On Grit and Perseverance: How many Times will you try?

This is yet another fantastic infographic by Anna Vital from Funders and Founders. Now, I don´t know if each and everyone of those numbers on the chart is absolutely correct – but then, this is not the point anyway.

The crucial message is: Live will try to screw you, and then try to screw you all over again. In most domains, it´s not the smartest or most talented people that will succeed at the end of the day. It´s the ones that are willing to walk the proverbial extra mile (which sometimes is a thousand extra miles to be more precise…).

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I very much know this from my own life. You´re working hard on a project, you´re almost finished – and suddenly something happens: Your computer kills a full day´s work, an important stakeholder withdraws, or you just get really, really sick. I firmly believe this is a sort of test. In these moments, “life” wants to know what we´re made of. “It” wants us to say “I won´t back down, come hell or high water!”

And actually, all of us do have this quality to some extent. It´s the way we learned to walk on our own two feet…

How to Replenish Your Energy at Work? Hint: It´s Not the Caffeine

Man_Cookie_kleinMost of us know these days: You´re rushing from one meeting to another, squeezing in those important calls with the tax consultant and your child´s class teacher – while desperately trying to finish that presentation for your boss which is due at 06:00 pm. This is what days at the office look like for a lot of who earn their money as so-called knowledge workers.

To make it through days like this (and perform well!), maintaining a high level of subjective energy is paramount. In the words of Jane Dutton (Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business), human energy is the “fuel” that helps organizations run successfully. Here, an interesting question arises: How do people manage – and in the case of depletion – replenish their energy while still at the office?

This issue was addressed in a paper by researchers Charlotte Fritz, Chak Fu Lam, and Gretchen Spreitzer via an article in “Academy of Management Perspectives” from 2011. In order to do so, they surveyed 214 knowledge workers across all hierarchical levels on their subjective levels of energy (separate for presence and depletion of vitality) throughout their work days – and additionally assessed what kind of (micro-)strategies these people employ to maintain their energetic balance – and how often they use certain strategies compared to others.  Here´s the key takeaway:

When trying to recharge at work, most people get it wrong most of the time!

Among the most frequently used micro-strategies to recharge were:

  • drinking water or coffee, or having a snack;
  • checking e-mails, switching to another task, or making a to-do list;
  • surfing the net or talking to a colleague about non-work issues (e.g., sports).

In the study, none of these behaviors was associated with a heightened energy level, and some were actually connected to further depletion. Instinctively, many people seem to resort to strategies that shift their attention away from the current task. Yet, the scholars show this may be a severe case of looking in the wrong direction. Those energy management strategies found to be most positively related to vitality are:

  1. learning something new;
  2. focusing on what provides joy in work;
  3. setting a new goal;
  4. doing something that will make a colleague happy;
  5. make time to show gratitude to a colleague;
  6. seeking feedback;
  7. reflecting on how to make a difference at work;
  8. reflecting on the meaning of one´s work.

It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

In a nutshell, all of these strategies are work-related and reflect notions of learning, relationships, and meaning at work. Accordingly, the key to fill your batteries while at work may be to see your job with different eyes without taking your mind off the tasks at hand. It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

By the way: The only functional non-job-related strategy in the study was taking time to meditate. What about micro-strategies like taking a short nap or going for a walk? Fritz et al. found that these activities were related neither to the presence nor the depletion of energy – they just didn´t matter all that much. The researchers conclude that these strategies may have more potent effects as sources of recovery while being away from work, e.g., during evenings or weekends.

Meaninglessness at Work: The 7 Deadly Sins [Infographic]

Yesterday, I shared some insights from a fantastic article on the antecedents of meaning in work that has recently been published in the MIT Sloan Management Review

One of the central insights of that piece is the notion that managers can only “prepare the soil” , but they cannot create or grow meaning at work for their employees.

Yet, researchers Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden found that bosses do play a big part in destroying the experience of meaningfulness at work. 

They interviewed 135 people from very different walks of life. From that material they distilled “seven deadly sins” that bosses frequently commit – and thereby diminish or outright devastate their peoples’ sense of meaning at work.

Here are the key takeaways by way of an infographic. Share and enjoy!

Meaning at Work - Seven Sins

The Anatomy of Meaningful Work [Infographic]

This week, I stumbled upon a fascinating article in the MIT Sloan Management Review written by Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden. They interviewed 135 people from 10 different walks of life in order to find out what makes their work especially meaningful – and also, what destroys their job-related sense of meaningfulness. While I´ve read other articles that provide valuable syntheses of meaning in work in the past (see here, here, and here), this one is especially rich in context, providing in-depth personal accounts of peoples´ experiences. This makes the findings especially palpable.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Meaningfulness is not dependent on the type of work. A garbage collector can experience the same amount of meaning in work as a nurse or a doctor.
  • Bosses (and specific leadership behaviors) are typically not perceived as a source of meaningfulness. Yet, they can easily destroy the perception of meaning in work.
  • More generalized, the creation of meaning in work is an individual endeavor, while its dismantling is caused by others, or the organizational system as a whole.

