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The Link Between Performance and Positivity


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By Melissa J. Anderson

According to new research by the UK-based Institute of Leadership & Management, there is a correlation between measures of personal performance and positivity in UK managers. The “positivity-performance nexus,” as ILM calls it, means that managers who rate their performance highly are also the most positive, and vice versa. Manager positivity and performance numbers also have a bearing on the positivity and performance of direct reports.

The top decile of managers in terms of performance were also the happiest, and rated themselves the highest in terms of coping with stress and workload. The lowest decile gave themselves the lowest scores in terms of positivity, as well as in coping with stress and workload. Additionally, managers who rated their direct reports as happy tended to score themselves more highly on performance and positivity topics.

The ILM study, “The pursuit of happiness: positivity and performance among UK managers,” which polled 1,000 managers, also revealed what companies can do to improve managerial positivity and performance. The report explains:

“Happiness flows both up and down through an organisation, from managers to their teams and back again, and is directly linked to confidence in their own performance. By monitoring and maintaining the happiness of their staff, organisations can drive their performance and productivity.”

By pinpointing the factors that drive positivity, leaders can improve performance across their companies.

Stress and Coping

The top decile of performers gave themselves the highest scores on coping with stress and workload, and similarly, the bottom decile of performers gave themselves the lowest scores on these measures.

The study showed that seniority had an effect on the study participants ability to handle stress. CEOs and senior managers considered themselves much better at coping with stress than first line managers and middle managers did.

ILM suggests that by providing more training around coping skills, companies could improve stress management, increase productivity, and cultivate stronger future leaders.

The study also highlights an important factor regarding stress. Top performers didn’t say they were stress-free – they tended to rate themselves somewhere in the middle, at a little or somewhat stressed.  “The right degree of stress (or perceived stress) can be a spur to productivity, while too much can be detrimental to performance, and none at all can breed complacency,” the report explains. “‘Low-stress’, not ‘no-stress’, should be the aim, although organisations need to be very clear about the signs of over-stress – for instance, when someone is unhappy, lacking in positivity and unable to deal with their workload.”

Additionally, managers who rated their teams as fairly positive with low or medium stress tended to rank themselves the same.

Advancement Potential

The report also revealed a link between advancement potential and positivity. Managers who saw a path forward at their companies tend to be happier.

Additionally, managers who said they had access to training and development were also happier, and performed better. “A perceived lack of access, on the other hand, will lead to disillusionment, particularly if an employee has been at an organisation for more than two years,” ILM notes.

In fact, the areas where managers gave themselves the lowest scores were leadership abilities like getting the best out of people and sharing vision and goals. Senior managers and CEOs gave themselves higher scores on this area than did first line managers.

Since positivity and performance are affected access to training and development, lower level managers require more training, providing leadership development courses around these topics (leading people and communicating vision) should be a priority. Boosting these skills could help first line and middle managers master leadership skills they feel they are lacking, and also boost productivity.

Charles Elvin, ILM Chief Executive, says, “Our research shows that managers’ performance and happiness tend to peak after two years within an organisation, before falling away rapidly. Organisations can counteract this ‘two year itch’ by harnessing and retaining managers’ early energy and enthusiasm with timely training over this crucial period.”

He added, “Our survey also highlights the pressing need to target training more effectively for front-line managers, who have the least access to development opportunities, and stand out as being less happy, more stressed and performing to a lower level than their more senior colleagues.”

By focusing on positivity early in managers’ careers, companies can boost productivity and develop their next set of leaders.

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