Employees Expressing Joy At WorkThe words “joy” and “job” are rarely found in the same sentence. I could have used “happiness” instead of joy but because the holidays are here, joy at work seems more suited to the season. I am also indebted to Jesse Goodrich who presented on the topic of “Finding the Joy – Connecting Purpose and Job satisfaction” at a recent SHRM leadership conference.

So how do we find joy at work? A growing body of evidence shows that employee engagement and job satisfaction stem from the work itself. Sure, recognition programs are nice. No doubt better employee benefits are appreciated. But what really makes (or breaks) one’s feeling towards their job is the content of the job itself AND the relationship with their direct supervisor.

Supervisors and Joy

Let’s talk about the role of supervisors in finding joy at work. We all hate to be micromanaged and we all want to be understood!  In a previous article, I wrote about the fact that managers underestimate their impact on their people. “People join companies but leave managers” as Marcus Buckingham famously pointed out in his famous book “First Break all the Rules” (2016)

Managers have a lot to do with how we feel about the job and the organization. Few people have a more significant impact on work schedules, project management, workload, and overall job satisfaction than your direct supervisor. If employees don’t feel that their manager treats them fairly, communicates honestly, roots for them, and appreciates the value of their work, they will not be happy at work. 

I have seen this time and again when conducting workplace investigations: misunderstanding and perceived slights at work lead to tense relationships. Sometimes they escalate into full-out conflicts. Supervisors who have the pulse of their organization have a finer read on what’s happening and can intervene before things get out of control.

Should supervisors become a work friend? That’s a balancing act. Being caring and friendly are good attributes for supervisors. However, supervisors have to be savvy not to cross the mythical “line.” A supervisor must remain professional at all times, at work, and outside of work if socializing with coworkers. They need to be role models. They have to be willing to have difficult conversations, address performance issues, and behavior problems regardless of the perceived friendship. If not, a work friendship for some may be perceived as favoritism by others. 

Job Characteristics And Joy at Work

The Job Characteristics model has been around for a while! I teach this model in my Organization Behavior class to undergraduate business students.

The model was developed by organizational psychologists Greg Oldham and Richard Hackman in the 1970s. They wanted to figure out why some employees lost interest in their jobs. So, they studied people and their jobs. They concluded that the job content itself is key to employees’ motivation. They also developed the job characteristics model which offers that each component can be adjusted to recalibrate a job and make it more engaging for the employee.

The job characteristics model consists of five elements:

  1. Skill variety – The more varied the tasks, the more engaging the work will be. Variety is the boredom buster!
  2. Task identity – This is the ability to work through a job, not just a task. For example, there is greater task identity when a Data Analyst gets to analyze data, write the report, and make recommendations rather than simply provide data tables. 
  3. Task significance – What’s the impact of my work? Does it impact the work of my coworkers in any significant way, the satisfaction of our clients, or the well-being of society at large? Employees in non-profits tend to score high on task significance which contributes to their happiness at work.
  4. Autonomy – This is about discretion and individual freedom on how to get the work done. Providing autonomy is the opposite of micromanagement.
  5. Feedback – In the job characteristic model, feedback refers to the feedback from the job. This happens when a mechanic fixes a piece of equipment and the production line is back up and running. In sales, it could be feedback from a satisfied customer.

Variety, task identity, and significance bring meaningfulness to the work. Autonomy breeds feelings of personal responsibility. Feedback allows workers to gain more knowledge about what it takes to be successful on the job. In turn, this helps workers grow professionally.

Meaningful work, having autonomy, and growing professionally are some of the most desirable aspects employees want from their work. Those “critical psychological states” foster a variety of positive outcomes according to Oldham and Hackman: higher motivation, worker performance, and satisfaction. In other words, joy on the job!

It might be time to resurrect the old Organizational Behavior textbook and see how we can apply the Job Characteristics model to our jobs. And who knows, we might find joy at work again!

Meaningful work, having autonomy, and growing professionally are some of the most desirable aspects employees want from their work. They foster a variety of positive outcomes such as higher motivation, worker performance, and satisfaction. Add to this, a positive relationship with supervisors and you have all the ingredients for joy on the job!