To Do Our Best, We Need to Feel Good

thoughtfulResearchers who look at work performance know that people perform better work and feel better about their work when four key needs are met:

Physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work;

Emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions;

Mental, by being able to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks; and,

Spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

A year ago, when I read a New York Times article titled “Why You Hate Work” by Tony Schwartz (chief executive of The Energy Project, a consulting firm) and Georgetown University Professor Christine Porath (who is also a consultant to The Energy Project), I found myself reaching for a pen and circling some interesting points about what they discovered when they surveyed employees in various settings and realized the strong connection between satisfied employees and successful companies. I kept the article. I found it the other day and reread it. It was just as interesting on a second read, perhaps because, this time, I noticed the subtitle: Excessive demands are leading to burnout everywhere.

It made me see see how their findings could be applied to self-employed people equally well. I ended up asking myself if I was being a good supervisor to myself. Sometimes I am not.

Then I thought of kids in school. Having a daughter who just graduated from high school, I’ve followed for many years the discussions and debates surrounding amounts of homework, focus on testing, and test-based curricula. I would like to suggest that kids in classrooms would achieve higher levels of wellbeing and learning when their core needs (and not administrators’ needs) are met. But that is another article. For now, dear parents: you might want to remember this wise rule of thumb from a wise researcher regarding appropriate amounts of homework: 10 minutes of homework per grade level (NOT every night for younger grades).

The Energy Project surveyed thousands of employees in a wide range of fields (see who they were below). Universally, no matter how different the type of work, the results revealed that supervisors who understood and respected their employees’ needs could expect higher performance. The “needs” were similar, but even more specific and descriptive than the four listed above.

Renewal: Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being. The more hours people work beyond 40, the worse they feel, and the less engaged they become. By contrast, feeling encouraged by one’s supervisor to take breaks increases by nearly 100 percent people’s likelihood to stay with a company.

Value: Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the company.

Focus: only 20 percent said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, but those who could were 50 percent more engaged.

Purpose: Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations – this was the most important of the four core needs. These employees were 1.7 times more satisfied at work and 1.4 times more engaged at work.

To Do Our Best, We Need to Feel Good!

My goal is to ask myself more often: Am I remembering to take regular breaks? Am I remembering to notice and applaud my good work? Am I allowing myself to focus and enjoy one task (vs. multi-tasking)? Is there anything I am doing that I don’t enjoy doing that I can remove from my list of tasks?

What do you think? How are your core needs doing these days?

One more question: If you have a child in school, is he/she being given enough recess breaks to move around between focused classroom assignments and lessons? Children perform so much better when they are not desk bound for long periods of time.


Note about the study participants:

Mr. Schwartz and Professor Porath partnered with the Harvard Business Review in 2013 to survey and measure productivity and engagement among 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a broad range of companies and industries. They also gave the survey to a manufacturing company with 6,000 employees and a financial services company with 2,500 employees. The results were similar.

“Why You Hate Work: Excessive demands are leading to burnout everywhere,” by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, New York Times, 6/1/14




  • Carolyn Goodart

    One of my first subbing assignments with Los Angeles Public Library was at the Mar Vista Branch. And I got acquainted with Mary Kay, a young clerk there who was studying to be an interior designer. At the same time, my daughter Carrie was beginning her studies at Santa Monica College, having passed the high school proficiency exam. She was asked to declare her major and couldn’t think what to put, so I remembered sweet Mary Kay, the girl I worked with at Mar Vista and suggested: Interior Design, because Carrie had good ideas for how her bedroom should look. So, Carrie gave it a try, and we did enjoy visiting “The Blue Whale” as one of her assignments. Carrie soon realized it was not her calling. And then several years later I ran into Mary Kay again, and she had become a librarian! She quoted a saying about doing what you love and you’ll never “work” another day in your life!

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