Being Happy at Work Matters - HBR
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Being Happy at Work Mattersby Annie McKee
NOVEMBER 14, 2014
People used to believe that you didnt have to be happy at work to succeed. And you didnt
need to like the people you work with, or even share their values. Work is not personal,
the thinking went. This is bunk.
My research with dozens of companies and hundreds of people as well as the research
conducted by the likes of neuroscientists Richard Davidson and V.S. Ramachandran and
scholars such as Shawn Achor increasingly points to a simple fact: Happy people are
better workers. Those who are engaged with their jobs and colleagues work harder and
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Best practices for keeping your team focusedand motivated.
And yet, there is an alarmingly high number of people who arent engaged. According to a
sobering 2013 Gallup report, only 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged. This echoes what
Ive seen in my work. Not very many people are truly emotionally and intellectually
committed to their organizations. Far too many couldnt care less about whats happening
around them. For them, Wednesday is hump day and theyre just working to get to
Friday. And then theres the other end of the bell curve the nearly one out of five
employees is actively disengaged, according to the same Gallup report. These people are
sabotaging projects, backstabbing colleagues, and generally wreaking havoc in their
The Gallup report also noted that employee engagement has remained largely constant
over the years despite economic ups and downs. Scary: were not engaged with work and
we havent been for a long time.
Disengaged, unhappy people arent any fun to work with, dont add much value, and
impact our organizations (and our economy) in profoundly negative ways. Its even worse
when leaders are disengaged because they infect others with their attitude. Their emotions
and mindset impact others moods and performance tremendously. After all, how we feel
is linked to what and how we think. In other words, thought influences emotion, and
emotion influences thinking.
Its time to finally blow up the myth that feelings dont matter at work. Science is on our
side: there are clear neurological links between feelings, thoughts, and actions. When we
are in the grip of strong negative emotions, its like having blinders on. We focus mostly
sometimes only on the source of the pain. We dont process information as well, think
creatively, or make good decisions. Frustration, anger, and stress cause an important part
of us to shut down the thinking, engaged part. Disengagement is a natural neurological
and psychological response to pervasive negative emotions.
But its not just negative emotions we need
to watch out for. Extremely strong positive
emotions have the same effect. Some studies
shows that too much happiness can make
you less creative and prone to engage in
riskier behaviors (think about how we act like
fools when we fall in love!). On the work front: Ive seen groups of people worked up into a
frenzy at sales conferences and corporate pep rallies. Little learning or innovation comes
out of these meetings. Throw in a lot of alcohol and youve got a whole host of other
If we can agree that our emotional states at work matter, what do we do to increase
engagement and improve performance?
Over the past few years, my team at the Teleos Leadership Institute and I have studied
dozens of organizations and interviewed thousands of people. The early findings about the
links between peoples feelings and engagement are fascinating. There are clear similarities
in what people say they want and need, no matter where they are from, whom they work
for, or what they do. We often assume that there are huge differences across industries and
around the world but the research challenges that assumption.
To be fully engaged and happy, virtually everyone tells us they want three things:
1. A meaningful vision of the future: When people talked with our research team aboutwhat was working or not in their organizations, and what helped or hindered them themost, they talked about vision. People want to be able to see the future and know howthey fit in. And, as we know from our work with Richard Boyatzis on intentional change,people learn and change when they have a personal vision that is linked to anorganizational vision. Sadly, far too many leaders dont paint a very compelling vision ofthe future, they dont try to link it to peoples personal visions, and they dontcommunicate well. And they lose people as a result.
2. A sense of purpose: People want to feel as if their work matters, and that theircontributions help to achieve something really important. And except for those at thetippy top, shareholder value isnt a meaningful goal that excites and engages them.They want to know that they and their organizations are doing something big thatmatters to other people.
3. Great relationships: We know that people join an organization and leave a boss. Adissonant relationship with ones boss is downright painful. So too are bad relationships
with colleagues. Leaders, managers, and employees have all told us that close, trustingand supportive relationships are hugely important to their state of mind and theirwillingness contribute to a team.
Added up, brain science and our organizational research are in fact debunking the old
myths: emotions matter a lot at work. Happiness is important. To be fully engaged, people
need vision, meaning, purpose, and resonant relationships.
Its on individuals to find ways to live our values at work and build great relationships. And
its on leaders to create an environment where people can thrive. Its simple and its
practical: if you want an engaged workforce, pay attention to how you create a vision, link
peoples work to your companys larger purpose, and reward people who resonate with
Annie McKeeis a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, director of the PennCLOExecutive Doctoral Program and the founder of the Teleos Leadership Institute. She is the
author of Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis as well as Resonant
Leadership and Becoming a Resonant Leader.
Related Topics: MANAGING PEOPLE
This article is about MOTIVATING PEOPLE
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Rajeev Menon 3 days ago
Great article! Mutual trust & respect are important to build great relationships, the basis for any lifelongcommitment.. be it lifelong jobs or marriages.
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