Friday, July 4, 2008

A Lot Gets Done When People Have Good Days

Inner Work Life.
By: Amabile, Teresa M., Kramer, Steven J.,
Harvard Business Review,
May 2007, Vol. 85, Issue 5

There is a long-standing debate among management scholars on the question of how work performance is influenced by people's subjective experiences at work. One side says that people perform better when they are happier and internally motivated by love of the work. Others assert that people do their best work under pressure and when externally motivated by deadlines and competition with peers. There is research evidence to support each of these positions.

Having taken a microscope to this question, we believe strongly that performance is linked to inner work life and that the link is a positive one. People perform better when their workday experiences include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation (passion for the work), and more favorable perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders, and their organization. Moreover, these effects cannot be explained by people's different personalities or backgrounds -- which we did account for in our analyses. Put simply, every moment that they are performing their jobs, employees are "working under the influence" of their inner work lives.

The more positive a person's mood on a given day, the more creative thinking he or she did the next day--and, to some extent, the day after that -- even taking into account the person's mood on those later days.

People in our study were more creative when they interpreted the goings-on in their organizations in a positive light--that is, when they saw their organizations and leaders as collaborative, cooperative, open to new ideas, able to evaluate and develop new ideas fairly, clearly focused on an innovative vision, and willing to reward creative work. They were less creative when they perceived political infighting and internal competition or an aversion to new ideas or to risk taking.

People performed better on all these fronts (Productivity, commitment, and collegiality) when they were in a good mood and worse when they were in a bad mood. Productivity, commitment, and collegiality also increased when people held positive perceptions about their work context.

Teresa M. Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in Boston. Steven J. Kramer is an independent researcher and writer, based in Wayland, Massachusetts.

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