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Joy in Work – Exception or Norm?

“Management’s overall aim should be to create a system in which everybody may take joy in his work.” Dr. W. Edwards Deming I love this quote from Dr. Deming, who promoted the idea that every employee should be able to achieve joy at work and that joy would lead to improved quality and a high […]

“Management’s overall aim should be to create a system in which everybody may take joy in his work.” Dr. W. Edwards Deming

I love this quote from Dr. Deming, who promoted the idea that every employee should be able to achieve joy at work and that joy would lead to improved quality and a high performance organization. 

We don’t equate joy with work enough. I think it’s even safe to say that many people would argue that experiencing joy in work is the exception and not the norm, we may even tend to believe that true joy is saved for moments outside of work – time with family and friends, and new experiences like ticking off adventures from a bucket-list. Increasing joy in work rarely appears on an organization’s ‘to-do’ list or strategic plan, whereas addressing low engagement scores and improving performance outcomes often do. But what if joy were the norm and not the exception? Imagine the type of workplace, relationships, and results your team would create when experiencing true joy on a regular basis!

Joy in work, or lack thereof, not only impacts individual engagement and satisfaction, but it is central to your team’s ability to thrive, and to them arriving at work excited and motivated to make a difference every day. Joy is central to an individual’s desire to challenge themselves to reach and surpass their goals, and to their ability to develop collaborative and trusting relationships with those they work with and serve.

So what is joy? Joy is about being connected to meaning and purpose and is a feeling of great happiness. How often do you experience this at work? How often do you think your team members feel joy through their work? If you aren’t experiencing joy in your work, you can bet your team members likely aren’t either. Why should you care beyond the reasons outlined above? Perhaps the best case for improving joy is laid out by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in their Improving Joy in Work Framework, where they state that joy incorporates the most essential aspects of positive daily work life. A focus on joy is a step toward creating safe, humane places for people to find meaning and purpose in their work, and like Dr. Deming said, leads to a high performance organization.

As a leader, it is important to understand some of the factors that lead to joy (as you read through them ask yourself how many are present in your team).

1.      Joy is derived through strong social relationships

Spoiler alert - working in isolation or in a team in which there is a breakdown of trust and respect, where people feel alone and left to fend for themselves, results in feelings of overwhelm and stress and leads to disengagement. People experience joy when they are connected to others and are a part of a collaborative network based on trust and mutual respect in which team members support one another and challenge one another to be their best selves. If this is lacking in your team, this is the place to start. Building a healthy climate through greater trust and collaboration, if lacking, will take time, but without it no other gains in performance, let alone joy, can be achieved. A healthy climate is the foundation of an effective team, healthy relationships and high performance. 

2.      Joy is derived through responsibility and meaningful work

Demonstrating trust in your team members by engaging them in challenging work will result in greater joy especially when that work is meaningful and results in a positive impact for the organization and/or those you serve. Actively look for opportunities to engage your team members in new and interesting projects that stretches their talents and engages them in experiences that connect to what matters most to them at work.  Better yet, ask them what projects they aspire to work on that will have the greatest meaning to them!

3.      Joy is derived through our strengths

Accounting does not make me happy. It is not a strength and never will be, anything to do with accounting makes me want to pull my hair out. When I have to do it, I put my head down and do the best I can, but I definitely do not experience any form of joy.  Think about your team members for a minute. Are they in roles that play to their strengths and interests? Are they given opportunities to allow their strengths and unique gifts they bring to the team to shine? Or are they involved in projects that do not match their abilities and interests? If so, it can feel like a weight on their shoulders, a heavy burden that results disengagement, insecurities, frustration and overwhelm.  

4. Joy is derived through positive energy

Does it feel good to be a part of your team? When you arrive at work, is there a sense of positive energy and momentum? Or does it feel heavy and negative, or even stagnant? It is of course difficult to derive any joy from a negative or complacent environment. Energy is contagious - we exchange energy with every interaction we have. We can either deplete someone's energy or fuel them with positive energy. Your team will be energized or depleted by you, your demeanor, your attitude so be conscious of how you show up and how you are either fueling or depleting your team.

These are just a few examples for you to consider. The best source of information on how to derive more joy from work though is from your own team members. The IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work lays out 4 steps leaders can follow to improve joy in work – the first step is asking staff, ‘what matters to you?”. The IHI suggest asking the following question of your team members:

·        What matters most to you at work?

·        What makes a good day for you?

·        What makes you proud to work here?

·        When are we at our best, what does that look like?

As leaders, we are often so focused on performance, engagement, and getting teams through their lists of never ending tasks, that it is easy to forget to focus on what really matters to our team members. And unless we ask, 'what matters most to you at work?', we won't even know where to start. 

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