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How to lift the stress load for your employeesGetty Images/iStockphoto

Research shows that employees who thrive – people who are highly energized, and aware of how to avoid burnout – are more effective than their counterparts. But what helps a person thrive, even in stressful workplaces?

Academics Gretchen Spreitzer of the University of Michigan and Christine Porath of Georgetown University found that thriving employees have 16 per cent greater performance, as reported by their managers, and 125 per cent less burnout, as self-reported, than their peers. The researchers identified two components of thriving: vitality, the sense of being alive and passionate; and learning, the growth that comes from obtaining new knowledge and skills.

In Harvard Business Review, the professors outline four mechanisms to create a culture of thriving in your organization:

Let employees make decisions

Employees at every level are energized by the ability to make decisions that affect their work. Such empowerment gives a sense of control and more opportunities for learning.

The turnaround at Alaska Airlines in the last decade was helped by a culture of empowerment, which included giving its agents the discretion to find solutions for customers who missed flights or were left behind for any other reason.

At Facebook, decision-making discretion is fundamental. One new employee recalled that, when he found a fix to a complicated bug on his second week, instead of a hierarchical review to ensure he was correct he was told to put the change into effect immediately.

Help them share information

It's hard to do your job in an information vacuum. "People can contribute more effectively when they understand how their work fits with the organization's mission and strategy," the professors write.

Alaska Airlines launched its turnaround plan with a months-long road show and training classes to help employees share ideas. Senior executives still go on the road quarterly to gather information about various markets.

Many companies have open-book management approaches, where they share financial information in detail with employees. Ask a busboy at Zingerman's Roadhouse restaurant in Michigan, for example, what the corporate vision is and you probably will get a solid description, in the employee's own words, and a report about how the restaurant is doing recently on the important metric of meals sent back to the kitchen.

Give through feedback

Feedback is an opportunity for learning. And by resolving uncertainty, it keeps work-related activities focused on personal and organizational goals. Zingerman's, for example, has weekly huddles, with everyone gathering around a whiteboard showing data about individual and business performance – data that the employees are expected to own.

Minimize incivility

Research by the two academics, with Christine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Global Management, found that half of employees who experiences uncivil behaviour at work intentionally decreased their efforts and a third deliberately decreased the quality of their work.

Two-thirds said they spent a lot of time avoiding the offender. "Incivility prevents people from thriving. Those who have been the targets of bad behaviour are often, in turn, uncivil themselves. They sabotage their peers. They 'forget' to copy colleagues on memos. They spread gossip to deflect attention," professors Spreitzer and Porath write.

Calman Consulting, in Redmond, Wash., is recognized for its civil culture. Background checks on job candidates pay attention to their behaviour and the consulting firm will pass on highly qualified employees who have a record of incivility.

Special to The Globe and Mail