Happiness at work. I hear that all the time. People are always talking, blogging, writing about how to achieve happiness at work. While of course I believe happiness at work is not only possible, but something every employee and employer should strive for, I think it misses the broader point – people are happiest when they are doing work they believe in.

I’ve read similar research reports on this topic (here’s one), boiling down to this main point. People who are busy at work, in control of what they are working on, and cognizant of the purpose of what they are doing are happier than those who largely idle away the work day.

In another study at Harvard Business School, a professor found:

“Progress ranked No. 1 on the list of engagement factors related to performance. Analyzing 120,000 journal entries, Amabile found that workers reported feeling most engaged on days when they made headway or received support to overcome obstacles in their jobs. They reported feeling least engaged when they hit brick walls. Small dents in work meant as much as large achievements.”

The lessons for management?

1) Remove obstacles. Make it easy for your employees to make progress.

2) Recognize progress, not just results. Be sure your employees know you notice and appreciate the advances they’re making that will ultimately bring your project to a successful conclusion.

It’s really not any more complicated than that. Help your people make progress. Thank them for their efforts that achieve progress.

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