Things I Want to Tell My Boss
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Things I Want to Tell My Boss

Bar & Bench

De Facto writes on things he wants to tell his boss.

The New York Times on September 3, 2011 published an opinion by Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School and Steven Kramer, an independent researcher titled, “Do Happier People Work Harder?.” Teresa and Steven collected nearly 12,000 electronic diary entries from 238 professionals in seven different companies charting their psychological state each day.

Their study concludes that employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier and perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do. We didn’t need a decade of research to tell us ‘happy employees perform better’. In fact, we are very much aware of this phenomenon – we have known this since the first day we became worker bees.

We are quite familiar with the situations when we perform better and work harder on days we are happy. The day you got your big bonus or received great reviews or you got promoted was the day you suddenly had all the energy to produce better quality work or work till 3:00 am and feel that working hard was justified. On the reverse, the day you got not-so-good annual reviews or you didn’t get your expected promotion or the annual salary increase didn’t match your expectations, you felt that all the work you did was for nothing and this world is damn unfair – the guy next to you is lazy and makes the same amount of money and goes home at 7:00 pm and no one says anything to him/her. I believe 99% of you could relate to one of the events mentioned above.

Fortunately, Steven and Teresa’s decade long research didn’t just end there, and revealed one powerful insight which many employers could focus on if they wish to create a work place that is more productive and work force that is happy and willing to work harder. Their study found that “of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important – by far- is simply making progress in meaningful work”. They write, “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about the work…Of the seven companies they studied only one manager consistently supplied the catalysts – worker autonomy, sufficient resources, and learning from problems – that enabled progress.” They further write that progress in meaningful work is the primary motivator, well ahead of traditional incentives like raises and bonuses.

Steven and Teresa’s study could be path-breaking for employers in the legal industry, and particularly law firms which are based on bill by the hour model. Law firms and legal practitioners rarely focus on creating environment for meaningful work for their employees – some are even referred to as sweatshops. We all are aware of various flaws in the current structure of law firms, however very few have taken or are taking steps to remedy the defects. Volume of work, treacherous hours, lack of diverse work (on account of super specialization needs), rigid structure and hierarchy for assignments and decision making, monetary reward as the primary form of appreciation for good work, inadequate efforts to maintain work-life balance, and building unreasonable expectation for clients are only some of the ones I can think of. Most of you sitting at the desk and reading this will probably be able to add many more to this list. Several law firms have taken steps to mitigate some of the drawbacks. The two day weekend introduced (and enforced) by some law firms would have definitely contributed to creating happier work place; law firms encouraging employees to take vacation have added more happiness in their lives; ability of employees to work from home because of technological advancement has helped worker bees to spend more time with their friends and family. However, the most important aspect “progress in meaningful work” is often ignored.

Lack of appreciation by employers or inability to create incentives (other than monetary) for rewarding good performances are two important aspects employers often do not focus on. Few words of appreciation from time to time or pat on the back can make an employee lot happier and more efficient. Ability to identify strengths and weaknesses of employees is another key factor. Employers who are able to identify strengths of employees and guide them to proper direction are more appreciated and employees are loyal to such employers.

Steven and Teresa’s study brings to us one more insight which all employers should jot down on their white board: what would I want from my employer/boss if I was working for this law firm? Of course, we need to eliminate all those unreasonable wishes about double bonus, double salary and free perks, and focus on what would I reasonably want – may be some meaningful everyday work, independence in decision making, ability to be creative, encouragement on difficult assignments, pat on the back and appreciation in public for great work, slap on the wrist in private for misdeeds, day off after weeks of hard work, etc. Many leading companies and law firms around the world have started thinking about this and it’s not too late for those who want to be ahead of the pack.

I would like to invite readers of this op-ed to post comments and let their employers know of all other reasonable things that you expect from them. I believe your voices will be heard!

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