How To Create A Joyful Workplace

In 2018 A.T. Kearney conducted a survey focused on joy at work. Almost 90% of respondents said they want and expect to feel joy at work. Yet, only 37% reported that they actually experienced it. The results also indicated that joy comes from believing that one’s work is meaningful. Those who saw a positive impact their work made on the world and the lives of others were more likely to feel joy.

We all want to feel we belong and feel that what we do matters. We all want to feel a real human connection, even at work. Most leaders understand this and know that intrinsic motivation, happiness, and joy create a more engaged and productive workforce. Yet, we keep building cultures where too many management layers, performance metrics, and isolated siloed groups make any joy of work impossible.

Alex Liu, managing partner and chairman of A.T. Kearney, the global management consulting firm, makes the case that we seek joy as it connects people more than anything else. Liu suggests that joy at work comes from a combination of harmony, impact, and acknowledgment. Team harmony means that each team member has a distinct role they enjoy and can perform well utilizing their strengths. This leads to impact, as when the whole team plays in harmony with their strengths, they are more likely to achieve success and reach the goal. It feels great to see the results of one’s work. Acknowledgment of each other and mutual support and appreciation then create a feeling that everyone matters and contributes.

Playing and playfulness

And there is more. Joy requires playfulness. Who said that adults shouldn’t play? We believe that play is childish, a waste of time, and unnecessary. So we don’t play, and if we sometimes do, we often hide it from other adults. And yet, play, especially make-believe games or creative play, is a great way to train our imagination. It leads to creativity, innovation, adaptability, joy, satisfaction and is an antidote to stress.

A little play, weirdness, and nonsense every now and then are incredibly empowering feelings. Forget what others may think, forget whether it is appropriate for someone “like you,” meaning your age, gender, status, or position. Embrace your inner child, be in the moment, be a little bit weird, and experience pure joy.

The positive effects get multiplied when the whole team is on the same wavelength. A bit of play then leads to a more open environment where people are comfortable around each other, are willing to be themselves, share their worries and issues, ask for help, and generally work better as a team. Productivity increases while stress disappears.

Stop the military business speak

Unfortunately, playfulness doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the modern workplace. It didn’t have anything to do with it from the early days of the industrial age, when everything started to be about efficiency. We took inspiration from the military—even the language. We have bullet points, front-line workers, rank-and-file employees, subordinates, leadership ranks, all-hands meetings, business intelligence, rallying the troops, strategic planning and objectives, mission-critical tasks, guerilla marketing, employees in the trenches, promotions, execution, years of services, fighting for market share, defending market position, gaining ground, calling the shots, being a loose cannon, catching someone off guard, biting the bullet, strategy that is a long shot, uphill battle, and more.

Even the word company initially referred to a military unit that, in most countries, consists of between 80 to 250 soldiers commanded by a major or a captain. However, maybe the time has come to leave behind the concepts of the military and early industrial age. There must be a better way.

What to do?

Make the work more playful. Demilitarize the language you use and become more inclusive. Learn to work just for the joy of working rather than trying to reach a specific end.

Prioritize flow over efficiency. You get as much work done, if not more, and you will be more satisfied with the process.

Focus on building a harmonious workplace where everyone feels included, people have a real impact by utilizing their strengths, and others acknowledge their efforts.

Encourage an environment where people can have an honest and constructive debate without fear and stress because they know that others on the team care about them.

What is your take on the topic? Do you believe that joy has its place in a modern workplace? Do you believe that harmonious culture leads to better or worse results than a competitive one? Do you use military language in your daily interactions with others? Do you think it would be helpful to limit it as much as possible?

Photo: mohamed_hassan /

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Categories: Leadership

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