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How to Create a Joyful Work Atmosphere

This article was based on episode 237 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, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

We want our team members to find joy in their work. But is that even possible? The truth is that we can’t force people to be joyful, but we can create the right conditions for it. Akaya Windwood joins me to share her insights into how managers can cultivate a joyful workplace. Akaya advises, trains, and consults on how change happens individually, organizationally, and societally. She is on the faculty for the RSF Social Finance Integrated Capital Fellowship and is the founder of the New Universal, which centers human wisdom in the wisdom of brown women. Akaya shares here what joy really is, how to figure out what joy means to your team, and why a micromanaging manager can’t cultivate it.

JOY IS DIFFERENT THAN HAPPINESS

Happiness is an emotion that often occurs from something externally. Joy, on the other hand, is a deeply felt sense from within the body. This is just like sadness and grief. We may feel sadness from reading a sad book, but we experience grief deep within our bones. In our disconnected world, tapping into our bodies doesn’t necessarily come easily.

When Akaya initially explained the difference between happiness and joy, it immediately resonated. I recalled a moment a few years ago when my family and I gathered in Prospect Park with a few other families. The sun was shining and the kids were running around. After a while, we ended up in an impromptu game of softball when suddenly I was overcome with a deep sense of joy. I paused to savor the moment, noticing what I felt throughout my body in that moment.

Nowadays, we move so quickly that we often forget to pause and be present. Like all practices of mindfulness, the practice of joy requires continual attention and intention. We need to become aware of what we want (our intention) and what is going on in our bodies (that bodily sense) in order to experience it.

CREATE CONDITIONS FOR JOY IN THE WORKPLACE

We aren’t responsible for other people’s joy but we can create the conditions that make joy possible. It’s not as simple as a ‘Joy Checklist’, though. Akaya suggests we take the time to have conversations with our teammates about what they want and what joy means to them. Their answers may surprise you. Some may want more connection, which could lead to setting up weekly team lunches. Others may want time during the day to pause for a collective breath. One organization even holds an end of day dance party! Remember that creating sustainable conditions, like a lighter work week, is also essential to cultivating joy and avoiding burnout.

MICROMANAGING IS REALLY ABOUT THE MANAGER’S ANXIETY

Micromanaging is sure to foil any attempts at cultivating joy in the workplace. When managers do this, they overstep their boundaries and make their teammates feel frustrated and inadequate. Plus, if we do the work that is supposed to be on other people’s shoulders, we don’t have the energy to also bring our unique contributions to the table. Akaya has a powerful mantra she uses to make sure this doesn’t happen: Let Me Only Do What Is Mine.

When a manager micromanages, it’s usually due to their own anxiety. Controlling others to manage our fear or insecurity is not fair or healthy to those we work with. Instead, focus on what you can do to set your colleagues up for success. Figure out what support they need so that you can trust them to do their part.

If a manager is having trouble letting go, Akaya advises them to first take a deep breath and then to consider all the things they do trust about their coworker. Consider their gifts and strengths, and then what support they might need from you. When we approach our staff from a place of appreciative inquiry, they feel seen and valued. This culture of gratitude is essential to creating a workplace infused with joy.

BE MINDFUL OF THE SEEDS THAT YOU’RE SOWING

As leaders, we’re planting seeds all the time. Our staff watches us every day (especially our newest team members) to absorb expectations. In Akaya’s book, she tells a story of a man who threw a nectarine pit into his yard that later sprouted unexpectedly into a nectarine tree. We need to consider the groundwork we’re laying now for the future. What conditions are we setting now for positive outcomes? We don’t want to plant any unintentional seeds that become burdens later on.

Set aside time to have those essential conversations with your team about what brings them joy. Figure out how to turn those ideas into practice. When you have the urge to micromanage, take a deep breath. Remember to take care of only what’s on your plate and trust that your staff can take care of theirs. If you do want to check in on what help they need, lead with appreciation in order to create a culture of gratitude. Creating the right conditions for joy at work is possible, as long as we are intentional about how we sow the seeds.

KEEP UP WITH AKAYA


Get the chance to win 1 free copy of Akaya’s book, Leading with Joy, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.


This article was based on episode 237 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, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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