unhappy ones over the long term." They base this statement on research conducted in conjunction with the Ross School of Business Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship. (The authors are both professors in business management: Gretchen Spreitzer is with the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and Christine Porath is with Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.)
What does being happy on the job mean?
The Harvard Business Review authors equate it with the idea that someone can "thrive" in their position. That there are opportunities for advancement, that they have the chance to learn new skills, and that they have a sense of mission. Generally speaking, the research showed that thriving employees:
- Were 16 percent more productive than their peers
- Were much less likely to burn out on the job
- Were 32 percent more committed to the organization (distinct from feeling complacent about it)
- Were 46 percent more satisfied with their jobs
To a large degree, a person's ability to thrive happily in his or her job will come down to the environment in which he or she works. There are four key contributors, the authors write:
- Decision-making discretion. An example cited by the article focuses on Alaska Airlines, which gives agents the ability to make their own decisions to help customers who have missed flights for one reason or another. Southwest and Facebook are also cited as examples.
- Transparency. How much does it annoy you when one part of a company's operation, say the e-commerce site, doesn't share data with the customer support department? Now, imagine being an employee who has to listen to frustration about that all the time. But that's just part of it. This is about disclosure of information by managers to the people on the front line so that they serve customers better. An example comes from food service company ZIngerman's, which fixed guest services issues simply by letting its employees know how certain guest greeting techniques might positively affect operations.
- An environment that minimizes incivility. Are you the sort of manager that habitually humiliates your team in front of their peers? Are there people within your organization who routinely sabotage other people's work? Companies that tolerate that sort of behavior are asking for trouble. That is not the sort of culture in which employees are likely to want to thrive, unless someone appreciates abusive behavior.
- Performance feedback. In my role as a commentator and writer for a number of Web sites, I receive information about which of my stories are most-read, which ones are considered the longest, and other metrics that help guide some of my coverage decisions. Some of my decisions are strictly based on gut, like my decision to write about this particular article. In the future, I'm going to receive more information not just about my stories, but about the stories that are doing well across the site. I happen to be a data junkie, but it turns out that most of us like hearing about how the organization is faring and, specifically how their contributions matters.
How well does your organization do at encouraging its employees to thrive? As market conditions continue to shift seemingly overnight, that's a really important question to ask and keep asking.
(Stock illustration of smiley face in post thumbnail by Jay Lopez, courtesy of Stock.xchng)
Jan 26, 2012
It's unfortunate that such common sense would not be common in the business world, for the most part. Although there are standout companies that take care of their employees by creating an environment of appreciation, many more companies do not. It's not about the money! Using low cost/no cost strategies, such as a simple "thank you" can make a world of difference in the employee's perception of his/her employer and can mean the difference between a long-term, loyal employee, or one that leaves for a more personally satisfying opportunity.
Why did it take Harvard so long to figure out this obvious conclusion. Henry Ford did it 100 years ago when we raised wages and cut hours. The Fender Electric Instrument company did this in 1955 and productivity and quality both skyrocketed. I ageee. This is really a du-uh. Too bad they don't teach it in business school. They teach it in Quality Assurance classes.
I remember reading a Standford U. study probably 30-40 years ago that showed no correlation between salary level and job performance past certain salary levels. Another words once pay reaches a certain level, additional pay wasn't a motivating and or functional factor, and past salary motivating levels - job "happiness" became the primary motivator. Not much has changed, employer/management personality types are just as ignorant as they were 30-40 years ago about the basics of motivating their employees. Perhaps what is needed is a different more informed type of management personality part of whose motivation is seeing the connection between their "happiness" and performance and employee "happiness" and performance.
In my first 'major' business - ie, major for me - I had a crew of 17 men for a hair under 20 years. We put work in a dozen countries. I detest policys, so we had very few of them - a total of 6 or 7. The ones we had made Sense. Such as: "There is no pecking order here. There's Carol & the rest of you. If you have a problem you can't work out on your own in adult manner, SEE THE BOSS so we can fix it." And: "You were hired because you are an adult. ADULT behavior is expected here." And - "WE are 'the company'. If you steal from 'the company', you steal from yourself as well as the rest of us. Do it enough & no one will have a job here." & - "If you come here with alcohol in you & I find out, you will be fired. If you bring alcohol here, I will kill you, resurrect you, & then fire you. If you come here with drugs in you, you will be fired. If you bring drugs on the premises, I will kill you, resurrect you, & repeat until I'm too tired to do it again, & then I will fire you. Never think I'm kidding about this." I told them all, "The building has electricity & heat 24 hours a day. If you like working 2 a.m. - whenever, that's up to you, so long as you get your work done to spec & on time. No visitors unless they're cleared ahead of time, and no shenanigans. Keep the door locked if you're working here during non-business hours. If you need to take time off, let us know if we're close to deadline; otherwise, just let us know when you'll be back. If it's an emergency, leave a note & go; don't fret about it. Keep in touch while you're gone." Funniest darned thing - in 20 years, I lost 3 to quitting; 2 because their wives got really good jobs too far away for them to commute & 1 who, at the tender age of 63, was inspired by my methods to open his own shop. He was sad about us having to compete until I told him, "Hank, there will be times when you will need work & we'll need another subcontractor. And there may be times when we will need work & you will need some help. We don't 'have' to eat each other to stay alive." He left a happy man, as did the other 2. In those same 20 years, I had to fire 3; 2 for closet alcoholism & 1 for trying to sabotage the shop. The saboteur cost us an $85,000 commission in November when work would get scarce. That commission would have kept us all fed & warm thru the winter. Not only did I fire him, but as the President of a 6-state regional professional group, I notified every similar shop within 150 mile radius of us of his antics, & last anyone heard, he was stocking shelves at WalMart. He was let go in front of the entire crew, & they all knew why, because I have never been one to mince words. When I went to Chamber of Commerce meetings, literally everyone else would be wailing about how they couldn't get good help. I obviously never had that problem & the reason was simple - I treated my people as intelligent capable ADULT human beings & did everything I could to keep them happy because... (Duh-uh-uh..) HAPPY PEOPLE WORK HARDER & PRODUCE BETTER RESULTS. Funy thing is, it isn't hard to do because most people's wants are simple. This didn't need a study by a major university to figure out. It is basic how-to-do.
I mean, really, how did you know what you were doing was the right thing if you didn't have a metric to measure it? /snark
Especially the managers who think the unemployment rate is so high that they can treat their people in a less than civil way. THANK YOU for being ahead of the curve.