The Happy and Productive Employee
By: Phil Stevens
The following is the first article in a two-part series called Engaging IT: The Story of One Team.
The cultural wisdom that happy people will work harder and produce better results is subtly embedded everywhere, which may explain why many leaders make a significant effort to keep team members happy. Much has been discussed related to “mass customization” and “a market of one” with satisfaction being tailored to each individual. In today’s business climate, there are the multiple “number one priorities” and a pressing need to do more with less. Leaders will ask themselves—how much time should be put into employee satisfaction and does my effort have to be on an individual-by-individual basis.
In this series, I would like to share my insights and recommendations for a more productive IT organization based on a successful transformation that I led at a Fortune 100 company.
The Happy Worker
Happy workers work harder. Could this wisdom possibly be wrong? Yes, it could be. Every MBA student has learned that a substantial body of research, dating before Brayfield and Crockett’s 1955 study “Employee Attitudes and Employee Performance,” indicates that there is no appreciable link between employee satisfaction and individual performance. Follow-up research has supported Brayfield and Crockett’s study.
A good leader should verify research against his experience and common sense. For example, have the following employees been on your team:
A dissatisfied employee who produces equal, if not better, results than satisfied employees;
A programmer who can write code twice as fast as other team members but shows disdain for team meetings and occasionally can be overheard speaking poorly of the company; or
The IT Director who seems out of touch with the company mission yet “runs a solid operation.”
Individuals can be unhappy or dissatisfied yet produce good results, a surprising development because it counters what we, as leaders, have been taught. A more important question remains: If employee satisfaction is not linked to individual performance, should leaders spend time on making sure team members are satisfied?
Yes, leaders should care about employee satisfaction. In his book The Subtle Significance of Job Satisfaction, Dennis Organ addresses an important distinction between individual in-role performance and Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB). OCB refers to those little-recognized, voluntary actions that are necessary in any effective organization. For example, a co-worker helping a new hire learn about the company’s unique processes or checking with other team members before committing to a course of action. Some people use the term “discretionary effort” or “engagement.” Although employee satisfaction is not a predictor of in-role performance, it is a predictor of engagement, discretionary effort, and OCB.
Individual satisfaction is not a strong indicator of individual performance, but it is a key indicator of organizational performance, especially in the most impactful technology projects. In future articles, I will discuss some of the challenges and solutions for improving employee satisfaction, OCB, and organizational effectiveness. I will also discuss my initiative to create a high-performance IT organization in a Fortune 100 company.