By Karina Margit Erdelyi

Joy at Work: Why Making it a Priority is Good for the Bottomline

What do people want from their jobs: A higher salary? Job security? Opportunities for career growth and advancement? Good relationships with co-workers? Or is it something else entirely different — like joy?

Productivity is tied to compensation, right? Think again. While conventional wisdom holds that if we just pay employees enough, they’ll be more productive — but it turns out there’s more at play. Research linking employee happiness and productivity is making some forward-thinking organizations rethink their approach (and no, that doesn’t mean slashing salaries and bonuses).

Anger. Surprise. Disgust. Fear. Sadness. Joy. These are the six primary emotions that people feel and express in the same way around the world. Joy is the emotion connected to thriving — the inner compass that tells us when we are moving towards the things that can help us succeed in life. And it turns out that little moments of joy can radically improve our performance at work. Employees who feel joy in their work are more engaged, and more engaged employees will do more for your company.

A seminal study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers were 10% less productive. The research revealed that “human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.” Also, joy impacts working memory positively — a part of our brains essential for completing work and tasks. If companies can get 12% more productivity without having to invest in myriad initiatives to get that kind of ROI, it might be time to rethink some internal practices and find ways to up-level joy in your workplace.

According to Professor Andrew Oswald, one of the three researchers of the Warwick study, “…companies like Google have invested more in employee support, and employee satisfaction has risen as a result – for Google, it rose by 37 percent. As well, under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really does seem to pay off.” All of this suggests that financial incentives alone are not enough to kickstart productivity into high gear. Providing the scaffolding for to clearly define an overarching purpose is vital, perhaps now more than ever, to not only attract but retain top talent.

Ingrid Fetell Lee, former design director for IDEO and author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, shares that in an office context, research shows that managers who demonstrate more joy had teams who completed their work with less effort and did so in a more coordinated fashion. It seems that joy isn’t only fuel for productivity; it’s contagious too!

So, how can you create joy at work?

In a nutshell, make work more meaningful (one of the key reasons employees feel joy at work). But what makes someone feel that their work has meaning? Understanding one’s role and the role of others in the company and how those roles contribute to achieving business goals is critical — as is feeling that whatever one’s role is, it is essential to the team’s success.

Acknowledgment is a powerful ally in creating joy in the workplace. Your employees want to be appreciated. Yes — bonuses are nice, but genuine appreciation can be felt in an earnest “thank you” or a simple “job well done” — especially after coming to the end of a grueling project.

Harvard Business Review wrote a piece about making joy a priority at work — and it is perhaps even more salient today as we slowly emerge from the pandemic and grapple with disrupted workplaces. With our team environments for the past year primarily comprised of digitally connected individuals instead of groups working closely with one another in person, finding ways to invigorate work processes with joy has perhaps become even more paramount for ongoing, continued success.

The takeaway?

Crafting a business culture that provides people with meaningful experiences that engender joy,  communicating worth, the importance of each function, as well as creating and building a stronger sense of shared purpose and belonging. Feeling joy lets us know that we are doing exactly what we should be doing — for ourselves, the company we are part of, and the teammates who invigorate our efforts.