How Efforts to Make Employees Happy Kill Productivity


2016-08-28Recent research shows that there’s a big difference between (H)appiness and (h)appiness. If, as a manager, you know how to separate the two you can avoid the mistake of demotivating your employees.

(H)apiness is defined as employee satisfaction, the kind of overarching experience someone reports after a look back at the past year on the job. It’s all about selected, recaptured memories.

It’s quite different from (h)appiness, the immediate, moment-by-moment experience which flows from one minute to the next. This experience is, for the first time, being uncovered by social scientists who are pinging employees via smartphones and laptops. They are discovering some surprising results.

One is that lots of (h)appy moments are not necessarily correlated with (H)appiness. It explains why executives are confused when their (H)appiness survey scores go up and down without apparent rhyme or reason.

Yet, even if they don’t know what to do, most leaders still believe that increasing happy feelings at both levels is a good thing for the individual and the bottom-line.

Recent research from Microsoft Corporation challenges this notion. The study shows that if, as a manager, you try to increase (h)appiness you can make things worse for yourself, your employee and the company. Here’s why.

1. People admit they are (h)appiest doing rote work.
Rote work is defined as “mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition.” It’s necessary stuff, but produces little value, requiring almost no creativity.

Most positions in the real world include some rote work. Recently, I spent several hours manually cleaning up an Excel database. As boring as the chore was, it could not be delegated. In spite of my lack of enthusiasm and the absence of any fun or creative element, I had to pay full attention in order to avoid making a mistake.

When asked, employees report that they are (h)appiest doing this kind of work, even though the company derives a minimal benefit. If, as a manager, you focus on trying to increase this feeling, prepare yourself for behaviors that lead to low productivity.

2. The best work is sometimes stressful.
The fact is, you want more than (h)appiness. Instead, you want employees to show up at the office ready to do their best work. In prior columns, I shared the notion that this work occurs during the flow state: the times when an employee becomes deeply engrossed in a challenging task which requires their best skills. The result is high performance.

The Microsoft researchers argue that we are wrong to believe that the flow state requires (h)appiness. In fact, when people are in this particular zone they may experience high stress. Just imagine a child who puts forth his/her best during a GSAT exam. As a parent, you would be quite worried if he/she were to walk out and report a (h)appy experience. It doesn’t happen. Yet, it’s often a moment of life-changing, peak performance. Consider it to be the same one you, as a manager, are being asked to create.

3. Cure the problem of boredom with stress.
It gets worse. When you focus on (h)appiness you disengage your staff.

A recent Gallup study shows that 55% of Millennials are “not engaged at work” with another 16% being “actively disengaged.” Compared to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, they are the least engaged.

It’s no surprise. After all, they grew up surrounded by deeply absorbing technologies. Apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are specifically engineered to command their attention and keep it for hours.

College, with its extreme demands, also occupies them fully. However, when Millennials graduate into the working world they are shocked… the office is full of demotivated zombies. Often, managers show up asĀ  tyrants who demand that people “Do it my way or else”. This toxic brew, so adverse to the engaging world they have taken for granted, deadens their souls.

The answer is certainly not to add in a dose of attempted (h)appiness.

Instead, as a manager, look to borrow the emerging principles that app and game designers are using to make software engaging. The core “gamified” actions they apply are:
1. Craft objective goals
2. Set unambiguous scores
3. Create feedback mechanisms
4. Give employees the autonomy to make certain choices
5. Offer coaching

Work hard to fix any weak spots as you look to craft an environment that’s as engaging as a smartphone app or game. Keep in mind that human beings naturally love to learn and enjoy being intrinsically motivated.

So, your job is not to make employees artificially (h)appy. Instead, add in the kind of stress that challenges them to be engaged. They can handle it. It’s more likely to produce the (H)appy results everyone wants.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to

How High Performers Convert Single Behaviours into Habits


(This week I have included the audio version of the article. Use the graphic above to listen in.)

2016-08-15There’s no way to achieve long-term professional success without learning how to convert critical behaviours into habits. It’s a skill that’s not taught in the workplace, even though it’s key to accomplishing all worthwhile goals. How can you develop this ability?

Let’s start with a definition. A habit is an action that is initiated without conscious effort or motivation. If you have ever found yourself turning your steering wheel for home only to realize that you are supposed to be going in the opposite direction, you may understand their power. They require little energy to get started, making them a powerful ally. Of course, some can also become life-threatening enemies, causing us to focus on them exclusively.

That’s a common mistake.

For example, in my training I make a big deal about the negative influence of smartphones and their pervasive ability to turn people into dangerous users. For many, the act of purchasing a mobile phone is a precursor to, and predictor of, practices such as texting while driving.

However, there is a flip-side. Anyone can harness smartphone power to develop beneficial habits. Unfortunately, according to a recent University of London study, mobile apps and PC programs which are supposed to help us consciously build new habits fail to do so. They ignore existing research, rendering them impotent. Their failure is instructive: here’s what we can learn in our attempts to develop positive new habits.

1. Repetition Isn’t Enough
Habits aren’t formed just because we engage in the same practice over and over again. While repetition is important, habits also need cues and triggers that initiate a specific behaviour.

Cues and triggers are defined as specific events which lead to the habit being executed. For example, your decision to retire for the evening sets in play a number of sequential behaviours that occur even when you are tired and can’t think clearly.

Furthermore, when developing long-term habits, it’s much better to link themn to events rather than the clock. This feature is one your doctor exploits by assigning your medication for mealtimes rather than clock-times. Therefore, to keep a habit in place, you need to be a good builder of these events.

