Earlier this month the New York Times asked, Do Happier People Work Harder?  In the article, Professor Teresa Amabile, of Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, an independent researcher, describe the findings from diary research with 238 professionals in seven different companies, analyzing 64,000 specific workday events.

Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a hell of a lot of effort on something I would have thought was obvious. Of course happier people work harder. Don’t they?

Fortunately for me and my world-view, the researchers reached the same conclusion:

“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.”

A clear pattern emerged from their data:

“Of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important — by far — is simply making progress in meaningful work.”

Now, as gratifying as I find all this, it’s not why I’m sharing it here. What led me to do that was where the authors went next. Namely, management.

The ability to make progress in meaningful work is all about management. Amabile and Kramer make the point that managers can ‘help ensure that people are happily engaged at work’ through their ‘ability and willingness to facilitate workers’ accomplishments — by removing obstacles, providing help and acknowledging strong effort.’  In other words, supporting progress. Yet, whilst this all seems rather obvious to me, no doubt to you too, unfortunately it seems this is not the case for everyone:

“When we asked 669 managers from companies around the world to rank five employee motivators in terms of importance, they ranked “supporting progress” dead last. Fully 95 percent of these managers failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is the primary motivator, well ahead of traditional incentives like raises and bonuses.”

Ah, there it is once again, our old friend, the prevailing style of management. Shame it doesn’t crumble overnight in the face of research like this. In fact, if anything, the cult of leadership, our obsession with the personalities and individual capabilities that supposedly make the difference between why some organisations thrive and the rest struggle to survive, which has grown unremittingly over the last ten years, has obscured more than ever the straightforward behaviours that form the basis of ‘good management’. As Amabile and Kramer put it:

“Fostering positive inner lives sometimes requires leaders to better articulate meaning in the work for everyone across the organization. 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.”

Spot on. Seems obvious to me.  Who knows, if we spread the word, maybe, in time, it’ll become obvious to others, too.

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