How Top Performers Achieve More and Stay Happy
At times, being happy and performing well at work can feel like conflicting goals. We want to prepare a good presentation, but we also want to make it home for dinner with our partner. We want to get promoted, but we don’t necessarily want the stress that comes with more responsibility.
Where do these two goals overlap?
In a massive research project catalogued in his new book Great at Work, UC Berkeley professor Morten Hansen set out to determine—once and for all, amid all the conflicting advice—what makes people successful at work. Along the way, he discovered that many of those same practices bring us happiness at work, too.
Based on a study of nearly 5,000 managers and employees in the United States, Hansen uncovered five strategies that were linked to both performance and well-being at work. Here are the strategies he recommends and the ways you can start to put them into practice.
1. Do less, then obsess:
This means intensely focusing on a few tasks. To do this, you need to look at your work life with an eye toward elimination: What goals, tasks, clients, procedures, meetings, or emails can you do without? That might mean saying no when colleagues make requests, in order to say a resounding yes to your priorities.
2. Focus on value:
If we’re doing less, which tasks should we focus on? The people who are more productive and more satisfied with their jobs prioritize work that they can do well, efficiently, and with great benefit to others. They seek out new projects and new processes with these ends in mind.
Focusing on value might seem obvious; but it’s not the way many of us prioritize our work. Instead, we do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done, or we measure the quantity of our output rather than the quality we’re offering to others. Shifting our priorities requires a bit of a skeptical spirit—and a willingness to let some of those “urgent” emails slide in favor of more important things.
3. Collaborate consciously:
Employees tended to perform better—and have better work-life balance, less burnout, and higher job satisfaction—if they collaborated with colleagues in a disciplined way.
The happiest high performers tended to engage in collaboration only when it made good business sense and when working together was a benefit rather than a hassle. When they did collaborate, they made sure everyone was on board and motivated to work toward a common goal.
4. Be a forceful champion:
To change your job, launch new projects, or recruit a collaborator, you might have to do some persuading. Perhaps that’s why “forceful champions”—people skilled at gaining support for their goals—are more productive and more satisfied with their jobs.
Research suggests that when we’re trying to inspire others to act, we’re better off evoking positive emotions than negative ones. The larger message is that success requires the support of others, and the best way to garner that support is to speak to people’s values, interests, and motivations.
5. Combine passion and purpose:
The high performers were not just driven by passion. They combined it with a sense of purpose, which kept them satisfied at work and prevented burnout. Although passion and purpose sound like similar concepts, it’s possible to have one without the other. Passion refers to our excited energy or quiet enthusiasm for work, while purpose refers to making a meaningful contribution to others.