2. Cues and Triggers Sometimes Don’t Work
There are times, however, when events aren’t enough. When you are learning a brand new habit, you may not know which events to use. In these cases, using a planned reminder such as a smartphone alarm can be effective in, for example, learning to take a 10:00 AM morning break. But, there is one catch.

While this tool is effective in the beginning, it’s a short-term crutch. In the long-term it presents a danger. According to the research, over-reliance on timed reminders can interfere with permanent habit formation. They are helpful, but become harmful later on.

Fortunately, there’s a more effective technique to use. Instead, turn on a reminder to help you notice which event occurs at the same time. For example, when the mid-morning alarm goes off, you may notice that the break coincides with a hunger or thirst pang.

After a while, you could wean yourself off the alarm, paying attention to the pang: your new trigger.

3. The Use of Rewards
The final piece of the puzzle is the role of positive reinforcement. Someone who wants to build new habits needs to become a smart cheerleader, rewarding him/herself appropriately. However, herein lies yet another catch.

In general, intrinsic rewards (such as a sense of personal satisfaction) are far better than extrinsic rewards such as a financial incentive granted by your manager. The question is, how do you tap into intrinsic rewards on a regular basis, given their intangible, ephemeral nature?

One key is to treat external rewards as dangerous distractions that may take your attention away from the joy inherent in the task. The other is to allow time for reflection (e.g. by journaling) so that you can stay present to positive inner experiences.

These insights imply that managers need to be cautious in their application of rewards. When tempted and distracted by external “Big-Ups”, many employees are prone to lose track of intrinsic motivation entirely. This is a recipe for trouble, putting all their satisfaction in one basket: their company’s.

It’s far better to train employees to be self-reliant on their own habits. Unfortunately, most companies don’t deliberately teach this skill and waste time in crafting manipulations. In the long-term, they never work as well as positive habits which are intrinsically motivating, especially when they happen to drive value to the bottom line.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to

How To Effectively Restore Your Broken Work-Life Balance


2016-08-01_12-45-15Unlike other problems professionals face, issues of work-life balance don’t happen overnight. How do you, as an ambitious employee, confront, overcome and master this challenge?

Two Cases
1. A retired executive reports: “I delegated my children to my wife. Apparently, she didn’t do a very good job because now that I am retired with lots of time to spend with the grandkids, none of them want anything to do with me!”

2. A mother of a GSAT student spends two years fighting for a new promotion. On the day it’s announced she gets a text from her son. He’s just “passed” for a high school whose name sends shivers down her spine: its name will only solicit piteous looks from her friends. A few minutes later one sends her a text: “My daughter got into Campion! My late nights and weekends paid off!!” She tucks away her smartphone, wondering if the cost to her son’s prospects was worth her personal gain.

These are not isolated incidents, nor are these the only symptoms. Overweight, divorce, and spiritual crises are just a few that hardworking people experience when there is an imbalance. While you are trying your best to lead a successful life, how can you prevent yourself from falling into a deep rut one small stumble at a time?

1. Overcoming a Scaling Problem
In my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I chronicle a common story. Someone who was successful in high school, college, and their early career, experiences work-life balance issues in later life. For example, they can never catch up on their email. What has happened?

It’s simple: the techniques they used to reach their early success no longer work, but it’s not because they are lazy. The habits, practices, and rituals that were the keys to their success at an early age are inappropriate for their adult selves.

Remember when you were 16 years old and could consume copious amounts of sweet, fatty, greasy foods? None of it registered on the scale so you became accustomed to eating for the enjoyment of your palate. Now, that very same behaviour gets you in trouble because your metabolism has slowed to a crawl, but you don’t have what it takes to make it to the gym more than once every other week… sometimes.

To understand the big picture, replace calories with “time demands.” A time demand is an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Closing out each of them provides a feeling of fulfillment. Early on, as a teenager, you discovered that creating more of them was the first step to a greater sense of accomplishment.

However, as an adult, you must learn to say “No”, while simultaneously developing new techniques to handle greater volumes of time demands. If you don’t, the results are predictable… you steal time from your personal life in order to meet the requirements of your job, creating an imbalance. Just like your teenage eating habits, your immature practices for managing time demands create an adult problem.

Realizing this fact is the first step. Here is the next one to take in order to upgrade your techniques, even as others around you flounder.

2. Putting in Place the Ideal Week
You must plan out your entire week. Learn to use recurring events in your electronic calendar and lay out times to do your choice of the following:
– Exercise. (Include the time it takes to wake up properly, dress, drive to and from the location and recover.)
– Eat. (The number of people who skip meals or take lunch at 5PM is alarming.)
– Sleep. (If you fall asleep watching the television, consider using an alarm that starts your bed-time routine.)
– Process all your email. (Most professional jobs require you to periodically empty your inbox.)
– Spend time with your spouse and kids. (In an earlier article I mentioned the recommendation to spend a minimum of 15 hours per week with your spouse.)
– Set aside quiet time. (Schedule rejuvenation, meditation, reflection and prayer as often as you need.)
– Plan. (Each day deserves its own schedule so that you are not driven by emergencies.)

This ideal week is your foundation – an extreme act of self-care.

3. Maintaining Your Calendar
Given the importance of your ideal week, your calendar becomes central to your well-being so it’s carried with you at all times, usually in your smartphone. It becomes your defense against the demands of the world, the place where you have already decided what is important: a reason to say “No.” You begin to realise that taking lunch every day at noon is a fight for your right to live life on your terms. It simply does not come for free. Leaving it up to the circumstances or mere “buck-up” is a slippery slope to one day needing emergency surgery for a blistering ulcer.

These modern techniques are the keys to preventing bad daily practices from accumulating into long term problems. Take charge right away so you can make a slow but steady difference.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a complimentary document with links to articles from 2010-2015, send email to