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Here's why the highest-performing employees are also the least stressed

Happy workers
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While many people may think success is born of the stress of long hours, chaotic schedules and hundreds of unread emails, a new study from leadership training company VitalSmarts reveals just the opposite is true for top-rated employees.

According to VitalSmarts, employees rated by their managers as a nine or 10 on a 10-point scale are three times more valuable to an organization than the average employee, and their value does not come at the expense of work-life balance.

Despite high-performing employees being responsible for roughly 61 percent of the total output of a department, VitalSmarts reports that three out of four leaders say these top employees experience stress levels that are equal to or even less than average employees.

In a survey of over 1,500 participating managers and employees, researchers David Maxfield and Justin Hale found that the key thing that sets top-rated professionals apart is their ability to work smarter — not harder.

"Productivity is more than just being busy," Hale writes. "Employees who learn to manage their workload quickly and efficiently don't just get more done, they get more of the right things done."

How do they do it? According to the study, the best employees are:

  • 55 times less likely to start projects they don't finish
  • 21 times less likely to experience tasks falling through the cracks
  • 17 times less likely to have an inbox full of unread emails
  • 18 times less likely to feel overwhelmed
  • 21 times less likely to feel anxious or worried about forgetting something
  • never likely to miss deadlines

In addition to working smarter, top employees are also found to have excellent communication and productivity practices. While complaints about average employees included "slow to respond," "lack of communication," "disorganized" and "too busy," praise for top-performing employees included "not afraid to ask questions," "know when to ask," "organized" and "good time management."

"It doesn't take a whole lot of changes in a person's behavior to become a ten," Maxfield tells CNBC Make It. "Part of it is just communication and keeping people updated. If you can do that, you will find your performance dramatically improved and your boss and peers will see you as a far more valuable and reliable performer."

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