How happy are you? - Outposts

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Are happier managers higher performers?

Do happy managers perform better, or do good performers feel happier? Like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to say which comes first but it’s possible to hypothesise that the two feed on each other.
Research commissioned by ILM found a strong link between managers’ psychological well-being and the perceptions of their own performance. The managers who put themselves in the top 10% for performance ranked their personal happiness highly at 96 (out of 100); the bottom 10% scored themselves at only 10.

The positivity-performance cycle

The question about the correlation between positivity and performance is an important one; are people more positive about their psychological well-being because they know they are high performers, or does being a high performer make you feel better about yourself? My belief is that it’s not necessarily a simple cause and effect relationship. Rather, it’s a self-reinforcing virtuous – or vicious – cycle. If you think you are doing reasonably well, you feel good. If you feel good in your job you’ll do it better, all things being equal. Doing it better makes you feel better still, and so the virtuous cycle sets in. On the other hand, knowing you are under-performing makes you feel unhappy (people want to do a good job) and being unhappy makes you dispirited, and so the vicious cycle sets in.
What was seen in the research was a snapshot in time, but for many managers it’s really a journey, with some people on the upswing – feeling better and improving – and for others it’s the down swing – feeling negative and failing.
It’s not only a manger’s own happiness that impacts performance. ILM found if a team is happy and performing well this influences the well-being and performance of managers.

Stress and workload

But it’s not as simple as a happy and performing manager equals a happy, performing team. Our research shows a close inter-relationship between managers’ performance, happiness, stress levels and ability to cope with workload.

The two-year itch

Worryingly they also found evidence of a two-year itch – for the first two years in their role, managers’ report higher levels on both happiness and performance but after this period, their happiness and performance scores start to fall. It seems that after two years, as managers adjust to the role, it loses its freshness; their excitement and enthusiasm diminish making them less happy – and less confident about their performance.
Two years is a pivotal time in a manager’s career within an organisation. That means organisations have an opportunity to harness and retain managers’ early enthusiasm and energy by ensuring they receive training and development in those first two years and are clear about their longer term career opportunities within the organisation.

Training and development

Not only can training and development impact on performance, it can also indirectly improve psychological well-being. This is important, because those responsible for leadership and management development need to focus on both dimensions – if you don’t do something about how managers are feeling alongside improving their knowledge and skills, the effectiveness of any development will be limited. So next time you hear someone talk about ‘happy sheets’ at a training event, ask them if they are really finding out if managers are truly happy.
Given what we know about employers’ reluctance to train new managers (see our last report, The Leadership and Management Talent Pipeline), and the evidence from this research that managers are far more psychologically positive if they have access to development, the solution to this problem may well be quite simple. Train managers early and their happiness and performance is likely to improve. Simples!

A happy workforce

Coincidentally, just as we launched Positivity and Performance, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) launched their own survey results on the nation’s happiness. The ONS says that being happy at work is important because it makes people more productive and improves the economy. So a generally positive workforce should mean that managers will feel more positive, which should encourage them to perform to a higher standard. And, given the state of the UK economy at the moment, we need every bit of help we can get to improve performance.

Pardey, David. “How Happy Are You?” ILM Insight. ILM, 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.