Joy in theWorkplace:
Now More Important Than Ever and
A Certain Competitive Advantage
by Patricia Senecal
Patricia Senecal is a speaker and organizational development specialist deeply interested in the connection between capability, values, and intrinsic motivation. She has served Fortune 100 companies for 15 years, focusing on employee leadership issues. Pat's fieldwork spans the United States and across many industries, from retail, multi-level marketing, recycling, chemical, petroleum and electric utilities. She is under contract with Penton Publishing for a book entitled, Safety Committees That Work! to be published Summer, 1997.
Everyone's talking about new employee contracts. There are many different ideas about what implications this will have on the organization of the future. One important perspective states that organizations "will have to work harder than ever to make themselves attractive paces to work." [O'Reilly, 1994] Less secure workers are unpredictable. In fact some, discovering the power of their own possibilities after being laid off or only under temporary contract, are bouncing from job to job even while in the middle of time and market sensitive projects. This cannot be good for the future corporate infrastructure. Initial negative emotions to job upheaval have produced a defensiveness that is like rust on a car. Eventually the build up will either rot away an essential part or stop the smooth workings. Currently this "rust" is not taken seriously enough when executives stratgize for the future.
One strategy is for organizations is to replace job security with interesting, important work. Organizational survival under this new employee contract requires harnessing the employee's desire for meaning and purpose by producing an environment where high performers can create and make contributions. The result is that the worker population stabilizes for a time, helping maintain some organizational equilibrium. At the same time, organizations must maintain flexibility to rapidly adjust to changes in market conditions. How do innovative organizations meet the demands of change while maintaining a satisfying work environment for their employees?
This article presents cases and best practices of organizations investing in their corporate longevity by bringing about a climate that employees working in them define as joyful. ("Joy" is defined in this article as does Webster, as a feeling of happiness coming from success, good fortune, and a sense of well-being.)
Two simple examples fulfill this definition. According to a fellow traveler and Southwest employee I met at an airport, she was working in a company where the leader so valued humor that he might show up as Elvis to role model his hiring criteria. Another chance meeting with a regional sales manager for Harley-Davidson demonstrates a different way joy in the workplace is supported organizationally. This man claimed he had the job of a lifetime being able to live his work, owning and riding a bike, while dressing in leather to make his sales calls. [Senecal interviews 1996]
A joyful climate can be built even more extensively into the structure and systems of a company. One organizational method promises interesting work that stretches employees' capabilities.
By 1992, GE had introduced the Change Acceleration Program (CAP) as a systematic attempt to breed a new type of GE manager, one who is a change agent, comfortable as a coach and facilitator, thus, targeted for promotion. GE was well into Phase II of Work-Out, a systematic effort that preceded CAP, in which all employees participated in exchanges to become a continually adapting workforce. The communication forums labeled Work-Out were designed to provide regular opportunities for individuals to continually learn and encourage organizational changes using employees' previous skills and knowledge. [Tichy and Stratford, 1993]
In the world of work before Work-Out began in the mid-'80's, managers more frequently obtained results using a command and control style, while workers often self-described their role as "bringing their body to work and leaving their brain at the gate." Work-Out set about to turn this mental model on its head, linking personal perspectives and values to those of their company and allowing workers greater input into the tasks they were performing. Plant managers were told to faithfully hold communication forums once a month with a cross-section of employees. Managers were to find "champions" for new ideas and then support viable ideas with resources and follow-up conversations.
While working in a small GE plant, this consultant saw the strain and wonder of these change requirements. Some managers and employees could not make the transition to new ways of working together to improve competitive performance. Many, however, seemed released from captivity and found new responsibilities exhilarating. Thus, employees in every role became more able to do their jobs during further waves of re-engineering. This produced individual and group success and well-being: two definitions of joy.
