9 Ways to Feel More Joy at Work, According to Harvard

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 17, 2024 at 9:37PM UTC
The fact of the matter is that happy people are more productive at work — it's a win-win for everyone, both the employees and their employers.
In fact, a 2015 study from the U.K.'s University of Warwick found that happy people are precisely 12% more productive than the average person. In the same year, research from the Harvard Business Review suggested that unhappy people are not only less productive than the average person, but they also cost companies.
"In studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents and 60% more errors and defects," according to the 2015 Harvard research. "In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth and 65% lower share price over time.”
Never mind that health care expenditures at high-pressure companies are about 50% greater than health care expenditures at other organizations, the same study reports. According to the American Psychological Association, more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job."

Flash forward, and we're still having the same discussion on why workplace happiness is important for not only employees but also for their employers. There's even more recent research out of Harvard that says making joy a priority in the workplace is in the best interest of everyone.
"People intrinsically seek joy, and joy connects people more powerfully than almost any other human experience," according to the report. "The connective power of joy is clearly visible in sports. When a team performs at its awe-inspiring best, overcoming its limitations and challenges, every player — indeed, the entire arena — experiences a brimming ecstasy that lifts the team even further. Success sparks joy. Joy fuels further success. Everyone is caught up in the moment."
The researchers ask if the joy that is "so apparent in championship athletics" can be replicated in business. And their findings suggest that it absolutely can be.
That said, however, the researchers also find what they call a "joy gap" in the workplace. Nearly 90% of respondents reported that they expect to experience a substantial degree of joy at work, but only 37% report that they actually do.
So, here are nine ways to feel more joy at work, according to Harvard researchers.

1. You need to find harmony in your team.

"In any team environment, joy arises from a combination of harmony, impact and acknowledgment — all of which business leaders can engender in their organizations," the researchers write. "Harmony — on winning teams, each player has a distinct role in achieving the goal. One player might be a great passer. Another is a great scorer. Yet another may bring a certain intensity and competitive fire. When the diverse skills and strengths of teammates are really clicking together, it feels great.
So understand what your unique set of skills is and how they can best be used in your team setting. And help your teammates to hone in on their strong skills, as well.

2. Understand the impact of your work.

"Impact — team harmony leads to impact, which further fuels joy," the researchers write. "Even if the result is just a single sublime play or golden moment, the palpable joy of each teammate rises. You can see it in their faces as they throw their arms around each other and jump up and down like jubilant children. They are saying to each other: 'Can you believe we did that?!'"
In other words, look for the significance of your work. Talk to your teammates about the importance of the project — and not just how to get the project done. Make it something special for all of you to achieve together.

3. Acknowledge your hard work and the hard work of your teammates.

"Acknowledgment — great coaches instruct their players to, when they score, immediately point to the teammates who created the scoring opportunity," according to the researchers. "Acknowledging each player’s contributions and cheering for each other powers the entire joy-success-joy cycle."
Give credit where credit is due. Celebrate each other's successes. Practice positive reinforcement with your subordinates. And recognize the hard work that you and each of your teammates put into your jobs every day.

4. Find meaning in your work.

"Our survey findings further suggest that joy stems from believing one’s work is truly meaningful," according to the Harvard researchers. "Employees who believe their 'company makes a positive societal contribution' and who feel 'personally committed to achieving the company’s vision and strategy' experienced the most joy at work."
Even if you can't find meaning in the company's service or product, try to find personal meaning in it — look for challenges or opportunities that can help you grow as a professional. When you can find a reason to do the work you're doing, you'll have a more enjoyable time doing it.

5. Lift each other up in the company.

"Make the experience of joy an explicit corporate purpose," the researchers write. "Strengthen your inclusion agenda to incorporate meaningful efforts toward ensuring all employees feel heard, recognized and acknowledged."
If you're a manager or a leader in your company, this might mean funding mental health benefits for all employees, holding meetings to check in with employees to make sure that they feel understood and setting personal goals with your subordinates.
If you're not a manager or leader with this kind of power, however, you can still lift up your teammates. Do your best to be supportive of one another's personal goals and make an effort to make your coworkers feel part of the team. This means communicating with everyone openly and honestly.

6. Be vocal about the joy you do experience.

Part of spreading joy in the office is expressing the joy you already feel.
"Encourage and celebrate individual and corporate social impact efforts," the researchers write. "Authentically express more of the joy you personally experience in your role. Joy begets joy. In my firm, I have emphasized the need to joyfully 'dial up' the culture with a sustained emphasis on diversity, inclusion, apprenticeship and personal day-to-day leadership."

7. Create teams that are simply more fun.

If you're in the position to do so, "staff your new digital/culture programs with true cross-unit, cross-silo teams, where joint teamwork delivers maximum impact, shared success and fun," the researchers suggest.
If you're not in a position to staff teams, you can do your best to focus on the personalities in your team — study up on how best to collaborate with them and make the most of your time together. Introduce new creative ideas that can be fun for your team, and try to spread optimism and positive vibes as best you can.

8. Step up for your colleagues so they step up for you.

In order to experience the utmost joy, you need to be careful about burning yourself out at work. So make a genuine effort to help out your teammates, so hopefully, they help you out in return, too! When they need a day off, lend a hand. When you need some time to recharge, hopefully there will be colleagues willing to help you out just the same.
"The pursuit of happiness sets the direction, but feeling joy provides the daily confirmation that we are doing exactly what we should be doing, for the company and for the teammates who energize our efforts," the researchers explain.

9. If you're not happy at work, consider finding a new job.

At the end of the day, your happiness in the workplace not only affects your productivity and output, but it also affects your mental health. Your job isn't your whole life, and you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of a company. So if you find yourself working in a toxic environment, it may be time to look for a new environment. Sometimes, this means quitting even before you have a backup plan or before you have other jobs lined up
Simply, you have to do what's best for you.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.

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