What makes people truly happy at their jobs? It's not necessarily money or benefits or even co-workers, but rather how interesting workers find the job. New research from Duke University shows that a higher level of interest in a particular endeavor improves work output and reduces burnout.
These studies explored the idea that a person's level of interest might increase engagement, leading to a higher level of performance, which ultimately results in a greater success.
Paul O'Keefe, a doctoral student in Duke University's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, with Associate Professor Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia, studied 153 Duke undergraduate students. During the study's first trial, the subjects were given a set of word puzzles. Some received puzzles that resonated with them, while others were given puzzles that were not significant to them. First, the students were asked how enjoyable they thought the task would be, and then they went to work.
Those with personally relevant puzzles performed better than those working on neutral tasks. This was not because the first group worked longer out of interest, but rather because they had a highly efficient engagement in the project. In other words, they were in "the zone."
But the study didn't stop there. The researches wondered if the students' increased performance would cause them to burn out more quickly. So after working on the puzzles, the students were asked to squeeze a spring-loaded handgrip (the kind usually used for exercise). Resisting the urge to release the grip when it becomes uncomfortable takes self-control. The researchers used this exercise to assess how mentally exhausted the subjects were after working on the word puzzles.
Results showed that those who expressed interest in the puzzles were able to hold their grip longer than those who did not.
"Taken together, we not only showed that those who found the task enjoyable and important performed among the best … but they also squeezed the grip the longest," said O'Keefe. "In other words, they solved the most problems, and it wasn't mentally exhausting for them."
These results are certainly applicable to the business world. Many professionals believe they will succeed if they choose a career based on prestige, even without a keen interest for the job. A choice like this may reduce personal performance, however. By contrast, selecting a job based on interest may increase not only the level of daily happiness, but also the amount of business success.
Originally published on Business News Daily.