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Joy? What's joy got to do with work?

I love asking people to share stories of something that has brought them joy at work. Something that makes them have a deep resonant feeling of 'that's why I do my job.'

Asking that question tends to make people pause for a second; for a few there's a nervous laugh. And then they find it - a moment in time when they were in what I call a 'joy bubble'. Then they are off and racing - tapping into the passion for the work they do and the impact they have. Sharing that specific time, takes them back to feeling that feeling, experiencing that joy. The people they are sharing it with also get a good burst of joy as well - how lovely is it to hear someone sharing their joy? We get a good shower of feel good. Why? Because emotions are contagious.

For our brain, we are giving it an oxytocin boost - the chemical that not only feels good, but is what we experience when we feel trust between us.

Paul Zak, author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performing Companies, 2017 has studied the neuroscience of trust over decades. His astonishing findings should see us looking closely at how we develop trust in our teams. His findings show the difference between high trust and low trust companies:

74% less stress

14% less burnout

76% more engagement

106% more energy

50% more productivity 

Far out! How massive are those numbers! Yet how often do leadership teams have discussions with each other on how to build trust with their teams? With each other? What skill building is put into leadership capability programs? Often it is a line in a capability framework that 'builds trust with colleagues' but there is little discussed on what it looks like in action.

Feeling in flow, tapping into the little things that create a feeling of satisfaction and connection builds trust in our environment, team and leadership. We feel able to take risks, share our thoughts and ideas and thrive in change rather than simply survive.

Unfortunately, for many of us, the opportunity to share or even find joyful moments is limited. Many people in our teams feel unseen, unheard and undervalued. The only feedback they get is when there is a problem. The feeling of isolation created from this sort of culture breeds strong distrust. Forget about having robust action-oriented discussion about doing anything differently - we are all bunkered down into our concrete silos and not coming out. It's not safe.

Teams who understand that trust and a connection to the work are critical to collaboration, success and wellbeing put time into it. They develop embedded ways of honouring each other, valuing skills and building capacity.

They know the

little things

become the

BIG things

By the BIG things, I mean the things people talk about when they are not at work - the symbolic things that they share at barbecues and over drinks. People who love where they work and the people they work with LOVE sharing their joy - and pretty soon word spreads about what a great place to work it is and how people are valued and their capability developed. When you go backwards from these stories, you'll find it is the little actions, conversations and rituals that have made a big difference to the culture.

broken image

What are your team's JOY bubbles?

Kim is a senior manager working with a new team. Kim knows that having a strong and connected team will increase their effectiveness and success. They have mindfully spent time as a team establishing WHY they are a team and how they are going to BE in that team. They are deliberately setting up rituals that connect them to the work and each other. One of their strategies is the instigation of a gratitude jar. Next to the jar is a stack of small notes and a pen. When an individual is grateful for something a team member has done or joyful about a success they've achieved, the individual notes it down and puts it into the jar. They also might make sure that they say thanks or celebrate at the actual time if that is appropriate so that the conversation culture also supports trust and joy. At the end of the year, the team will empty out the jar and relive those joyful moments of gratitude, connection and celebration. Imagine the oxytocin that will be swimming around the place then!

An organisation in Auckland have started using a Buzzy Bee - a NZ icon toy to pass from person to person when the team wants to acknowledge something wonderful being done for others. One of the team members has come up with the idea and launched it at a team meeting one day - giving it a crack and seeing if it becomes a beloved ritual. If it doesn't, that's OK; they know one will emerge because they want to raise their consciousness around enjoyment and appreciation.

Another has a 'thank you' wall in their lunch room where comments and pictures are put up that share gratitude for small and large actions from others.

A friend of mine who goes to many different organisations to graphically capture their meetings found a bunch of flowers decorating her table when she arrived.

Another, who works in a space where people are supporting traumatised clients on a daily basis, gets out her bubble-blowing pipe and spreads bubbles and laughter around the office.

Let's not kid ourselves

Building trust is not a SOFT SKILL - it's tricky and needs to be developed. It deserves mindfulness and cultivation. The abysmal engagement figures that many cultural surveys show would suggest that we suck at it. So it can't be soft - it has to be difficult right? But you know - the little things become the big things. Are your small rituals about things that celebrate making a difference and purpose and value, or all about the things that are going wrong? Either way, you are sending a message about what you value - seeing contribution or seeing deficit only.

Connect people to their purpose and each other, have compassion, value contribution and have inspiring conversations. What have you got to lose really? The research would show there is a whole lot to gain.

Spread the JOY bubbles...

We would love to be able to pass on other great ideas you may have about rituals that bring about joy and connection. Please send them to, and we pass on the joy by helping other leaders and teams by sharing your great ideas on our website.

Have a joyful week - and let's not be scared to say the "J" word at work!

Cheers Tracey