The Unhappy Tax

unhappybusinessAre you one of the unhappy employees costing the US economy $300 billion in lost productivity each year?

Workers are producing less quantity and producing less quality since the onset of the new American depression, a mental health epidemic whose onset is now tracked to January 2008 by both Gallop and Harvard researchers.

Employees sit woodenly at their desks, listlessly stand behind store counters and artfully dodge ringing phones at a call center, because they aren’t emotionally engaged in their company’s survival. That’s per a 2010 study by James K. Harter. In other words, a significant number of workers are cheating the time clock by doing little more than showing up. They also do a good job of not showing up. Absences, sick days, and other leave time are consistent problems.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which tracks 1,000 people of all ages and various pay grades, employees report feeling angry, frustrated, and otherwise unmotivated.

No wonder Labor Day is celebrated with a day off.

While the usual suspects, such as teens and seniors working for survival wages at fast food and other “service” jobs are angry, they are joined by an unlikely segment of the workforce.

So-called knowledge workers: engineers, scientists, and senior managers also report feeling disgust, disdain and frustration with their employers, according to researchers and authors of The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business school and Steven Kramer.

Reviewing 64,000 specific workday events among 238 professionals in seven companies, Amabile and Kramer pinpointed the single greatest determinant of depressed workers, and perhaps the depressed economy.

The issue is “not making progress” on meaningful work. That inability to take projects and move them forward is the single most defeating, mind-numbing and perhaps heartbreaking experience on the job.

Turns out it’s not salary, bonuses, promotions, titles or any of the wage, benefits or perquisites that raise the spirits and work ethic of the American worker. It’s the access to tools and systems – and freedom from the hassles and other impediments to progress – that empower employees and set free their desire to create or produce.

So here’s what you can do. The next time you’re having a difficult time going to work or staying at your job, think about your happiness. Identify the best project you have and make a case to your supervisor or colleagues for what it means to the bottom line. Then, ask for what you need – or be resourceful and find what you need.

When you understand that you get ahead by doing great work, and you focus on creating the pathway to doing it, you get more than a checkmark on your to-do list. You get back your pride, well-being and maybe even your smile.

If it’s good for you and good for your company, thanks. You’re doing good for the whole economy and that’s good for all of us.

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