At a user conference a few years back I heard an inspiring speech, one that I feel more of us should learn from, as it would lead to higher levels of productivity, retention and overall happiness in our companies. I know what you’re thinking: “Hold on there! We’re running a business here! Are you going soft in the head?” All I can say is, give this a read and see if it makes some sense.
First, some stats
- 84% of US employees report being unhappy with their jobs; witness 8-9 am Monday morning being the hour for heart attacks.
- Scientists have found that 5:1 is the “magic ratio” of positive to negative experiences that can predict “with remarkable accuracy” everything from workplace performance to divorce. In other words, for every cross word or downer, it takes five “Way to go’s!” to reverse the harm done.
- A Gallup poll says less than one third of the workforce is actually engaged in their work. Another recent poll says people who are unhappy take an extra 15 sick days a year. Gallup estimates that disengagement is responsible for $375 billion in lost productivity and that’s just the direct costs. Add in the indirect costs and some estimates are as high as $1.7 trillion!
- In one of the most authoritative studies to date, 200,000 respondents in 8,000 business units show that outcomes “such as employee turnover, productivity, customer loyalty, and profitability” are all influenced positively by the way managers address the issues of well-being and engagement.
The bottom line is, productivity is lost because people are unhappy at work. When we get employees into something that they like to do, “in their zone or flow”, their productivity goes through the roof.
I was duly impressed with the presentation and pledged to myself to think through how I might adapt my behavior to take into account some of these principles. I must, however, confess it didn’t take me more than a day or two to hurt someone’s feelings because I was more intent on my productivity than I was in hearing out an employee’s problem. I did ask for their forgiveness and hopefully recovered by addressing it with them and giving them more attention later. In the end, it cost me more time than if I had been patient and helped them to address their concerns initially.
The presentation was not saying to ignore reality, and neither am I. But simply stated, there is a place for negative thinking in business; there are positive uses for pessimism, and times when it’s very important to look at what’s wrong with things. Too much of that puts us in a state where creativity and innovation are impossible. In business, as in marriage, if you want to flourish use that “magic ratio”: Five positive interactions to every negative one. Spend five times more in positive frames than in negative ones. Give five times more positive than corrective feedback. Psychologists studying peak performing teams observe a HIGH positive to negative ratio of words, questions, facial expressions and body language.
Look at your employees. How many tell you, in various ways, that they are unhappy? How can we balance their needs and skills and better achieve their happiness and our company goals?
And if you want an even more critical bottom line, don’t forget, there is a clear link between positive emotions and longevity; optimists live on average 7-9 years longer than pessimists!