Moreover, the researchers describe several crucial components of meaningful work. They´ve inspired me to create this infographic based on their findings. Share and enjoy!

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Additionally, Bailey and Madden describe the “seven deadly sins” leaders can commit to destroy meaningfulness. I´ll share those in the upcoming post.

Positive Psychology News Digest on Mappalicious | No. 23/2016

My favorite pieces covering Positive Psychology and adjacent from (roughly) the last seven days.

Sloan Management Review: What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless by Catherine Bailey & Adrian Madden


Bakadesuyo: FOMO: This Is The Best Way To Overcome Fear Of Missing Out by Eric Barker


Harvard Business Review: How leaders can let go without losing control by Mark Bonchek


New York Times: Graduating and Looking for Your Passion? Just Be Patient by Angela Duckworth


New York Times: Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice by Adam Grant


Fast Company: Poverty can alter your DNA so you’re at greater risk for depression by Jessica Leber


New York Magazine: To Get Happier, Focus on What Makes You Miserable by David Marchese


Fast Company: Resilient teams can deal with challenges because they have built these skills by Gwen Moran


Harvard Business Review: Why Rich People Aren’t as Happy as They Could Be by Raj Raghunathan


New York Times: Using Meditation to Help Close the Achievement Gap by Norman Rosenthal


Psychology Today: In Defense of Authenticity and Being Yourself by Mark White


APA Excellence: Workplace Well-being Linked to Senior Leadership Support, New Survey Finds, no author


Psychological Science: Genetic Variations Linked with Social and Economic Success, no author

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Beautiful Overview of Positive Psychology [Infographic]

Today, I´d like to share with you this charming mind map of some of the central concepts in Positive Psychology. It was created by Dr. Ilona Boniwell who heads the International MSc in Applied Positive Psychology (I-MAPP) at Anglia Ruskin University and teaches Positive Management at l’Ecole Centrale Paris and HEC Business School.

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If you´d like to see more, here´s her recent TEDx talk:

Organizational Energy: A Whole-System Approach

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the concept of relational energy, the idea that energy is generated via positive interactions between an organization´s members – resulting in a fully charged system.

Org_Energy_BruchToday, I´d like to introduce two other approaches that aim at assessing organizational energy. In both, St. Gallen-based (Switzerland) Prof. Heike Bruch plays a major role.

In an article Bruch co-authored with Sumantra Ghoshal in the Sloan Management Review from 2003 based on several case-studies, she introduced the idea that an organization as a whole system can be described via a grid that describes the intensity and the quality of the present energy. In doing so, she also promoted the concept of “organizational burnout”, a state that may arise when an organization spends to much time in the upper left quadrant of the energy grid. I highly recommend reading the original article – as it also provides valuable ideas on how to shift an organization from one energetic state to an another (“Slaying the Dragon” and “Winning the Princess”)

In 2011, she followed up with this article: Energy at work: A measurement validation and linkage to unit effectiveness. This further explores the idea of “whole system energy” but tackles it from a more quantified point of view. The authors define

collective energy (henceforth productive energy) as affect, cognitive arousal, and agentic behavior among unit members in their joint pursuit of organizationally salient objectives.

One important notion is that the researchers view productive energy as having affective, cognitive, and behavioral components – so it´s not only about “feeling energized”:

Affective energy refers to members’ shared experience of positive feelings and emotional arousal due to their enthusiastic assessments of work‐related issues.

Cognitive energy refers to the shared intellectual processes that propel members to think constructively and persist in search of solutions to work‐related problems, including the mental faculties to focus attention, shut out distractions, and have a desire to make “good things” happen.

Behavioral energy reflects members’ joint efforts designed to benefit the organization; it encompasses the pace, intensity, and volume with which members purposefully invest physical resources.

 The other important distinction is the facet of emergence:

We take a multilevel position on energy, conceptualizing it as both an individual‐level and a collective‐level phenomenon. We, therefore, recognize the need to discuss the nature of its emergence or how the lower‐level parent construct (i.e., individual‐level energy) materializes to form a collective construct (i.e., productive energy).

Accordingly, the authored have used a questionnaire to assess individual energy, but used that data to additionally compute a collective energy level, e.g., that of the whole business unit, by aggregating the individual energy levels. Here are some of the items they used:

  • Affective dimension: People in my work group feel enthusiastic in their job.
  • Cognitive dimension: In my work group, there is a collective desire to make something happen.

  • Behavioral dimension: People in my work group often work extremely long hours without complaining.

After statistical analyses, the authors conclude that

productive energy appears to be an emergent phenomenon. That is, energy referenced at the unit level considers the context or social environment in which individuals work and is distinct from the attributes of those individuals.

In a separate study, they also find that

the productive energy of firms is positively associated with firm performance.

I´m really eager to see how this stream of literature will develop in the future – and how it might inform practical interventions, e.g., in the field of human resources development.