Putting Performance and Happiness Together in the Workplace

Putting Performance and Happiness Together in the Workplace – Performance Happiness Matrix

Performance and happiness go hand in hand in making an organization successful.
With both an appropriate performance management system and a positive approach to influencing people that increases happiness, an organization’s key results can more likely be achieved and sustained.

Which of the following types of persons would you prefer to have in greater numbers in your organization?


Which of the following types of persons would you prefer to have in greater numbers in
your organization?

A. Happy Low Performers
B. Unhappy Low Performers
C. Unhappy High Performers
D. Happy High Performers
E. All of the above.

The obvious preference would be “D.” Intuition aside, mounting evidence suggests that
happy high performing workforces correlate with greater employee satisfaction,
customer loyalty, productivity, and profits. The majority of workplaces, however, are
filled with “E”: all of the above.

The intersection between the dimensions of performance and happiness will dictate
whether an organization is able to sustain its success. This article highlights the
importance of both performance and happiness to the long-term success of a business,
describes the key dimensions of happiness in the workplace, and offers a self-assessment
a tool which individuals may use in thinking about their own personal performance and happiness at work. A call is made to practitioners and applied researchers to design, develop, and test happiness-enhancing interventions to assist practitioners in their efforts to boost happiness in the workplace.

The Performance – Happiness Matrix

In the context of performance management, “performance” refers to actions that drive
the achievement of key results. A “high performer” is an individual (or workgroup) that
performs the actions necessary to drive key results. “Happiness” is the experience of
frequent, mildly pleasant emotions, the relative absence of unpleasant feelings, and a
general feeling of satisfaction with one’s life.” People who are happy in the work
setting are generally having more positive experiences than negative ones in connection
with the workplace and their job.

An interesting and useful way of viewing people and groups across the two dimensions
of performance and happiness is depicted in Figure 1. Happy and sad faces, with arrows
symbolizing high and low performance, represent the four permutations in this analysis.
The author often uses this matrix with executives to discuss their own situation as well
as that of the people in their organizations. References in this article to the various
quadrants are used for thought and discussion purposes only.

Performance-Happiness Matrix

1. Quadrant #1: Happy Low Performer.

These employees remain happy in spite of poor performance. They may be especially optimistic, perhaps mismatched for their current
position, or need training. Tom, for example, a new and inexperienced pharmaceutical salesperson, was positive about his future and hopeful that his current poor performance
would improve with sales skill training. He was optimistic and hopeful about succeeding in this position, even though his current performance was poor; as his performance improves, he would move toward Q4 behaviour.

2. Quadrant #2: Unhappy Low Performer.

Many factors can contribute to this
condition, including a lack of performance management systems, poor selection
practices, and little or no meaningful employee recognition. For example, Mary was
frustrated and unhappy in the workplace most of the time. Her job required her to be
detail-oriented, structured and willing to work alone for long periods of time. The
problem was that Mary was not good with details, and she was creative and extroverted.
She was an underperformer in her current job with little chance of succeeding because
her work preferences did not match those required by her job.

Negative low performers can keep organizations from reaching their full potential. Their
own lack of success drags down overall performance. Perhaps more significantly,
unhappy low performers can infect others with negative attitudes and become negative
role models, exacerbating the impact of their unhappiness, and allowing
counterproductive behaviours to creep into the workplace.

3. Quadrant #3: Unhappy High Performer.

Various reasons may underlie why an
employee who is performing well may nonetheless be unhappy in the workplace. For
instance, employees may be unhappy because their work is not challenging, or they are
repeatedly asked to do the same assignments because they are good at a particular
activity. Without challenging work, it is difficult for an employee to become involved,
engaged, or positive about his or her work, making it difficult to sustain high
performance over time. This may result in the most talented and marketable people,
who are unhappy, leaving an organization.

For instance: Having been given the same assignments numerous times, Peter was
unhappy and frustrated. While he continued to be a high performer in his current
position, Peter believed that no one cared about his development and was
contemplating looking for another position.

4. Quadrant #4: Happy High Performer.

Happy high performance presents the best
prospect for long-term organizational success. A high performer who is happy about
his/her work will be much more likely to sustain high performance over time and deliver
key results.

A Closer Look at Quadrant #4, the Happy High Performer

People who occupy Quadrant #4 share some key characteristics. These individuals:
1. Have a clear direction.
2. Find that direction motivating.
3. Focus on what is important and what they can influence.
4. Are linked to the resources necessary to execute key actions.
5. Talk and act in ways that promote performance and happiness.
6. Are significantly engaged in their work.
7. Find meaning and purpose in their work.
8. Have more positive experiences than negative experiences at work.
9. Are grateful for the past and do not carry grudges.
10. Are optimistic looking into the future.
11. Achieve agreed-upon results.
12. Are happy about their workplace.

