By Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D.
American businesses lose $153 billion annually because of employees struggling with chronic health conditions and billions more due to mild illnesses and family emergencies large and small. Management Professor James Avey (Central Washington University) believed that employees who are excited about company goals and their own future might miss less work. To test this hypothesis, he led a team that studied hope and absences among more than 100 mechanical and electrical engineers in a Fortune 100 high-tech firm, a representative sample of the company’s 179,000 workers.
This research caught my eye because both my brother and brother-in-law are engineers. I couldn’t imagine them buying that hope would have anything to do with showing up for work. I was also eager to learn if hope was associated with cost savings for a company, as Avey put a dollar value on each day of work missed.
Working with the firm’s Human Resources office, Avey determined that the participants in his study, high hopers and low hopers combined, averaged 48 hours, or six full days, of sick time in a given year. (Considering the company’s standard wage of $100 per hour, discounting benefits, and extrapolating to all 179,000 employees, 48 hours of absence per employee would result in an $859 million annual loss to the firm.) However, the more hopeful the engineer, the more likely he was to go to work. Over the course of 12 months, the high-hope engineers missed an average of 20 hours of work, or less than three days of work (not associated with planned leaves or vacations), with many of them missing no time at all. Low-hope engineers missed more than 10 days of work each, on average. These employees cost the firm nearly four times as much as their high-hope colleagues in lost productivity due to sick days. No other workplace measure (including job satisfaction, commitment to the company, confidence to do the job) counted more than hope in determining whether an employee would show up.
Given these findings, Avey suggested that, even for professional-technical jobs that have a long list of educational requirements including Bachelor’s degrees and certifications, recruiters should consider applicants’ hope, along with other positive personal characteristics, in their hiring decisions.
Imagine going to work and finding out that your colleague has left the company and you have to take her place as a project leader. Your new teamis charged with solving a problem that has been hitting the bottom line hard.
Your boss is quick to emphasize the importance of the project and to point out some major obstacles: You have one team member who will undermine your authority; you need more team members but don’t have the resources to hire them; your leadership style differs from that of the former project head; you now report to two supervisors; and you aren’t completely clear on which steps to take ﬁrst, since you get conflicting information from various sources.
What strategies might you use to solve these problems?
Business Professor Suzanne Peterson presented this scenario to executives at a top financial services group. She gave each individual two weeks to come up with as many high-quality solutions as possible. Peterson was interested in how hope (which she had measured in each exec before the task began) was associated with the quantity and quality of problem-solving strategies. At the end of the two weeks, she then gave the list of strategies to a panel of their supervisors for evaluation, without identifying which executive submitted each solution. The bosses counted the strategies and rated the quality of each proposed solution. With all the data in hand, Peterson found that the more hopeful executives produced the better solutions. They also submitted many moresolutions, possibly strategically, knowing that some of them would not be viable.
Peterson observes that hope is especiallyimportant in organizations experiencing uncertainty due to rapid changes in focus and shifts in leadership. “It may be these settings where employees’ hopefulness can have a greater impact because they require the problem-solving orientation and perseverance of those with higher hope.” Accordingly, in another study, Peterson found that hope was a more significant predictor of performance in start-up businesses than in more established firms. Why? Peterson put it simply: “[M]ore hopeful employees may be more likely to engage in and accept organizational change efforts.”
This hope-productivity link has been demonstrated in many studies targeting various outcomes, across countries (including China, Portugal, the United States, and Switzerland) and in many professions. Hopeful salespeople reach their quotas more often; hopeful mortgage brokers process and close more loans; and hopeful managing executives meet their quarterly goals more often. To my knowledge, whenever researchers have examined hope and work performance, they have found a meaningful link.
Excerpt from “MAKING HOPE HAPPEN: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others,” by Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D. Copyright © 2013 by Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D. Excerpted with permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. For more information, visithttp://books.simonandschuster.com/Making-Hope-Happen/Shane-J-Lopez/9781451666229
Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., a Galllup senior scientist, is a leading authority on the psychology of hope. He has published seven professional books, including the “Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology.”