Running Along the Beach, Joaquin Sorolla, 1908 (Source: Wikipaintings)
Ideas for Leaders #024

Vitality, Learning and Sustainable Performance

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Key Concept

Happy employees produce more than unhappy ones; they show up at work routinely, they are less likely to quit, they go above and beyond the call of duty, and they attract people who are just as committed to the job as they are. This Idea looks at what steps we can take as managers to help employees thrive at work, to be a happy and consistently high-performing workforce that is more loyal and more productive for the organization. 

Idea Summary

What makes for sustainable individual and organizational performance? Employees who are thriving - not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future.

The authors found that people who fit this description demonstrated 16% better overall performance, 125% less burnout, 32% more commitment to the organization, and 46% more job satisfaction than their peers.

Thriving has two components: vitality, or the sense of being alive and excited, and learning, or the growth that comes from gaining knowledge and skills. Some people naturally build vitality and learning into their jobs, but most employees are influenced by their environment.

Four mechanisms, none of which requires heroic effort or major resources, create the conditions for thriving:

  1. Providing decision-making discretion
  2. Sharing information about the organization and its strategy
  3. Minimizing incivility
  4. Offering performance feedback

Organizations such as Alaska Airlines, Zingerman’s, Quicken Loans, and Caiman Consulting have found that helping people grow and remain energized at work is valiant on its own merits - but it can also boost performance in a sustainable way.

Business Application

Here are those four mechanisms that create the conditions for employees to thrive:

  1. Providing decision-making discretion: empowering individuals to make decisions that affect their work gives employees a greater sense of control. Employees at Facebook, for example, have a lot of leeway to solve problems on their own.
  2. Share information: working in an information vacuum is tedious and uninspiring. People can contribute more effectively when they understand the larger impact of their work. We can highlight the case of workers at Zingerman’s - a restaurant where all employees, down to the busboys, get up-to-the-minute feedback on every aspect of the business.
  3. Minimize incivility: research shows that employees that experience uncivil behaviour at work may be more likely to intentionally decrease their efforts. Faced with incivility, they are likely to narrow their focus to avoid risks, losing opportunities to learn in the process.
  4. Offering performance feedback: this creates opportunities for learning and the energy that is critical for a culture of thriving. The quicker and more direct the feedback the more useful it is.

The mechanisms above reinforce each other; so try adopting them all, rather than one or two from the menu.

Individuals can also adopt strategies to help them thrive where organizational support to do so might not yet be available by for example: taking regular breaks; crafting their own work to be more meaningful; exploring opportunities to innovate and learn; invest in relationships that energize them.

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Idea conceived

  • 2012

Idea posted

  • February 2013

DOI number



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