Managerial leaders are encouraged to use the “Performance – Happiness Self-
Assessment Survey” to rate themselves on these characteristics. This assessment tool is
an informal survey that serves as a springboard for a conversation about areas of
relative strength and areas where improvement may be indicated, with the goal of
personal growth toward Q4.

Paths to Performance and Happiness

Job satisfaction researchers have had a long-standing debate as to whether employees
are happy first and performers second, or performers first and happy second.
However, both happiness and job performance needs to be addressed.

Various paths exist to maximize performance and happiness. It may be relatively easier
to move people from Q1 or Q3, rather than from Q2, toward the high performing happy
Q4. For instance, a change in recognition and reward strategies may be sufficient to
move people from Q3 to Q4. In most situations, however, the “fix” to enhance people’s
happiness in their work environment will be challenging. Tools exist for increasing
performance, but positivity-enhancing interventions that drive happiness still need to be
developed for use within organizational settings.

1. Increasing Performance.

A managerial leader can maximize performance by taking
action in the following four areas:
1. Designing, developing, and delivering a clear and motivating direction
2. Creating operational focus
3. Effectively and efficiently linking or coordinating resources
4. Ensuring that people practice effective influence skills
When managerial leaders effectively execute the action roles of director, focuser, linker
and influencer, performance is advanced. In order to be a high performer, an Employee must have a clear and motivating direction, know what to focus on, know-how
to access and link with resources to maximize his or her performance, and be
surrounded by people who practice effective influence or people skills, including
individuals who model and promote happiness.

2. Increasing Happiness.

In looking at happiness in the workplace, we find that a person’s orientation in reflecting on the past, focusing on the present, and looking into the future, is determinative of whether he or she is happy.

  • When reflecting on the past, the way to happiness is to be grateful and “count your blessings.” Happy people do not carry grudges; they find effective ways to forgive others.
  • In looking at one’s present situation, individuals derive happiness from being
    significantly engaged in their work, finding meaning/purpose in what they do,
    and/or regularly having more happy/positive experiences than negative ones.
  • Individuals who are challenged while using their skills and strengths will be
    engaged in their work. When an optimal balance occurs between challenge and
    skill, a person becomes fully engaged in the activity at hand. Such individuals are
    “in the flow” with their work.
  • Employees experience meaning in their work when they recognize that their work
    has an impact on others. Meaning is often brought into greater focus when
    employees understand what needs they are satisfying for the end-users of their
    the organization’s products and services. For example, when production workers in a manufacturing plant recognize that their company’s products contribute to
    environmental safety in communities around the globe, they can see the greater
    good, or meaning, in their work beyond the relative simplicity of completing their
    own daily tasks.
  • Finally, happiness comes from work experiences that yield positive emotions,
    positive thoughts, and/or positive images in people. Positive emotions in particular have the capacity to “build and broaden” people’s positive response repertoire. People who approach tasks with positivity have been found to be more productive, creative and resilient.
  • When looking into the future, happy performers are optimistic and hopeful. They
    utilize positive goals, self-talk and other strategies to help them remain resilient as they move forward.

Perhaps the initial way for a managerial leader to think about how to influence the
happiness level of his or her employees is in relation to the employee’s present situation.

For example, engagement with one’s work can likely be enhanced by having an individual
assess her “strengths” and utilize those strengths in her work. This may include coaching
to help the individual use her strengths in innovative ways. An employee’s level of
engagement at work, and subsequent happiness, is likely boosted when he or she has
the opportunity to do what he or she does best at work – utilizing one’s strengths is a
positive experience. (This could likely help Mary, the Q2 Unhappy Low Performer, move
toward Q4.)

A Call to Action

Organizational leaders should strive to increase the number of Happy High Performers in
their ranks. Start by assessing yourself in relation to the qualities of a high-performing
happy person. With this assessment, you can develop practical action plans that help you
move toward higher performance and happiness in the work environment.

To increase the number of happy high performers in the workplace, organizational
leaders need access to proven happiness-enhancing interventions. Unfortunately, there
has been little work done in organizational settings to address this need. As a
foundation, there is a growing body of applied research which seeks to validate
happiness-enhancing interventions in self-help and mental health settings.

Practitioners and applied researchers working in organizations need to focus more
attention on developing practical happiness-enhancing interventions to assist
managerial leaders to help their people become more engaged in their work, experience
meaning in their work, and experience positive emotions, thoughts, and images in
relation to the work and work environment. With tools to help people in organizations
enhance their happiness combined with effective performance management systems,
happy high performers will likely grow in numbers within organizations.

Use this article as a springboard to look at yourself and your current organization from a
performance-happiness perspective. Strive to become a happy high-performing role
model for others as you move towards building and sustaining a high-performing happy

Authored By Charles D. Kerns, PhD, MBA

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