Superpower #5: Normalizing Workplace Joy

One of the benefits of access to so much media is that it provides many examples — either through fiction or dramatized versions of real stories — of both good and poor leadership and decision-making.

A couple of interesting snippets come from two recent dramas: The Dropout and WeCrashed.

The Dropout is on Hulu and provided the story of Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, a company that offered a medical device, touted to revolutionize blood testing. In the third or so episode of the show, there is a scene where the design team quits.

The whole design team.

They leave some books (the main one is titled The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t — which is a real book, written by Dr. Robert I. Sutton) for Ms. Holmes, with a message: learn some management skills. As the show progressed up to and beyond this point, it’s obvious that the people who work closest to the project are absolutely miserable. There are several scenes however that make the entire story very creepy, like the celebratory organizational gatherings, with Ms. Holmes, sporting very Steve Jobs-ish attire, With upbeat music playing, the crowd dances with uncomfortable excitement. It’s difficult to tell who in the crowd really believes they are in a good workplace. No spoilers, but as the show goes on, it becomes obvious that joy is in short supply at Theranos.

Apple TV+ offered the story of juggernaut WeWork in its series called WeCrashed. WeWork was (is?) a shared workspace company that in about a decade managed to develop a net worth of about US$47 billion. Its CEO, Adam Neumann and his wife, Rebekah Neumann (who, for some reason insisted on keeping her maiden name Paltrow as prominent as possible while reminding people that Gwyneth was her cousin). It is not quite clear what work was being done within the WeWork space, since according to the Apple TV+ series, much of the time involved lots of partying. However, and again no spoilers, there are a couple of key scenes that suggest joy was also not a regular experience for several key stakeholders.

So the question of the day is

Why normalize joy in the workplace?

There are various estimates about how much time the average adult will spent working over the course of their lifetime with most coming in at 30%. The website 20 Something Finance provides a series of provocative challenge points, including

  • information on the maximum length of the work week, which more than 130 countries have established — but the United States has not, meaning there is no end to a U.S. work week.
  • an overview of data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that indicates employees in the United States work nearly one-tenth more hours per year than other OECD countries. While .1 of an hour may not seem significant, it equates to about 400 more hours than workers in the United Kingdom and nearly 170 hours more than workers in Japan.

Tonerbuzz provided some collected information from 2022 on burnout: one of the most powerful points may be that half the workforce in the United States needs help with burnout and one quarter of workers indicate they are approaching burnout … which seems to suggest only 25% of employees in the country are okay.

It is important to recognize that providing opportunities to advance joy in the workplace is not the same as eliminating stress.

The person or group that eliminates stress in the workplace will likely win several Nobel prizes. Stress is part of all areas of life, so getting rid of it all together is more than a pipe dream. Reducing stress is possible for sure and increasing joy is one way to do it.

As indicated by Alex Liu, three elements lead to workplace joy: harmony (working together), impact (toward a goal), and acknowledgment (while recognizing collective effort).

Put together the parenthetical items and what is the result?

Workplace joy results when people work together toward a goal while recognizing collective effort.

R-Leaders are mindful of collective engagement. They are interested in hearing the voices of those around them and encourage others to do so as well. Conversations are not random but are goal-oriented. While R-Leaders care about the people they work with and seek to understand when individuals are struggling, the day-to-day questions and discussions are geared toward encouraging the individual and also advancing the organizational purpose. R-Leaders also highlight individual and group efforts and encourage others to do the same.

And they are always up for office celebrations, to commemorate individual and collective successes.

Doing little things like recognizing birthdays with a card, offering sandwiches and punch when the team hits metric, and hosting a shindig at the end of the year are several ways to normalize joy.

Are you interested in developing strategies to make your workplace a location known for joy? Let’s work together.

Published by AR Neal

Dr. Andree Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug in the 1970s and despite a career in education has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. You can sometimes find her at https://agnubloom.com, where she writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully be discovered and have a bunch of her work republished in multiple languages and turned into stage and screenplays. She also writes under the pen name Hou-Rhyder. Find those words at https://hou-rhyder.com. She is a practitioner and the developer of Reconnoiter Leadership. Learn more at https://r-leadership.com.

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