Engagement or Happiness? Let’s Aim Higher – Developing Joyful Workplaces 

A recent EFS blog (What Employee Engagement Actually Means) suggested that ‘engagement has nothing to do with being happy’. Certainly we all have our ups and downs, mundane and downright disappointing days at work. I wonder though how people in general would respond if asked whether they would prefer to be happy at work or engaged? Aren’t we really about both – happiness, engagement and performance as a virtuous circle?

Let me confess an aversion to the term engaged. For many, ‘engaged’ conjures up images of public toilets and thoughts of impending nuptials. I wonder whether we HR people have hi-jacked the term as part of a professional/ technical lexicon to mystify what we do. I prefer to think in terms of developing workplace cultures and practices that foster: staff creativity, skills, autonomy and problem solving, loyalty, commitment, discretionary effort, productivity, job satisfaction; and pride in work quality and output. To achieve these ends we should be aiming beyond ‘engagement’ through the development of ‘Joyful Workplaces’ that: recognise, encourage and develop individuals; reinforce their value and self worth; and foster commitment to the organisation and other colleagues. John Ruskin suggested that ‘labor without joy is base’.

Many organisations experience a disconnect between employee engagement ‘strategy’ at corporate level and the realities of working life for people at the sharp end. It is time that ‘engagement’ came out of the boardroom and HR Department and focussed on the everyday experience of work in the immediate work place – be it an office, department, team, branch or other discrete work unit. Most bad days at work are not the result of organisational wide issues, but rather localised failures in general support, interpersonal relations, appropriate leadership, recognition and care.

The immediate workplace shapes our experience and reality of work. A focus on developing a joyful workplace addresses the things that matter day in day out to staff, things that make for a good or bad day.

Building Blocks for a Joyful Workplace

Empowering Engaging Leadership and Management

Involvement, coaching, delegation, listening, respect, recognition and humility are all aspects of a relational leadership style that values others. Empowering engaging leaders enable colleagues to locate their work within the bigger picture and its value to organisational goals. They laugh with others and aspire to make work challenging yet enjoyable, satisfying and stimulating.

Celebration and Recognition

A joyful workplace is one in which mutual recognition and giving and receiving of authentic, congruent and motivating feedback is the norm. Teams share individual and group achievements and are realistic and open about where they could do better. A joyful workplace plays down notions of failure and focuses on opportunities to develop and improve. Joyful workplaces engender a ‘positive stroking’ environment.

Developing Potential

A joyful workplace embraces the inherent potential of people to grow and develop their skills given support and a positive environment. Staff are encouraged to develop performance, new skills, creativity and initiative – realising their full potential in the current job and for the future.

Authentic Relations

Joyful workplaces are free of power plays and organisational politics. Staff are open and honest with each other and recognise their mutual value. Cooperation rather than conflict is the watchword and disagreements are dealt with in a constructive way. Staff relate to each other from an ‘I’m OK you’re OK’ life position.

Work-life Balance and Individual Wellbeing

The joyful workplace values staff as people as well as employees. Leaders take an interest in the wider lives of colleagues and how this can impact on work. Joyful workplaces develop: healthy and safe working practices; workplace equality and discourage macho long hours cultures.

Work as Fun

As long ago as 1991 Bob Basso and Judi Klosek advocated a ‘new reality value message’ that managers should be giving to engage their staff :
‘I care, you matter, this job should be fun’.

Joyful workplaces embrace the value of and encourage appropriate laughter. Work as ‘productive’ fun involves enjoying others and customers, smiling, laughing and rejoicing in success and service. Work as fun is not about the workplace as a playground but integrates the human spirit with being at work.

Yes but….

‘I like your message but how can I convince hard-nosed managers that this is not a tree hugger’s charter?’

There is ample evidence to suggest that happy people produce happy results. All change involves sustained effort and overcoming cynicism (often the result of past failed initiatives). Walk the talk, bring engagement out of the boardroom, embrace all staff and focus actions where they impact most. Ensure all your managers become joyful workplace leaders and ambassadors.

Paul Dixon, joint collaborator in Joyful Workplaces www.JoyfulWorkplaces.com

Image courtesy of markuso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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