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This article was based on episode 011 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.

You can download the mini-guide to this episode for free here. To get the full guide for this episode, become a member of The Modern Manager Community at Patreon.

Enjoyment at work. Really? Isn’t that a concept reserved for the naive among us? After all, not everyone is so fortunate to have the perfect job at the perfect company with the perfect manager and colleagues.

Actually, the idea of enjoyment at work has been around for ages. Cultures around the world have incorporated singing into work. According to historians, “Work songs are typically sung for two reasons: to coordinate the labor of a group of people working together, which improves the efficiency of the work, and to relieve the boredom of a tedious job, which improves the lives of the workers.” In today’s workplace, enjoyment typically doesn’t come from singing. Instead, when you find that intersection of skill and challenge, combined with a sense of meaning, fun, and autonomy, work becomes fulfilling and enjoyable. You become more productive. And business outcomes improve.


How can you make work more enjoyable so that people feel happier and success flows from that positivity? There are three factors: the appropriate level of challenge, a sense of meaning or purpose, and the levels of fun and autonomy in the workplace.

Rockstar vs. Superstar Modes

It’s important to find the right balance of skills and challenge in your work. When something is too easy, it becomes boring; when something is too hard for too long, it becomes stressful. Ideally, your work is the right balance between your skills and the level of challenge that feels invigorating. The right balance is different for each person - it depends on your learning agility, your attitude, your tasks, the support you have, the period in your life, and so on.

As a manager, when you allocate work responsibilities or new opportunities, it helps to know if each of your team members is a “rockstar” or a “superstar.” In her book, Radical Candor, author Kim Scott describes these two modes of operating. The rockstars, says Scott, value stability - hence the “rock” in their name. Rockstars are not interested in career advancements or promotions (although they could be at other times). Superstars are interested in upward growth, and they value promotions and new opportunities to share or develop their skills. People can move between these two modes. If you’ve just had a baby, for example, you may be in rockstar mode as you adjust to your new life. Or perhaps you’re a rockstar because you love your work and have no desire to shift into another role.

Many times managers are unaware that this distinction exists, much less which mode their people are in. It’s hard to help your colleagues find that balance between skill and challenge if you don’t know what they’re looking for. When this is the case, you could be setting yourself and your team members up for stress, conflict, or even failure.

The same circumstances are interpreted differently by people in the two modes. Here’s an example of the importance of identifying these two modes: a manager I know wanted to ask a team member to fill in for her at a big client meeting. It was a big ask that included traveling to the client’s city and presenting as the lead. She was torn; she had confidence in her colleague’s ability but didn’t want to impose on him. She assumed he was in rockstar mode where this type of request would not be of interest. When she finally asked if he would be willing to step in, he was thrilled for the opportunity to take the lead and to travel. He was in superstar mode and enthusiastic about taking on more responsibility. Had this manager known in advance, perhaps from discussing his professional goals in their one-to-one meetings, she would have spared herself the stress in asking him. More importantly, she could have been a more effective manager by identifying other opportunities for him that aligned with his growth aspirations.

If you haven’t yet spoken with each person on your team about their career aspirations and professional growth goals, set up a time to start the conversation.

Meaning or Purpose for Organizations, Teams, and Individuals

It’s clear that finding meaning in work is important. And for some organizations, teams, and individuals, the meaning or purpose of the work is explicit and compelling. But what if the purpose is explicit but not compelling, or vice versa, or neither explicit nor compelling? In these cases, it’s more difficult to feel like your work matters and therefore that you matter. Let’s look at this on organizational, team, and individual levels.

  • Organizations: Do you know the purpose of your organization? Not what your organization does, not its products, but why it exists beyond making money? A clear and compelling purpose can transform your perception of work. For example, GOJO, the inventors of PURELLⓇ, aligns everyone around the purpose of “Saving Lives and Making Life Better through Well-Being Solutions.” This purpose statement elevates the work beyond making soaps and sanitizers, or cleaning hands.

  • Teams: What purpose or mission does your team have that contributes to the organization's purpose? Are you growing the number of people touched through sales? Ensuring safety for people and the environment through regulation of products? Bringing new innovations to life that are more effective as part of a new product team? Linking your team’s purpose to that of the organization grounds you and gives you direction.

  • Individuals: How does what you do every day contribute to the team’s and/or the organization’s success? Whether you’re an accountant, administrative assistant, social media marketer, graphic designer, salesperson, or any other role - can you connect your tasks and responsibilities to the success of the team and the organization? As a manager, can you connect the dots for each person on your team, and more importantly, can they? If not, it may be difficult for your team members to feel like their role matters.

To strengthen and elevate your team, create a team mission statement. It should inspire your colleagues and align them around a shared purpose. You can also meet with each person to discuss how their role contributes to the team and organization’s success, helping them see the importance of their role.

Fun has its Place in Work

The Great Place to Work Institute gathered data from the organization’s one million-person research database and revealed that “great” companies consistently earn significantly higher marks for “fun.” Work can be stressful and when we are stressed, our brains are less likely to produce our best work. Creating some levity lightens the atmosphere so our brains can relax and make new connections.

One team I know has an ongoing joke about water features like fountains and waterfalls. When someone sees one, they snap a picture and message it to the group. It’s an inside joke for the team and a way for them to bond purely for fun. At Meeteor, we often engage in some friendly competition. Do you remember that photo of a dress that went viral a few years ago? Some people saw it as blue and others saw it as gold. People were having heated conversations about it online. A member of my team posted it to our Slack channel and the whole team weighed in. We debated it for days. We’ve had the same kind of friendly competition for an online typing speed test and even an in real life push up contest. Friendly competition and exchange can liven a work environment.

Autonomy That Works

It’s funny how we can enjoy or dread the same activity based on whether it feels like our choice to do it. I see this a lot with note-taking in meetings. If someone assigns us this role it can feel like a banal task. But if the meeting leader asks for a note-taking volunteer to help create a solid record of the meeting, it can feel more like an opportunity to help, which in turn makes us feel good for offering our note-taking services. When you incorporate more autonomy into your team, you’re providing a perceived sense of control which we all desire.


Creating enjoyment at work is a multi-faceted endeavor that takes into account individual working modes, meaning and purpose, and fun and autonomy. Based on new understandings of how the brain operates, it’s no longer a “nice-to-have” in the workplace. How will you create more enjoyment in your workplace? Download the free mini-guide or join the Modern Manager community on Patreon to access the full guide to increasing enjoyment for your team.

This article was based on episode 011 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher.

Optimize your time. Cultivate your team. Achieve your goals.

Leave a comment below or tweet at me @mamieks.

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