Who's responsible for your happiness at work?

A woman works online in her cubicle at an office. Is your boss responsible for your happiness at work or are your co-workers?

The corporate environment you experience at work every day is actually a combination of two factors. There’s the local environment, your own team of co-workers, and then there’s the wider organizational environment, the top brass and everyone else.

When my research team and I studied 26 teams of professionals in seven companies, we found that generally, the work environments of the team and the organization matched -- whether good or bad. But for six of those teams, their local environment was either much worse or much better than the organizational environment. Our analysis of day-by-day mood and motivation for those six teams found that the organizational context -- such as top management criticism -- was overshadowed by the local things, like a team leader’s encouragement and coworkers’ support.

Bad dynamics at the local level can make you miserable and undermine your performance. In one of the teams we studied, nearly everyone hated coming to work -- even though the organizational environment was OK. Two mechanical engineers on the team saw each other as rivals and never agreed on even the simplest decisions. They sniped at each other constantly. The team leader was ineffectual at stemming the conflict, and progress for the entire group slowed to a crawl.

In another of our teams, people had great relationships, which buffered them from a truly toxic organizational environment. Although top management was dismissive most of the time, the team supported each other’s work and had fun together, to boot. When one of them came back from vacation sunburned, they hung a plastic lobster over her desk -- amusing her and everyone else. And when another member told us how the team rallied to pull off a seemingly impossible project, he ended by saying, “God help me, I do love them so!”

So, love them or not, those people you see every day at work loom much larger, in your day-to-day happiness and performance, than whoever sits in the C-suite.

About the author

Teresa Amabile is a professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of "The Progress Principle."

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