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Bringing joy back to the office

Posted 12th March 2019

“When work is a pleasure, life is joy. When work is a duty, life is slavery”.

Maxim Gorky

It’s Monday morning, 8h00am, you are in the lift going up to your office, are you more likely to whistle, smile or be downcast?

The English expression “Monday morning blues” refers to the unmotivated state one feels when starting the working week. Conversely, the Scandinavians have a word for “feeling happy to go to work”; Arbejdsglæde which describes the joyful feeling you get when you enjoy your work.

Why is it important?

In her book, the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett insists that we are the creator of our own emotions, not that emotions happen to us. She explains how our brain, using our past experience, predicts an emotion specific to our environment so that we know how to behave appropriately. She points out that we can influence this prediction; it’s in our power to teach our own brain to construct an emotion appropriate to our surroundings.

According to this theory, we can teach our brains to associate our place of work with a joyful and enthusiastic feeling. This will then become the default from which your brain can construct positive emotions.

However, we have to be motivated to teach our brains to see work as a joyful experience. More and more successful companies are now understanding the power of this association and they are putting processes in place to transform the experience of work into a joyful experience.

Top companies who encourage fun at work

Amongst the most successful companies in the world, Facebook and Netflix view employee satisfaction as a top priority. They realized that when you love what you do and you are motivated to start the week, you have more energy, you display more creativity and the company which employs you becomes more profitable.

Southwest airlines, voted the most popular American airlines in 2018, is another example of a successful company which encourages employees to be creative, fun, passionate about their job whilst staying very professional. Part of their core values are “Be passionate, don’t take yourself too seriously and celebrate success.  Here is an example of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant doing his work with panache.

Other companies such as Adobe or the online publishing platform Medium, actively put practical steps in place to ensure that the company culture empowers employees. For example, Adobe’s managers’ main role is to help employees develop, define and reach their own goals. Medium set up a very innovative hiring process where the interviewers ask the interviewees to choose between three options; teach us something new, interview us, or a fifteen minutes interview.

How can we bring joy back? The key elements:

1) Positive interaction with colleagues as a potential source of joy.

In big companies such as Facebook which encourages employee diversity, fighting stereotypes is essential to maintain a positively inclusive environment. Facebook designed a training course on managing unconscious bias which focuses en 4 types of bias (performance, performance attribution, competence/likeability and maternal). However “unconscious bias training” (or UBT) has been criticized – the long time effects of UBT do not seem to translate into a change of behaviour or attitude. Good intentions don’t always translate into actions. Moreover, a recognition of our unconscious bias could be useful as a process to a process of awareness-raising, reflexion, and discussion in the company.


2) Feel special. One way to find our job rewarding and to build our resilience when something goes wrong is to identify our strengths (which parts of our job brings us joy and energy) and our weaknesses (which parts of our jobs we hate doing and could delegate). A coach, a manager or a colleague can assist us in this task. In the Fortune 500 medical technology company, Stryker South Pacific, the manager’s main role is to identify employees’ talents, interests and encourage them to focus on their strengths even if that means changing roles within the company. Focusing on our strong points and interests triggers the reward network in our brain – this starts “connecting pleasure and good feeling with performance”. As Christine Comaford underlines in her article, “public appreciation” is the main motivator for 73% of employees – far more than money or other perks.


3)  Work in a colourful environment. In her Ted talk, Ingrid Fetell Lee, a designer, gives evidence that painting walls a bright colour brings a feeling of joy back in spaces and inspires people to be creative. She gives the example of schools, offices, hospitals and nursing homes which have been redecorated in bright colours. The addition of colour had a direct impact on the wellbeing of the occupants of these spaces. School children were less likely to skip school and pensioners’ families stayed longer in the nursing home. Also, companies such as Nokia and Carbon Black use bright colours not only as visual stimuli to foster employees creativity but also to create a playful environment that “stimulates experimentation, spontaneity and risk taking”.

On average, we spend ⅓ of our life at work so it’s safe to say that the quality of our job impacts the quality of our lives. 80% of US workers are dissatisfied with their job. It is time to do something about it. Bringing joy back to the office is not a trivial task that comes at the bottom of the priority list. As the author of ‘How to win friends and influence people’, Dale Carnegie stated: “People rarely succeed unless they are having fun in what they are doing.”. Bringing joy is not only putting specific processes in places to ensure employees’ satisfaction and fulfilment but also changing our perception. This ensures that a person exhibiting joy is not seen as immature or self-indulgent but successful.  

Bezrukova et al, 2016 

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