Happier people work harder.

September 9th, 2011

The answer to the question posed in Sunday’s New York Times’ opinion-piece headline “Do Happier People Work Harder?” is a resounding Yes.

In national studies cited by co-authors Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and independent researcher Steven Kramer, there is overwhelming evidence that employees’ engagement – their energy, focus and commitment to their work life – has an effect on performance that can make or break a company’s survival. In fact it’s estimated that America’s “disengagement crisis” costs $300 billion annually in lost productivity.

In their own study, Amabile and Kramer found that the single most important factor that engaged people in their work was simply “making progress in meaningful work.” And yet a remarkably high 95% of managers failed to recognize that contributing to meaningful work was the primary motivator for employees, way ahead of financial incentives.

So how do you foster energy and commitment throughout your company? How do you create meaningful work? How do you lead in a way that gets people to care?

Interestingly, also in the NYT Sunday Review section, Adam Bryant’s “Corner Office” interview with Enrique Salem, CEO of Symantec, holds a key-concept answer to those questions. In talking about what he’s learned over the years about leadership, Salem shares wisdom from his first manager: “You lead by how you influence other people’s thinking.” He tells Bryant, “It has to be about what you are trying to accomplish.”

What both articles emphasize indirectly is the importance of a company’s shared vision. A vision created and built on day-by-day that connects with your employees’ personal vision to do meaningful work. And while commitment and energy are keys to a company’s success, they can’t be forced on anyone. Commitment comes through free will. It’s a personal choice. A choice driven by a desire to better the world, to be personally fulfilled and happy.


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