Being great at your work vs. feeling great about your work

If we want to be happy in our jobs, we need to be good at our jobs.

We human beings have a basic need to know that we contribute, create value and can make a difference and effect change in our environment.

That’s why doing a good a job feels amazing. It gives us feelings like pride, accomplishment, fulfilment, growth and worth.

On the other hand, when we feel that we don’t perform well at work, it creates feelings like inadequacy and lack of control plus of course fear that we might lose our jobs.

And it’s also in the company’s best interest to make sure that every single employee and team is getting great results and living up to their potential. Companies typically focus on 4 areas to make that happen:

  • Skills: Training, competencies, job skills match,  …
  • Resources: Time, tools, IT-systems, …
  • Structure: Organization, plans, goals, budgets, strategy, processes, …
  • Support: Coworker+manager support, coaches/mentors, …

These are all important and enable us to get results. If your workplace is not giving employees these 4 things, then how on earth can you expect them to perform well?

If we want people to be happier at work, we can definitely help them get better results. We can give them better training, more resources, more support, etc. in order to help them perform better.

However, many people already get great results – but don’t feel that way. And if that’s the case, then they won’t be very happy at work.

This is a crucial distinction that few companies make – the distinction between getting good results and feeling good about those results. If we want employees to be happy at work, they also need the latter - and many don’t have that.

When that is the case, employees may get great results right now but it won’t be sustainable. When people are not happy at work, it hurts their motivation, productivity and creativity. Stress and burnout tend to follow.

So in addition to helping employees get great results, companies also need to make sure that people feel great about their results.

There are 3 things that give us that feeling of results.

1: Meaning

I saw this sign in the lobby of Danish pharmaceutical company Xellia, carrying probably the simplest and most inspiring company purpose I’ve ever seen.

As you may know, one of the biggest current medical crises is the increasing risk of infection by multi-resistant bacteria, which are immune to traditional antibiotics. Xellia produces an antibiotic that is still effective against multi-resistant bacteria. Their research and products directly saves lives all over the world.

It’s crucial that we know what we have to do at work, but  equally crucial that we know why we do it.

That is what gives work meaning and purpose: when you know why you do each task and how it somehow helps someone.

And it’s not enough that your work is meaningful to the organization – it must be meaningful to you. Your work must have a purpose that you believe is worthy.

On the other hand, if you have no idea why your work matters and no sense that it makes any kind of a difference, it really doesn’t matter how good you are at your job – you won’t be very happy.

Many workplaces take great pains to give employees performance goals to clearly show them what they are expected to do. But we must make equally sure to show employees why their work matters and how it makes a positive difference.

US online retailer Zappos are a great example of this. Whereas most customer service reps are measured on how many calls/emails they handle, Zappos’ employees are measured primarily on how happy they make their customers. The former metric makes sense only to the company, the latter is meaningful for employees too because it shows them that they make a positive difference for the customers.

2: Autonomy

When you are free to do your job your way, you are much more likely to take pride in your results and feel good about them.

On the other hand, if a micro-managing boss is telling you exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it, you are much less likely to feel good about the results you get, because they won’t be your results.

As much as possible, we should be free to choose:

  • What we work on
  • Who we work with
  • What approaches and methods to use
  • When and where we work

One of my favorite examples of this is Middelfart Savings Bank in Denmark, one of the happiest workplaces in Europe. How did they achieve that? They gave their employees huge levels of freedom and responsibility. Their former HR directors said this:

“You’d be amazed what happens once people are empowered to make decisions.”

Another amazing example comes from the US Navy, where nuclear submarine captain David Marquet gave his sailors unprecedented autonomy. He explained how he did it at our conference in 2015:

3: Appreciation

And finally, we feel good about the work we do when we are recognized for it.

Harvard Business School professors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer talk about this in their awesome book The Progress Principle. They sum up the book’s main message like this:

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.

Even a small win can make all the difference in how people feel and perform.

Creating a culture of positive feedback in an organization is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to give employees a feeling of results.

When your coworkers, your boss or even the customers praise your good work, it clearly shows that you make a difference and get great results.

On the other hand, if you feel you do good work but nobody ever notices, it becomes much harder to maintain pride in your work. Some companies even take it a step further – they never praise good work, but all mistakes are instantly and severely punished.

Our absolute favorite way to praise others at work is The Poncho. Try it!

The upshot

It’s not enough to help employees get great results – we must help them get a feeling of results.

Of course we first need them to do good work. No one should expect to feel good about their work, if they’re not doing a very good job in the first place.

But that’s not enough.

Happiness at work only comes when people know that their work has meaning and purpose, when they have freedom and autonomy in how they work and when they are appreciated and recognized for their good work.

Imagine the opposite. Imagine that you’re very good at your job and get great results. But you have no idea why any of your tasks matter, somebody else has decided how you work on those tasks leaving you no freedom and autonomy and you are never recognized for any of your efforts.

How happy could you be at work under those conditions? How good would your results be in the long run? How soon would you lose all motivation and burn out?

So improving how people feel about their results is crucial.

It’s also a lot easier. Provided a person is very good at their job already, improving their feeling of results may be a lot faster and easier than improving their actual results.

