What really makes employees productive?

Powerful article in the New York Times over the weekend about employee satisfaction and productivity.  The authors, Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School and Steven Kramer, point out a connection that should be obvious but isn’t: dissatisfaction on the job connects directly to a lower bottom line.

Employee engagement may seem like a frill in a downturn economy. But it can make a big difference in a company’s survival…. 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.

What do employees find most engaging?  Amabile and Kramer’s study showed a clear result:  “of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important — by far — is simply making progress in meaningful work.”

Managers can facilitate this progress.  But Amabile and Kramer found that they’re missing the boat:

Unfortunately, many companies now keep head count and resources to a minimum and this makes progress a struggle for employees. Most managers don’t understand the negative consequences of this struggle. 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.

Here’s a clear call to action:  let’s humanize the workplace, encourage creativity and meaning, and help people feel that their presence makes a difference.  It’s not just good-heartedness; it’s good business sense.


Photo:  Creative Commons

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