Tweet Line: Redesign your culture with purpose and unity to recover joy in your workplaces

It is hard to find people who do not complain about their work or colleagues. But when probed further, you will find that many want to do work that is fulfilling, and collaborate better with colleagues. But since so many people in Asia have experienced poor working environments, they just accept that it is the norm and live with it. CEOs, on the other hand, want workers who have a sense of joy and a positive working environment because this reduces unnecessary friction, increases productivity which will also result in more ideas for innovation. So how can you bring joy back to your workplace?

In our decade of work in transforming Asian companies, we found that the solutions to bringing back joy to work, are surprisingly simple and cost-effective. Yet every year – in search of that happiness – companies invest millions of dollars, in organising grand dinner and dances, conduct inspiring team-building retreats, establishing frills like gyms and child-care in order to keep their staff happy. These initiatives – though good in their own ways – can only have a sustained effect if the culture is transformed from the inside-out. Without this transformation, even with the fanciest office environments, the most elaborate dinner and dances, you will still find that people are highly unhappy in their work because the daily conversations no longer inspire and work processes no longer nurture teamwork.

Investing in meaningful relationships is key

The conclusion of our findings is:

when companies invest regularly in building meaningful relationships and link that to the bottom line, they will naturally benefit from a positive and effective work environment.

The situation right now is: many companies are ‘unhealthy’ in terms of their internal relationships due to a lack of sustained focus and activities to communicate and to get people to work together. The company, like the human body, need regular exercises to stay ‘healthy’. But companies tend to shock the system by having, once-a-year events or having extras on the side like motivational workshops. But these things, will instead increase cynicism and not joy unless they are matched by a willingness to change the culture from within. Here are six simple ways – which we apply internally and urge clients to do likewise – to bring joy back to work:

1) Clarity of purpose

People, in general just want to get work done, and the biggest gripe often is, why am I doing this? So to think that people need to be inspired to do work is flawed. They just need to know the reason and the value of the work that they do. The problem is, while companies are great at setting goals, they are poor at explaining the rationale and the value of doing things. To ensure that everyone understand, leaders need to do this on a regular basis and at all levels. We discovered that when middle managers, the ‘sergeants’ of the company fail to believe and are unable to articulate the purpose of work, then it seriously impairs the ability of the company to execute effectively. So having internal workshops to raising the awareness of their value and impact is critical to communicating the purpose and value of work to all staff.

2) Designing teamwork

Most people want to collaborate but the way they are assessed and measured prevents them from doing so. Many companies suffer from ‘excessive competition’ and this is designed in the system. In today’s information-rich environment, it is a terrible situation to be in, because we should be encouraging a quicker sharing of information instead of withholding them due to the fear of losing out. So while companies celebrate the individual, it is important to design policies and reward systems that recognise the team that made it happen. Identify moments when departments reached out to each other to solve a problem. Give a higher rating to someone who is willing to point out which other person in the company helped him or her. They are so many ways to design collaboration, and it does not need to be limited to the office layout, it needs to start from policies that encourage it.

3) Managing Differences

It is normal for any working environment to have differences but strangely enough, few companies have a mechanism to manage them. When relationships are broken, they are just left alone, no one wants to talk about them, and they are left to fester. Very soon, these differences start to affect workflows because Party A does not want to talk to Party B. It is therefore pragmatic for companies to have people trained in mediation and make regular interventions or to have yearly practices allowing people to address these issues in a calm manner with proper facilitation. In one of the previous articles, we shared about the practice of a corporate ritual ‘bonsai’ where people are asked to affirm the other and offer ideas for improvement. We have seen that wherever this is practiced, differences are reduced because everyone has a better understanding of each other’s working style, and it builds trust since people generally wants the good of the other.

4) Putting relationships first

We have discovered that when companies have this philosophy of putting relationships first, this care for others, people immediately want to do better for the business. So creating moments to know the other person once they join the company, or allowing each person to share just three minutes on how their week went during weekly sessions, these little opportunities can go a long way to establishing an environment that is joyful. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the different clusters within the company, how are people fitting into their respective environments in terms of relationships. By paying attention to the different dynamics, you will find that once people are in optimal working relationships, they do better at work.

5) Relationship-based Human Resource

There are two broad functions for human resource: one is more administrative while the other is more about the relational dynamics within the organisation. The latter is the one that is lacking in terms of leadership and resources. Whenever companies invest in good human resource managers who demonstrate an understanding of the relationships that matter, and show empathy towards others, it is a great boost to the company’s ability to manage talents so as to innovate better. It is timely for companies to consider splitting the relationship-based function from administrative tasks, and create it a separate department focused on relationship management. We realise that when companies pay closer attention to the dynamics taking place and invest in resources to empower managers to increase collaboration, it helps to maximise efficiencies in terms of knowledge development and innovation.

6) Assess the value of joy at work

Finally the lack of joy at work is costly, and companies should face up to this crisis and make an effort to assess the state of their internal relationships. Essentially we found that the lack of joy is due to the following:

a) Lack of purpose

b) Excessive internal competition, hence poor collaboration

c) Lack the avenue to express one’s frustration to overcome differences

d) Perceived lack of care from company and colleagues

e) Poor human resource management

f) Lack definition in what makes a happy environment

Once companies make a realistic assessment and align it to the performance of their work, the strategy to be joyful will start to show pragmatic results, increasing trust and collaboration. As shared earlier, it is not happiness that people seek at work, but they do want to find it a joy to come to work. And this is not by chance but by design. The good news is, you do not need to spend a lot of money to get there. You just need to find the time, make an effort, keep it constant, measure to see how it is going, and soon you will find that joy is returning to your office environment.

Read the original version published in Ceylon Today

This article is part of a weekly column called Shaping the World where Lawrence and Shiraz share insights and ideas about building innovative Asian Brands. It is published by one of the leading dailies in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Today.