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The reality management never sees

A recent diary entry from an employee in a research study was titled, “The Reality Management Never Sees.” While managers may have an unspoken agenda in the workplace, what they can’t see is how employees process life at work. In order to learn what happens inside of employees’ minds, for three years, researchers studied 238 professionals – persons who use their knowledge collaboratively to solve problems. The question for reflection in this post is, “What is the reality managers can’t see and how does understanding that reality change how they manage?”

The research shows that every person is affected by emotions created by reactions to events at work and by how they perceive and make sense of these events. This interplay of emotions and perceptions drive employees’ process of choosing what tasks to perform, how to do a task, and where to do it or in other words: their  motivation to perform. While this may not be surprising to a manager who has reflected on the question of how employees experience the workplace, the argument among managers is how performance is influenced by employees’ subjective experience.

The debate between managers is whether employees perform better when they’re self-directed, happier, and love what they’re doing or when supervisors pressure them to meet objectives and design competition among peer groups. The evidence showed three elements impacting performance:

  • Positive emotions such as happiness, pride, warmth, and love directly affect people’s ability to solve problems creatively and successfully. And not only are they more likely to be 50% more productive on a day with positive emotions, the surprise finding was that the succeeding day was more productive as well. The reverse was true with fear, anger, frustration, confusion, and sadness decreasing employees’ ability to make progress not only on a given day, but on succeeding days with productivity falling between 65% and 80%.
  • Individual perceptions of organizations and leaders as collaborative and cooperative, willing to consider new ideas, providing a meaningful vision, and willing to reward excellent work led to higher performance. Perceptions of political game playing and lack of trust and confidence in leadership led to an unwillingness to take risks and share ideas.
  • Motivation to perform at their best comes when persons are interested in the work they are doing, finding enjoyment and challenge in the work itself. Motivation dips when external pressures rise and rewards are based not on doing meaningful work, but on meeting external expectations.

High performance was described as increases in productivity, a commitment to the work at hand, and respect for and contribution to the work of team members. The inner reality of employees clearly impacts effectiveness, productivity, and team participation. So what can managers do that will have the biggest impact on employees’ inner experience – emotions, perceptions, and motivation?

Surprising to me was what did not make the list of good management behavior: daily thanking an employee, working side-by-side with an employee as a peer, injecting lighthearted jokes, or buying a pizza for lunch. While these do have an impact, the most important and fundamental management activities were:

  • Enabling progress by setting clear goals, communicating where the work is headed and why it matters and makes a difference; giving assistance when needed; providing resources and time to get the job done, and managing success and failure as learning opportunities. A few opposite examples include frequent changing of goals and objectives, placing obstacles in the way of progress, focusing on trivial issues, evaluating without explanation or learning, offering inadequate resources to reach the goal, forcing unnecessary time pressure, and engaging in political infighting.
  • Treating employees as human beings, with dignity and respect.

As employees are connected to their work 24/7 ripple effects from organizations spread through employees’ lives. This knowledge emphasizes the importance of understanding the inner life of employees, It is good for our organizations and reaffirms life and our value as human beings.

Read more about Inner Work Life at

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