Joyful employees also emerge when strong core values are used in an organization to consistently influence hiring decisions. Richard Weissberg, partner in the Jacobson group, states that "bliss" is one of the core values of his company. Besides regular "bliss" checks in company meetings, the recruiting process seeks those who fit into the group of "cool fun people, doing cool fun work." After someone is hired, the work itself is challenging, and well-paid, with mentors available, thus producing an enjoyable place to stay. Very few employees leave, in spite of recruiting from the "not so loyal" age group of IS talent. In addition, lots of money is spent on pizza and unlimited chocolate--an organizational decision that continually produces a state of bliss. [Senecal interview, 1997]
The effect of certain values has been researched. Family friendly values are a core value at Xerox that, according to studies funded by the Ford Foundation, enables various units of the company to achieve 30% fewer employee absences and shorter customer response times. Using work/family concerns can uncover a powerful incentive to streamline work. A review of time use, followed by a team agreement to limit interruptions, produced a huge improvement in motivation and satisfaction; led to the divisions' first product launch; and carried over to off-the-job relationships. [Wall Street Journal, February 1996)]
Creating joy in the workplace through organizational support for fun is described by Debbie Thompson, a Supervisor at the Atlantic Distribution Center of the The GAP, Inc. During one lunch, she played the Macarena and people danced or watched others. In the spring, she and her assistant played Beach Boys music to kick off a morning meeting. To honor specific accomplishments, a free lunch rewarded hard work, with special invitations and certificates. Boosting company morale and team spirit is, according to Debbie, a "personal reward for me and beneficial to my own growth and development, helping me in my personal leadership goals." If this distribution center servicing the GAP, GAPkids and Baby Gap with merchandise from around the world, has the time to promote enjoyment in the workplace, any organization can. [Senecal interview, 1997]
The third-largest travel service company, Rosenbluth International, has a "company spirit captain," according to Fast Company [Feb-Mar 1997 issue]. Its Keami Lewis has culled the "best morale-boosting techniques" for any office to use. Some of the best ideas include a "goodies bag" to welcome new hires their first day, including coupons, gag gifts, and introductions to other works. A unique idea is role switching for better understanding by managers of the work they hand out to their reporting employees. Contests seems to always work and are run around what constitutes elegant service. According to Lewis, the payoffs include maintaining a positive attitude, understanding the impact of roles and work, and aiding people to concentrate on what is model selling. This company believes their phenomenal growth from $20 million in 1978 to $2.5 billion in 1996 stem from focusing on the needs of employees and "creating a genuinely humane workplace." How can this be accomplished with 3,500 employees in 41 countries? Maximum use of technology for timely accurate information.
Rose Baker, an OD consultant for the Internal Revenue Service in Cleveland, OH, relies on Matt Weinstein's book Managing to Have Fun. Besides parties, Rose posts "Thoughts for the Day" by her office, while another employee e-mails inspiration to a selected (Thank goodness!) few. Needless to say, the effort to provide cartoons, quotes, and recognition coupons receives co-workers' thankful feedback for enlivening life in a staid IRS office. Managers that realize tasks might sometimes become mundane and routine do well to focus on underlying interests and values of employees, bringing some "joys" to the workplace. [Senecal Interview, December 1996]
Joy in the workplace comes both from appreciation of the human spirit and organizational support for developing capabilities. According to Fast Company, [Feb-Mar 1997 issue], a key ingredient for the success of their benchmark company, SOL Cleaning Service, of Finland, life at work "revolves around good cheer and state-of-the-art tools." CEO Liisa Joronen believes that if you're not happy with yourself, how can you make the customer happy?" One of the office's most visible artifacts are its yellow happy faces. To accomplish real live happy faces, the Finnish company reinforces its people with training that supports personal development--turning cleaners into customer-service specialists. This frees individuals to establish their own targets, decentralizing authority. Because SOL has abolished all titles and set working hours and status symbols, each self-managed team creates its own performance standards. Joronen says "people are ambitious and unrealistic. They set targets for themselves that are higher than what you would set for them. And because they set them, they hit them." Again, individual connection to the whole is made through laptops and cellular phone technology.
Thomas Crane Consulting of San Diego tells of the power of individualized training as a factor in re-newing relationships and, thus, organizational well-being. Tom was retained to facilitate the rebuilding of openness and trust between partners in a joint venture of electric utilities in the Southeastern United States. The deregulation of the industry has caused a single utility company to simultaneously function as the customer of another utilities' power, electrical supplier to local populations, partner to provide operations and maintenance services for an unrelated business entity, and competitor for electrical customers where other utility companies exist in the same region: a combination of roles that tended to stimulate conflict.
