Do Happier People Work Harder?

Do Happier People Work Harder? September 9, 2011

A recent New York Times opinion piece asks the question: Do happier people work harder? Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, a researcher, answer this question in a way that challenges both workers and managers. Here are some salient observations from their article:

Workers today feel worse about their jobs and work environments than ever before (according to a Gallup survey).

How you feel makes a major difference in how you work. “Our research shows that inner work life has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier. Conventional wisdom suggests that pressure enhances performance; our real-time data, however, shows that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do.”

Lower job satisfaction predicts poorer performance on the job. “When people don’t care about their jobs or their employers, they don’t show up consistently, they produce less, or their work quality suffers.”

Managers tend to neglect the significance of meaningful progress for workers. “Sometimes, all that’s required is that managers address daily hassles and help with technical problems. If those who lead organizations — from C.E.O.’s to small-team leaders — believe their mission is, in part, to support workers’ everyday progress, we could end the disengagement crisis and, in the process, lift our work force’s well-being and our economy’s productivity.”

For those of us who are in positions of management, are we committed to helping those we manage achieve progress in their work? Are we listening to the things that encourage them? That frustrate them? Will we strive to minimize the barriers to our employees achieving a sense of fulfillment through being able to do their work well?

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  • Ray

    Maybe the cause and effect are backwards.  Could it be that working harder makes you happier?  I coach youth baseball, and I always tell my kids that no matter what they do in life – sports, music, academics, whatever – the satisfaction they get from that activity is a direct result of the effort they put into it.  Try harder, and you’ll be happier with the outcome.  Coast through it without working at it, and you’ll never really be happy with it.

    I can see how lack of effort leads to dissatisfaction, which leads to poorer performance.  A good manager sets up a system that rewards achievement, leading to increased effort, which leads to job satisfaction.  The happiness part of the equation is a result of effort and achievement, not a precedent for it.  Although it could be a circle…effort-achievement-happiness-more effort-additional achievement-greater happiness.  Jump on the circle someplace, work hard, and see what happens.