Joy in work: avoiding the Olympic hangover

As we reflect on the joy of the Olympics and Paralympics of London 2012 we are faced with the potential of post-summer blues. How do we make sure that our return to the familiar  work routine is not accompanied by feeling flat?

Whilst trawling through some old reading materials I stumbled across an often overlooked principle of management:  ‘joy in work’, originally discussed by W Edwards Deming (1993).

When we think of work, what is ‘joy’ or indeed ‘happiness’, or ‘fulfilment’ or ‘success’?  The topic of joy has been revisited by psychologists and practitioners alike (e.g. Bakke, 2005; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and our understanding of well-being, motivation and performance at work is now increasingly informed by both neuroscience and psychology.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that in seeking joy ‘only direct control of experience, the ability to derive moment-by-moment enjoyment from everything we do, can overcome obstacles to fulfillment’.’ In doing so we are able to get ‘in the zone‘ (or ‘flow’ as Csikszentmihalyi labels it). He argues that we should organise work into flow-producing activities and by implication, eliminate obstacles to flow. In Deming’s words, these obstacles are the ‘system conditions’ that prevent people from having influence over the results and outcomes of their work.

At work the flip-side of joy is stress (and distress). It is not a surprise to find recent research that suggests a link between stress and  a lack of control over your job. This relates to all jobs, not just ‘high powered’ executive jobs. Just this week The Lancet published one such paper (see the BBC link below).

One task in creating a true service culture is to put decision-making authority at the level of the people who do the work, so that they can respond to a variety of customer needs at the point of contact. Being able to make a difference for the people you are serving  is often cited by colleagues as a key part of enjoying work. However, to get an organisation to entrust that level of involvement and autonomy in its staff is a significant challenge…

What are we up to next week?

 

Further reading:

BBC NEWS, Work stress ‘raises heart risk’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19584526

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, Harper Perennial, New York.

Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

One thought on “Joy in work: avoiding the Olympic hangover”

  1. You are right. We all spend a great deal of our lives at work so finding purpose in what we do and the contributions we all make can provide us with the joy that keeps us motivated to continue, even when faced with challenges and an often ambiguous, complex environment. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

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