An old school LYS Principal shares:

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I read two articles today by Kim Marshall on his Marshall Memo (http://www.marshallmemo.com) #417. I thought the articles were right in the LYS Nation’s “wheel-house”.  Kim said he didn’t have a problem with you reposting, just let the LYS Nation know he was the source.

Article 1: How Important Is Happiness On and Off the Job?

In this Harvard Business Review interview, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert talks with Gardiner Morse about his research on happiness. Some key points:

• Most people do better work when they’re happy. Some managers think their employees will work better if they’re a little uncomfortable, a bit anxious about their jobs, and point to cranky artists and geniuses who do amazing work. For the vast majority of people, that’s baloney, says Gilbert. “I know of no data showing that anxious, fearful employees are more creative or productive.” Contented people don’t sit around staring at a wall, he says. People hate being bored. They are happiest when they’re working toward goals that are challenging but attainable.

• Rewards work better than threats and punishments. One boss might say, “If you don’t get this to me by Friday, you’re fired.” The employee will get it done, but after that, will never do more than what’s required and may even sabotage the organization. A smarter boss would say, “I don’t think most people could get this done by Friday. But I have full faith and confidence that you can. And it’s hugely important to the entire team.”

• People are more resilient than they think. “When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it,” says Gilbert. “One of the most reliable findings of the happiness studies is that we do not have to go running to a therapist every time our shoelaces break. We have a remarkable ability to make the best of things.” We find silver linings, rationalize, and adjust to the new realities. Pete Best, who was replaced by Ringo Starr as the Beatles’ drummer in 1962 just before the band surged to international fame and is now a session musician, said, “I’m happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”

• Social contact is central to happiness. “We are by far the most social species on Earth,” says Gilbert. “If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network – about your friends and family and the strength of the bonds with them.”

• The quantity of good experiences is more important than the quality. “Someone who has a dozen mildly nice things happen each day is likely to be happier than somebody who has a single truly amazing thing happen,” says Gilbert. “So wear comfortable shoes, give your wife a big kiss, sneak a French fry. It sounds like small stuff, but the small stuff matters… But you have to do them every day…”

• There are some basics to happiness. “The main thing is to commit to some simple behaviors,” says Gilbert, “meditating, exercising, getting enough sleep – and to practice altruism… And nurture your social connections. Twice a week, write down three things you’re grateful for, and tell someone why. I know these sound like homilies from your grandmother. Well, your grandmother was smart.”

• But happiness is complicated. People who have children are typically less happy on a moment-to-moment basis than people without children, but there are rewards. “What kind of happiness should we want?” asks Gilbert. “Do we want lives free of pain and heartache, or is there value in those experiences? Science will soon be able to tell us how to live the lives we want, but it will never tell us what kinds of lives we should want to live. That will be for us to decide.”

• Happiness differs more from moment to moment than it does from person to person. “This suggests that it’s not the stable conditions of our lives, such as where we live or whether we’re married, that are the principal drivers of happiness,” says researcher Matthew Killingsworth, who has tracked the happiness levels of 15,000 people in 83 countries via an iPhone app that asks them to say what they’re doing and rate their happiness at random moments during the week. “It could be the small, everyday things that count the most. It also suggests that happiness on the job may depend more on our moment-to-moment experiences – our routine interactions with coworkers, the projects we’re involved in, our daily contributions – than on the stable conditions thought to promote happiness, such as a high salary or a prestigious title.”

“The Science Behind the Smile”, an interview with Daniel Gilbert by Gardiner Morse in Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012 (Vol. 90, #1-2, p. 84-90), no e-link available

Article 2: Four Keys to a Thriving Workforce

In this important Harvard Business Review article, business professors Gretchen Spreitzer (University of Michigan) and Christine Porath (Georgetown University) echo Gilbert’s contention (in the article above) that happy employees are a net plus: “They routinely show up at work, they’re less likely to quit, they go above and beyond the call of duty, and they attract people who are as committed to the job,” they say. “Moreover, they’re not sprinters; they’re more like marathon runners, in it for the long haul.”

But Spreitzer and Porath take the concept of employee happiness a step further. It’s not about contentment, they say – that has the connotation of complacency. A better word to describe the ideal employee is thriving. These people are not just satisfied and productive – they’re energized and engaged in creating the future.

Studies of people who meet this description reveal the following: – Better overall performance; – Less burnout; – More commitment to the organization; – Greater job satisfaction; – Lower absenteeism; – Significantly fewer doctors’ visits.

Spreitzer and Porath have identified two components of thriving people: (a) vitality – the sense of being alive, passionate, and excited, radiating contagious energy, making a difference; and (b) learning – gaining new knowledge and skills and creating a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement and belief in their potential for further growth. These two qualities reinforce each other, with passion driving the desire to learn and learning fueling passion.

So how can organizations maximize the number of thriving employees? Spreitzer and Porath say their research has uncovered four interconnected mechanisms:

• Providing decision-making discretion – “Employees at every level are energized by the ability to make decisions that affect their work,” say the authors. “Empowering them in this way gives them a greater sense of control, more say in how things get done, and more opportunities for learning.” The challenge for managers is continuing to empower employees even after they make mistakes; in fact, mistakes are one of the best opportunities for leaning.

• Sharing information – “Doing your job in an information vacuum is tedious and uninspiring,” say Spreitzer and Porath; “there’s no reason to look for innovative solutions if you can’t see the larger impact. People can contribute more effectively when they understand how their work fits with the organization’s mission and strategy.” The business world is full of stories of companies that have energized employees by sharing key information, having frequent “huddles” to review interim data, and keeping score of progress.

• Minimizing incivility – One boss said an employee had done “kindergarten work.” Another manager said, “If I wanted to know what you thought, I’d ask you.” Studies have shown that half of employees who have experienced uncivil behavior at work intentionally decrease their efforts, a third decrease the quality of their work, and two thirds waste time avoiding the aggressor. In short, incivility keeps people from thriving, and leaders need to make civility a core value in their management and hiring.

• Offering feedback on performance – “Feedback creates opportunities for learning and the energy so critical for a culture of thriving,” say Spreitzer and Porath. “By resolving feelings of uncertainty, feedback keeps people’s work-related activities focused on personal and organizational goals. The quicker and more direct the feedback, the more useful it is.” If feedback takes place in a culture of civility and respect, it is energizing and promotes learning and growth. Creating the conditions that produce thriving employees requires concerted effort, conclude Spreitzer and Porath, but it’s not expensive or time-consuming. Working on all four levers is important, since they reinforce each other: people are more likely to take the initiative and work at maximum capacity if they are empowered to make decisions, know the big picture, are not afraid of being ridiculed for making mistakes, and get constant feedback on how they are doing.

“Creating Sustainable Performance” by Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath in Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012 (Vol. 90, #1-2, p. 92-99),

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