LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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Thriving at Work

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Christine Porath from Georgetown shared her thinking and research on what does it mean to thrive at work in order to create sustainable performance?  She shared that her personal journey in her first job was working in a toxic culture and what she learned that those early experiences strongly shape the way we learn and develop in the workplace — do we stay and thrive? stay and whither? Leave for greener pastures?

Her research shows that thriving depends on learning, engagement, and performance.  Through her work with Gretchen Spreitzer, they have defined thriving a joint experience of vitality and learning which communicates a sense of in self-development.  They have linked this construct to outcomes such as higher performance, organizational citizenship, organizational commitment, higher job satisfaction, and less burn-out.  Thivers reported better health, less sick days, and fewer doctor’s visit. They’ve shown these results across white and blue collar working populations.    Daniel: Hmm, I get why these need to be survey based, but is it

But what can leaders do to enable thriving?  What leaders do is they tap into three fundamental psychological needs: sense of autonomy, sense of competence, sense of relatedness (from Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory).  There are specific behaviors that operationalize these (they have a 46% effect).  Daniel: Is this a aggregate effect, that is you need all four in place?  Is this suggesting that these four variable explain 46% of the variation reported thriving?

Sharing information: about direction, performance, competitors; seeing larger impact/purpose (via end user stories and pictures); to help uncover problems, make good decisions and integrate and coordinate action.

Provide decision making: by forming hiring teams, offering home-work time, creating white spaces for projects (e.g. 3M, Google, etc).  Daniel: Interesting, when 3M was with LILA from 2009-2011 they gave an unvarnished view that their 15% free time was not that effective anymore and they were rethinking it.  Basically, people were so busy they weren’t taking the time! 

Minimize incivility: Creating positive, psychological safe, respectful environments.  Avoids energy depletion, raises motivation, risk taking, etc. Daniel: This seems right to me, but one risk here is that we create an overly civil and nice culture in which dissension and conflict gets swept under the rug.

Offer Performance Feedback: Creating opportunities for learning and energy; providing frequent, accurate, specific, and timely feedback; 360 and peer driven.  Daniel: Make sense, reminds me of Teresa Amabile’s recent work on the qualities and timeliness of feedback. Also, one not so well known finding about the power of feedback is that it best translates into changes in behavior when it is given close to next performance opportunity.  Too often feedback is given after a performance, which is good.  But changes in behavior result more often when that feedback is revisited or done just before the next performance.  I’m so GLAD that the discussion shifted to not just giving feedback but working with people about HOW TO ASK for feedback and help.  I think that is the important and often overlooked side of the feedback coin. 

Christine noted that she’s currently interested in the workplace space designs and how they interact with thriving.  For example, how does space enhance empowerment, sharing information, civility, sense of purpose, etc.  Daniel: Neat connections back to the Gensler content from the Fall meeting in which spaces enable these sorts of behaviors/attitudes.

Harvard Graduate School of Education