Emotions and productivity: Why productivity hacks don’t always hack it

Are you find it hard to stay productive despite putting in your best effort? Do you feel that something is off some days leaving you less productive than you want to be? If you can relate to that, then this video is for you. In this video, I explore how our emotions can affect our productivity and discuss what we can do so that we can maintain a high level of productivity. 

We all know that happy employees are productive employees. When we are happy and enthusiastic, we tend to be more motivated to work because positive emotions make us more productive than negative ones. It takes more effort to overcome negative emotions. We are always more intrinsically motivated when we are happy. 

What makes us want to work and be productive? Science says we need to address three key important psychological needs to be intrinsically motivated: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In the context of work, we need to feel that we have the ability to decide on what, how, when, and where to work. We also want to feel that we have enough skills and knowledge to accomplish the work. Finally, we want to feel that we belong or are part of something greater than ourselves—that means we want to feel that we are working with a team to achieve a common and meaningful goal. 

When these three needs are addressed, we feel good about our ability to work. It makes us want to work well, and we are motivated to do well because we derive satisfaction from working. We can surmise that intrinsically motivated employees are productive employees. 

In 2017, Atlassian conducted a study to learn more about productivity. They found out that emotions impact productivity. Moreoever, and perhaps more importantly, high-performing teams experience twice as much positive emotions compared to low-performing teams. Happy teams get more work done. 

What does it mean to be happy or experience positive emotions? Startups are known to build and nurture the type of culture that lead to “happy” employees. This is probably why they offer a lot of perks, such as free lunches, nap pods, well-designed offices, and team building activities. Do these perks always work? It works only if it is a genuine effort to understand what makes people happy.  

The real question to ask is: Do these efforts enhance the employee’s need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness? These perks may enhance relatedness, to a point, by finding ways for team members to engage with each other and relax. But does your business address the other important psychological needs of autonomy and competence? You are likely to surmise that nap pods and team building activities won’t make employees happy or productive if what they need flexible hours to get their jobs done. It won’t save them from frustration of feeling incompetent and not having the resources to fulfill work objectives.  

Here’s another question for your consideration: is the goal to make people happy all of the time? Does high-performance mean the absence of negative emotions? Atlassian’s study found that high-performing teams do feel anger and frustration. The difference is that team members feel that they can express these negative emotions openly and trust that these will be addressed and resolved to make the team more productive. 

The results of this study reminds me of the 2015 Google study on high-performing teams. The study found that a crucial characteristic found in high-performing teams is psychological safety. Having psychological safety means that team members feel safe to express themselves freely and without fear of retribution. However, having the freedom to express themselves doesn’t mean it is done without respect or intention of using this as an opportunity to improve the situation. Having psychological safety in the team means team members trust and respect one another. Team members may express anger and frustration over issues and mistakes, but this is done so with a respectful attitude and with the intention of resolving the root issues that cause these negative emotions. 

Emotions impact our productivity. Negative emotions make us less productive, while positive emotions make us more productive. High performing teams value and nurture each team member’s need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In doing so, they understand how to manage the team’s negative emotions—they focus on resolving the root issues. This is what it means to keep people happy. And this is what it means to keep people productive.  




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