Henry Stewart: Do your people find joy in their work?

Marie Kondo, the Japanese ‘organising consultant’, asks you to examine your clothes and any items around the house and ask “does it give me joy?” If it doesn’t, get rid of it, she says. It’s a good question and I recycled over 80 pieces of clothing as a result of asking it.

My colleague Cathy took this question and applied it to the workplace. “Does it give me joy?” she asked. If not, find a different way to do it or find somebody else who does like doing it. Our aim now, is to ensure that everybody at Happy finds joy in 80% of what they do. We measure it and the latest average is 73%.

The idea of finding joy at work may seem strange to some. After all, aren’t there some things that nobody likes doing?

I recently asked two of my most experienced colleagues to come up with a programme for the new management apprenticeships, assuming they would also deliver it. “No, sorry, this won’t give us joy”, they explained after creating the course. “We love facilitating, but we really don’t want to spend half our time assessing people, as you have to here.”

‘Well, who does want to do that?’ I wondered. How could it be as much fun as facilitating a group of learners? But when I put it out to our people I got two eager responses: “I love doing assessments”, one said.

I know there are a lot of jobs that are much worse than doing assessments; my first ever job was cleaning out the inside of lead vats, which didn’t seem much fun at all (I gave up after two days, when my feet turned blue.)

But, I’ve come across sewage workers who love what they do; cleaners who get pride in the results they produce. One survey found the happiest workers are hairdressers, florists and plumbers – none of which I’d like to be.

At East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) a key focus of the quality improvement team is creating joy. Auzewell Chitewe, who leads the team, explained to me that they investigated what makes teams work well. And what kept coming up was having joy in their work.

“My role is to help teams feel they have permission to try different things. It’s not about what the organisation can do for them, but about empowering the teams. It’s not about some geniuses figuring out a solution, it’s about giving permission to those closest to the problem to come up with solutions, and specifically to involve the ‘service user’ (or patient) in that solution. They have to have the freedom to fail.”

For me, it’s not about fruit in the office or fuzzball games. Whether you get joy comes down to Dan Pink’s framework of Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. Are you doing something you have a talent for? Do you have the freedom to do it as you want and do you know why you are doing it?

So, take a moment to think. What gives you joy and how can you do more of it? And, even more importantly, how can you help your people get joy in their work?

Henry Stewart is the chief happiness officer at Happy

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