Through interviews and mediation meetings, a more creative and collaborative partnership evolved. By coaching individuals in how to deliver relevant feedback, trust was re-established. Enjoyment of their co-ownership returned and was enhanced when the organization took action to guide personal development. [Senecal interview, 1997]
When organizations must make radical changes due to critical economic impacts, joy is also created when executives are honest and direct about that position. During a difficult downsizing in his first year at Continental, CEO Gordon Bethune and COO Greg Brenneman found ways to communicate with workers and involved them. For instance, a toll-free numbers were set up to handle complaints and problems and a committee created to respond with a solution within 48 hours. Attracting 60 calls a day, the phone line helped to released pent-up frustration. Mr. Bethune even answered his voice mail personally. However, when some workers examined their own cost savings plans and some the company would go under anyway, Bethune answered the challenge bluntly with, "The jetway is still attached; so you can either get off, or sit back there and shut up...do your job." [WSJ, May 1996]
Promises kept develop a feeling of good fortune, another definition of joy. David Noer argues that organizations should come out of denial regarding the myth of job security, perpetuating "organizational codependency." [Noer, 1993] Managers must directly confront these issues with employees [Patch , 1992]. Mutual expectations for high standards must be created in order to be successful.
Stephen Witte, OD specialist for EQUATE Petrochemical Company in Kuwait, was inspired by the commitment to team management he discovered in his current job. By training all employees, Witte says they have extremely talented Americans and Kuwaitis all trying to find a successful way of blending the best practices of each culture into an enduring organization. This level of shared understanding and the resulting feeling of success came across unhampered even from many thousands of miles away. [Senecal Interview, 1996]
A company can set up a variety of systems to support high performance work. Essentially, the efforts must keep in mind the values and needs of your particular employees. Reaching back to the Herzberg studies of the mid-'80's, high performance, after certain basic work conditions, depends on the employee perceiving appreciation and recognition for specific contribution to the organization. Just because there's been major workplace alterations, including a new employee contract, doesn't mean morale has to plummet. A workplace climate that we used to think was only possible with security can be developed other ways. Lars Kolind, President, Oticon Holdin A/S in Denmark believes "leaders of a knowledge- based organizaiton have the capability of making people happy and secure while they are working in a very unstructured, chaotic, difficult and ever-changing environment." [Industry Week, Apr 1996]. Also, we can ask employees what creates joy in their workplace and attempt to provide it. Collaboration for a future is more likely when pursuing these paths, but it can involve taking risks with untraditional approaches.
Do you have some approaches that seem to have offered you and/or your coworkers the possibility for joy in the workplace? If so, they only need to be a paragraph or two. We are collecting best practices for more articles. Your name and company will be mentioned in any future publications. Send examples and experiences to:
Pat Senecal, OD specialist and author of Now Communicate!
Joy in the Workplace Project
5751 D Palmer Way Carlsbad, CA 92008
Fax: 760-931-2750 e-mail: Psenecal@compuserve.com
Fast Company, Feb-March 1997
Industry Week, April 1996
Noel, David M. (1993, November). "Four new realities". Executive Excellence v. 10, n. 11.
O'Reilly, Brian (1994, June13). "The new deal. What companies and employees owe one another". Fortune.
Patch, Frances; Rice, Dan; Dreilinger, Craig (1992, November). Training and Development.
Tichy, Noel and Stratford, Sherman, 1994. Control Your Own Destiny or someone Else Will. Currency Doubleday.
Wall Street Journal, February and May 1996
Senecal Interviews referenced in article:
Baker, Rose. Internal Revenue Service in Ohio. December 1996
Crane,Thomas. February 1997
Harley Davidson Sales Manager, October 1996
Southwest Airlines employee, September 1996
Thompson, Debbie. Atlantic Distribution Center, The Gap, January 1997
Weissberg, Richard. Jacobson Company, January 1997
Witte, Stephen. EQUATE (joint venture Union Carbide and Petrochemical Industries Company in Kuwait) December 1996
Crosby, Eda. Consultant. Organization and Career Development. February 1997
Meyers, Peter. Consultant. Coach. Organizational Design. May 1996