We’ve seen commitment decline for the majority of employees post-recession, as leaders and organisations think that tuning into this soft stuff is a waste of time. It isn’t.
I was in a bar in London in 2006. It was one of those stiflingly hot days when you wish that Londoners had fewer weather conversations and more air conditioning. This was when I told a senior executive, whom I had never met before, that my company was running an in-depth research project looking at the link between happiness at work and performance. Clutching a very warm beer, he threw his head back to roar with laughter. “It will never catch on, sweetheart,” he said. “Go back to financial services where you came from.”
Since then, we’ve all had to deal with a very different working world. Data that we’ve gathered since 2006 shows that people everywhere feel less confidence, motivation, loyalty, resilience, commitment and engagement. And whether your local economy is in a state of boom or bust, employees are experiencing similar pressures and bosses can only squeeze until the pips squeak for so long.
But imagine a mindset that enables action to maximise performance and achieve potential in these tough times. We understand that this is another way of describing happiness at work.
Our empirical research, done by the iOpener Institute for People and Performance and involving 9 000 people from around the world, reveals some astonishing facts. Employees who report being happiest at work:
- stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues;
- spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do;
- take 10 times less sick leave; and
- believe they are achieving their potential twice as much.
And the science of happiness at work has big benefits for individuals, too. If you’re really happy at work, you’ll solve problems faster, be more creative, adapt fastest to change, receive better feedback, get promoted quicker and earn more over the long term.
Our research shows that there are five important drivers that underpin the science of happiness at work.
This is about what you do, so it’s made up of some of the core work activities, such as having clear goals, moving positively towards them, talking about issues that might prevent you from meeting your objectives, and feeling heard when you do so. You’ll do all this best when you feel appreciated and valued by your boss and your colleagues. So it’s not just about delivering, it’s about doing that within collaborative working relationships.
Here’s what Daniel Walsh, executive vice president at Chep, one of the world’s leading transport and logistics organisations, said about the value of his colleagues’ contributions: “I was very task-focused and goal-oriented early in my career and I delivered significant deals. But afterwards it would take a few weeks to mop up the wreckage because I was more gung-ho than I needed to be. I had a meeting with my mentor who said: ‘Look, this has got to stop. You’re delivering fantastic results but you’ve got to take people with you.’ Now, I try to create an environment where people feel their opinions or views matter and I appreciate what they bring to the table. I can’t do my job on my own.”
This is the short-term motivation, both in good times and bad. That’s the key point: keeping going even when things get tough, so that you maintain the resources that pull you through. Vital to doing this is feeling that you’re resilient, efficient and effective. In fact, our data clearly shows that we’re much more resilient than we know, but we’re much less aware of how variable our motivation is and how to manage it. But actively deciding to do this can make a huge difference. As Adam Parr, CEO of Williams F1, said: “A driver who gets out of a car when it’s spun off or he’s been hit and it’s all gone horribly wrong and reminds himself that he’s privileged to do the work and there’s a job to be done – that takes him to another level.”
Performance and happiness at work are really high when employees feel they fit within their organisational culture. Not fitting in a job is like wearing the wrong clothes to a party – all the time. So it’s hugely draining and de-energising. If you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find that the values mean little to you, the ethos feels unfair or political and you don’t have much in common with your colleagues.
What’s interesting about our data is that employees like their organisational cultures a lot less than they did in pre-recession times. In particular, Generation Y-ers or Millennial workers really don’t seem to like what they’re experiencing at work. So any business that wants to attract and retain top young talent and find the leaders of tomorrow needs to start addressing this hot issue today.
Commitment matters because it taps into the macro reasons why you do the work you do. Some of the underlying elements of commitment are perceiving you’re doing something worthwhile, having strong intrinsic interest in your job, and feeling that the vision of your organisation resonates with your purpose.
We’ve seen commitment decline for the majority of employees post-recession, as leaders and organisations think that tuning into this soft stuff is a waste of time. It isn’t. It’s how you enable your employees to understand why they should make a greater discretionary effort for you.
What’s important is to recognise that the five factors work as an ecosystem. That means if one of the five drivers isn’t functioning well, the others will be affected. For example, if you don’t feel high levels of commitment, it’s likely that your contribution will be affected. When contribution goes down, conviction – especially the motivation part of it – tends to go down with it. And that obviously has an effect on your confidence.
Confidence is the gateway to the other four drivers. Too little confidence and nothing happens, and too much leads to arrogance and poor decisions. Without greater levels of self-belief – the backbone of confidence – there are few people who’ll take risks or try anything new. And you can’t have confident organisations without confident individuals inside them.
Here’s what Dr Rafi Yoeli, the leading Israeli fancraft entrepreneur and founder of Urban Aeronautics, said: “We’ve built a flying machine that’s halfway between a Harrier jump jet and a helicopter. We work very differently here; it’s organic engineering. You need a high level of curiosity and of expertise if you’re going to make something extraordinary. And you need an even higher level of confidence to put it together.”
Understanding what makes you happy at work and how that affects your performance offers a new way of managing yourself, your career and your opportunities.
Jessica Pryce-Jones is CEO of the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, an international organisation looking at practical solutions to common and complex workforce issues by leveraging the science of happiness at work. She lectures and teaches senior executives at London Business School, Chicago Booth, Oxford (Saïd) and Judge Business Schools. Her book, 'Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success', has just been released in South Africa.