Why is joy important at work?

You’ve probably heard this Richard Branson quote: “If you look after your employees, they will look after your business”. Here’s another of his that we also love: “If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong”. We believe these two quotes sum up why people need to experience joy at work.

We’re not talking about trying to create a continuous and faked state of euphoria. That only leads to something we call “toxic positivity”, which is deeply unhealthy and demotivating. Rather we are interested in creating cultures that support natural expressions of joy.

There is good evidence that people who enjoy their work are more productive, more creative and better at problem solving. That’s important to any business because your employees are the ‘true value creators’. But how do you create an organisation where people feel free to experience joy?

Joyful work is engaging and motivating

In 2018, the management consultancy A. T. Kearney researched the link between joy and success at work. It concluded: “People universally relish the experience of joy, which makes it intrinsically motivational. Shared joy connects people as powerfully as any other human experience.”

According to their research, 90% of people ‘expect to feel joy at work’. However, across virtually all demographics, only around 37% of people experience such joy. Although, that rises to nearly 50% in younger companies (under 10-years old).

It went on to show that one key driver of joy at work is believing the work is meaningful. It further revealed that people value celebrating “shared success within a team” and the corresponding feeling of “strong bonds” with their team. These findings relate to three elements we consider vital to building great teams: purpose, recognition, and collaboration.

Creating a joyful work environment

Robust science supports the idea of joy as a primary motivator for humans. Essentially, joy is good for you – it’s a positive energising emotion that’s linked to a complex array of natural chemicals in our body, particularly the hormones and neurotransmitters. These include dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, which affect our moods.

Among other things, these chemicals give us pleasure, strengthen bonds of friendship and encourage persistence. Together, and in the right balance, they can create a perfect cocktail for joy. However, some chemicals such as cortisol, which our body tends to release when under stress, can bring us down and leave us feeling depressed.

Learning how to stimulate natural joy in ourselves and our teams can help us deal with stressful situations by producing those positive chemicals. That’s particularly important in times of social upheaval, such as during a pandemic, when people tend to feel nervous and disoriented by events outside their control. It’s also the case in more normal times to help us control negative emotions and deal with minor disappointments that life and work inevitably throw at us.

Here are three steps to building joyful teams:

1.     Create purpose at work: this doesn’t have to be a grand vision, although that helps. But you should make sure that everyone feels they have a part to play in the team’s success. That requires good leadership and clear communications, so people understand why the work they do really matters.

2.     Recognise collective success: like a football team when it scores, everyone should share in celebrating success. Don’t just focus on star players, encourage everyone to thank those who have helped them build a great product, make a successful sale or resolve a customer’s complaint. Remember to focus on things that work, recording even small positive steps, rather than dwelling on negative experiences.

3.     Build a collaborative mindset: life is richer when we experience it with others, the same goes for work. Knowing you’re with a team of like-minded people with shared ambitions helps create a sense of well-being. Good leaders know that effective teams are the people with whom you can talk, laugh and share the rewards of your endeavours.

Let’s bring joy back to work!

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