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Through my consulting engagements, I have an amazing opportunity to talk with leaders and employees at different stages in their careers, in a wide range of professions, in a variety of industries. I pay close attention to their performance, work habits and attitudes, and I listen to their complaints, desires and excuses. What I’ve found is that there are many, many people out there who have given up all hope of being happy at work. They no longer believe that a career can challenge, excite and fulfill them. Granted, these people show up to work every day. They sit through meetings, prepare reports, give presentations and meet with clients. They process orders, type in data, call suppliers and check for errors. But they are miserable and checked out, simply going through the motions.

Then there are the employees who are in the same boat – they sit through the same boring meetings, prepare the same reports, process just as many (or more) orders – but they are happy. So what’s the difference? I interviewed hundreds of these happy top performers and surveyed tens of thousands of employees around the country to find out.

The secret to happiness and success: accountability?!
My research showed that the main difference between happy employees and unhappy employees was their level of accountability. People with a sense of accountability, rather than entitlement, were both happier and more successful than others, regardless of the circumstances. These happy, successful people shared a core belief: they had the power to steer their own destinies. This belief seemed to make them immune to change, uncertainty and strife – factors that tended to derail others.

Stay challenged. Obstacles are good for you!
For years, I had been hearing that only engaged workers deliver top results, and that making employees happy was the answer to productivity. We were supposed to minimize obstacles and make their lives easier. But this research was telling me something completely different! It told me that humans don’t necessarily want easy; they want ownership. They want to overcome challenges and solve problems. They want to know they can make a difference. That’s where true happiness at work comes from.

Whether you’re a manager trying to motivate employees or an employee climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, keep this in mind because it is the key to a happy, high-functioning workforce. Top performers succeed despite their circumstances, bringing greater value to the organization while gaining more personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

How do you encourage more accountability at work?

Cy Wakeman offers a Reality-Based approach to navigating today’s workplace, defying conventional wisdom with bold tips for business leaders and employees on how to "ditch the drama, restore sanity to the workplace, and turn excuses into results.

Are you a Reality-Based Leader? Take this assessment to find out.

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