The power of joy: Why centering happiness in the workplace matters

"Work isn’t supposed to be fun—that's why they call it work!" used to be a common belief. Today we know it is outdated and counterproductive.

The power of joy: Why centering happiness in the workplace matters

In the hustle and bustle of the modern workplace, it's too easy to forget the significance of joy. We often get lost in the relentless pursuit of productivity and profit, disregarding the powerful impact that joy can have on our work lives. I firmly believe that happiness and joy are not just elusive feelings reserved for weekends or vacations. They have a vital role in the workplace. If we, as leaders, find ways to promote joy at work, we can make a significant difference in employee well-being and overall organizational success. 

I've worked in the People space for a better part of 20 years, and for just about the same time, I have been fascinated by the concept of joy at work, the benefits of prioritizing it, and how you can cultivate it. I have seen firsthand its impact on work culture and productivity—and I'd love to share what I've learned along the way.

Understanding the concept of joy in the workplace

When we talk about "centering joy" in the workplace, we mean the intentional cultivation of employee experience, happiness, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose. It is about acknowledging that work is a significant part of life and should not lack joy. This is in stark contrast to the historical perspective of work, which often prioritized efficiency and productivity at the expense of employee happiness. 

"Work isn’t supposed to be fun—that's why they call it work!" used to be a common belief, but today we know it is outdated and counterproductive. A positive work environment, where joy is central, recognizes happier employees are more engaged, creative, and productive. 

A joy-centric workplace benefits your people—and your business

Research and anecdotal evidence show that organizations prioritizing joy and well-being report better financial performance, increased client satisfaction, and higher employee retention. However, there are a host of other benefits to consider as well: 

Improved productivity and creativity: Happy employees are more creative and innovative. They bring fresh ideas and solutions, contributing to the organization's growth. Because they aren’t bogged down with unnecessary stress and drama, they will engage in more professional development opportunities, which benefits the employee and the organization. 

Enhanced employee engagement and retention: Joyful employees are more engaged and less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. This reduces turnover and the associated costs (which are not just financial; the impact on remaining colleagues is difficult and comes at a price). 

Healthier workplace culture and morale: Joy is contagious. When employees are happy, it positively affects the overall workplace culture and morale. This, in turn, fosters collaboration and teamwork. Silos are broken down, and a cohesive organization forms. 

Increased psychological safety and trust: Joy fosters an environment where employees feel safe to express themselves, share their ideas, and take calculated risks. Trust is an essential element of any thriving workplace.

Practical strategies for cultivating joy at work

Building a joy-centric workplace doesn't have to be overwhelming! Over the years, I've explored what it takes to create a culture of happiness and belonging, and I've spoken to many leaders who are doing the same. And let me tell you, it's not as easy as just implementing a single practice.

Instead, the workplaces that have mastered the art of creating an environment of joy are doing so by centering their business around happiness, fulfillment, and purpose in everything they do. Many of them have adopted the following practical strategies:

Encourage mindfulness and work-life balance: Promote mindfulness practice and ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance. This helps in reducing stress and burnout. Subscriptions to meditation apps, No Meeting Days, and Org-wide shutdown days are great places to start!

Foster strong interpersonal relationships: A supportive work environment is a joyful one, so invest in team-building activities and encourage employees to build strong relationships with their colleagues. Creating space for folks to connect socially, virtually, or in person is essential to building relationships. Keeping it inside work hours means more folks can attend and doesn’t exclude those with outside commitments. 

Ask your team members what brings them joy—and what doesn't: When was the last time you asked your team members if they were having fun at work? If it's been a while, consider making this a topic of conversation for an upcoming one-on-one. Conversations about which aspects of their job bring your team members joy (and which don't) can be an insightful starting point to uncover opportunities for improvement.

Recognize and celebrate achievements: Recognition is proven to boost morale and motivation, so make sure you regularly acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments, both big and small. These can be personal celebrations such as birthdays, new family additions, but also work milestones such as anniversaries, new certifications, or crushing a company goal. 

Promote a culture of gratitude: Encourage employees to express gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude can have a profound impact on happiness and overall well-being. Creating a gratitude practice can go a long way in recognizing folks who may not be as vocal about sharing their contributions. 

Incorporate humor and playfulness: A little humor goes a long way in creating a joyful atmosphere. Encourage employees to have fun while working. Setting up friendly challenges across teams (like “Which team gets more steps in?” or “Who’ll get a new certification first?”) can boost morale and give folks something to look forward to. 

Encourage authenticity across the leadership and beyond: Authentic leaders who show vulnerability and empathy contribute to a more joyful workplace. Encourage leaders to be real and approachable. Implement regular office hours or AMA’s. Visible, approachable leaders help sustain a culture of safety—and that’s the foundation for happiness. 

By implementing these strategies, workplaces can create an atmosphere where joy is not just an occasional visitor but a permanent resident.

Overcoming challenges and objections

While centering joy in the workplace is undoubtedly valuable, some may raise objections, such as concerns about decreased productivity or skepticism about its impact. However, real-world examples demonstrate the power of joy-centric practices. I recommend you take a look at the following resources if you’d like to dig deeper:

Harvard's More Joy at Work: Harvard's initiative focuses on cultivating joy in the workplace and provides valuable resources to help organizations achieve this.

MIT Sloan Review - Tying in Equity to Joy: This article explores the connection between workplace joy and equity, emphasizing that joy cannot be achieved without justice for all.

American Journal of Nursing - Finding Joy in the Workplace: This publication discusses the implications of losing joy in work, resulting in high turnover, non-value-added work, safety concerns, and more. Plus, it proposes strategies to combat the loss of joy. 

Conclusion: The transformative power of joy

Centering joy in the workplace is not just a feel-good notion; it has tangible benefits for employees and organizations. A joyful workplace can increase productivity, creativity, engagement, and retention. Overcoming objections is possible, and numerous organizations have already shown the way. By implementing practical strategies and prioritizing joy, your workplace can become a hub of positivity, creativity, and success. So, let's make joy a central element in our work lives and reap the rewards it brings.