It’s also a lot more effective, because if we can’t figure out how to make people feel proud and appreciated about their work, it doesn’t matter how stellar their results are – they will never be happy at work and their performance will ultimately suffer.

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Announcing the final 2 AMAZING speakers at our international conference

We have just announced the final 2 AWESOME speakers for our International Conference on Happiness at Work in May.

Camilla Kring: Work-Life Balance and Flexibility

Camilla Kring has a PhD in Work-Life Balance and as owner of Super Navigators, makes workplaces happier by increasing the Work-Life Balance of their employees.

She will show how flexibility is among the keys to well-being, and management must have the courage to address the flexibility of their company’s work culture because culture determines whether employees have the courage to make use of flexibility.

The first step is to set people free from 9-5 and that work is something that only can take place at the office. Work is not a place – it’s an ongoing activity. Second, focus more on results and less on visibility. Third, give people the tools to improve their individual Work-Life Balance.

Arnaud Collery: Storytelling and improvisation

Arnaud is an award winning Comedian and filmmaker (NBC’s last comic standing, MTV, Fuji TV, Comedy store, Little Klaus Big World – Best comedy film Monaco Film Festival 2012). He has coached numerous CEOs in myriad industries. He’s worked with clients like Cartier, Chanel, United Nations, Novartis, Axa, L’Oreal, BMW and Renault Trucks.

In his workshop Arnaud will show how we can find even more happiness in our careers, by understanding, owning and reframing our own stories. He will help you to build stronger, deeper and more relaxed relationships with your team and all those around you.

The workshop will be fun and fast-paced and based on techniques from storytelling and improvisational theatre.

See the full program and get your tickets here.

Our next Academy is even more international than usual

Our next Woohoo inc Academy on June 20-23 in Copenhagen is going to be a very international affair. We currently have participants from:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • China
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Lebanon
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Switzerland
  • UK

There are only 7 seats left, so if you want to be a part of our most in-depth, intense 3-day training about happiness at work, you should hurry up and book your seat now.

Hate your Job? TODAY is #InternationalQuitYourCrappyJobDay

Too many people hate their jobs but still stay in them for years. This is what we know. This is clearly a recipe for disaster for everyone who feels stuck in an unhappy work situation.

We want to change that, so we’ve declared today, March 31, to be International Quit Your Crappy Job Day and have created a web site to match at www.internationalquityourcrappyjobday.com.

On the site you can take a test to see if it might be time to quit and you can read a number of articles about quitting.

There are also a ton of stories from people who found the courage to quit bad jobs. This one is my favorite.

We want more people to quit, but more than that we want many more people to realize that they have that option. Because if you hate your job, but believe that you are not free to quit and get away, the situation gets much, much worse.

Happiness tip: Start your next meeting with something positive

Psychological experiments can be very devious, and this one was certainly no exception. The focus was meetings and the format was simple: Groups of people were asked to discuss and reach consensus on a contentious topic.

Here’s the devious bit: Unbeknownst to the other participants one member of the group was an actor hired by the researchers. The actor was told to speak first in the discussions. In half the experiments he would say something positive while in the other half he would start by saying something critical. After that he simply participated in the discussion like the other group members.

The experiment showed that when the first thing said in the meeting was positive, the discussion turned out more constructive, people listened more and were more likely to reach consensus. When the first statement was critical the mood became more hostile, people were more argumentative and consensus became less likely.

The researchers concluded that the way a meeting starts has a large impact on the tone of the discussion and on whether or not the group will eventually reach consensus.

Ah – meetings. The most energizing, creative and fun activity in the workplace. What’s that you say? They’re not? Well they can be. In fact they should be. Here’s a happiness tip that we’ve introduce with many of our clients that tends to work really well: Start your next meeting with something positive.

Many groups, projects or departments open their meetings with a round where each participant can say what he or she is working on, and quite often this ends up as a litany of complaints and problems. But as the experiment cited above shows, this is likely to affect the whole meeting.

So do this instead: Open meetings with a round where each person answers a question such as:

  • Name one thing you’ve accomplished since the last meeting that you’ve been proud of?
  • Name a person who has helped you since the last meeting.
  • Mention one thing you’re looking forward to in the coming week/month?
  • What’s the funniest thing someone has told you in the last week?
  • Mention something interesting you’ve learned since the last meeting

Pick a new question for each meeting and make some up yourself – as long as they focus on something positive.

Don’t spend a lot of time on this, just give each participant 20-30 seconds to share something positive. As the experiment mentioned above shows, a meeting becomes much more productive when you start with something positive instead of with a round of collective and individual moans.

One reader of this blog actually tried it and here’s what he told me afterwards:

Hi Alexander,

I have been reading your work for a few days now, and I cannot get enough.

We have 4 analysts on our team, who touch many if not all groups in our company, and the insight you provide in your articles is invaluable. Our role often means our view is black and white in order to deliver results, which is often received in a bad light.

So, I immediately utilized item 1 of your five weird tips for great meetings. It was like the Jedi mind trick for convincing others to lobby for our interests!

My Sr Analyst was struggling to keep her jaw from dropping. No more than a simple ask of what is the funniest thing your kids have said to you lately. Everyone had a story, and we all laughed for a quick 2 minutes before getting to the agenda.

Just wanted to say, “Thank you,”

All the best,
-Grant

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