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5 Practices to Foster a Joyful Workplace

On Thursday, February 9, CEO and General Manager of SoulPancake Shabnam Mogharabi will visit COCA for our next bizSESSION: Why Joy is Good for Business. In preparation, Director of COCAbiz Steve Knight explores this topic further. 

Work is serious, right? What’s joy got to do with it?

Work is getting things done, work is about discipline. Well, maybe that joyless thinking was true for Frederick Taylor’s ‘Scientific Management’ model of businesses that drove efforts for workplace efficiency for much of the 20th century. At the heart of that vision of work was the idea that the more humans could function like business machines, the better. Ugh!

This industrial-age attitude is antiquated, yet it is buried in the workplace DNA of many organizations in which emotion—certainly joy—is seen as irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth. Individual and group emotions are the heart of what makes organizations succeed or fail, especially in fast changing businesses.

Creating the Right Emotional Culture

In “Manage Your Emotional Culture” (HBR 2016) the authors point out that when most organizations talk about workplace culture, they are speaking of the ‘cognitive culture’ the shared intellectual values and norms of the organization. Cognitive culture sets the tone for thinking and behaving at work.

What is usually ignored is the emotional culture.

“…the shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work … the key distinction here is thinking versus feeling, the two types of culture are also transmitted differently: Cognitive culture is often conveyed verbally, whereas emotional culture tends to be conveyed through nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expression.” (Italics mine.)

There is no question in the research that the emotional culture of an organization powerfully influences employee and customer satisfaction, productivity, innovation and talent retention. And the opposite is also true. Anger, sadness, fear and similar group feelings usually lead to negative outcomes, including poor performance and high turnover.

The work of COCAbiz is fostering the creative potential of leaders, teams and organizations. And if there is one thread that connects all COCAbiz workshop experiences it is encouraging a playful, joyful spirit to address business challenges. We see first-hand that joy is essential for risk taking, exploration, growth and creativity—both at the individual and team level. During workshops you hear the bubble of energy and laughter in the room, see animated, open body language and feel participants becoming present to each other as the concerns outside the room drop away. That same joyful spirit characterizes innovative teams and dynamic, resilient organizations.

A culture of joy can be cultivated, both by leaders and all employees. Not sure where to start? Implement the following practices in your own workplace:

Emotions are contagious—spread the positive!
“People routinely “catch” each other’s feelings when working together in groups. This doesn’t only influence mood, what’s more surprising is that it significantly influences judgment and business decisions as well. Usually without anyone having a clue what’s going on.” (Barsade 2014 ) Become aware of your own mood. You can make eye contact to spread positive emotions faster, use open, upbeat body language. Avoid negative, closed body stances.

Be present to your colleagues; use ‘Yes, And’.
We know from our COCAbiz Improv Teaching Artists that a joyful, creative environment means being in the present moment with colleagues, not thinking of what you will say in a few minutes and what happened yesterday. (And certainly not what is happening on your device!) Pay attention and show it. Build on what others give you with a ‘Yes And’ instead of shooting them down.

Remember: energy gets energy.
Put positive energy into your voice and body cues. Colleagues will give it back and spread it.

Play and encourage a playful workplace.
The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression. Stuart Brown in the book Play writes: “For [humans] play lies at the core of creativity and innovation. Of all animal species humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play.”

Use the ‘Progress Principle’
Divide big projects into increments and celebrate small wins. According to researcher Theresa Amabile of Harvard: “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. The more people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” The joy of the win!

Learn more about our upcoming bizSESSION or purchase tickets. 



Steve Knight

Director of COCAbiz


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