Joy in the Workplace: Why It’s Good for Business

Karina Margit Edelyi

What do people want from their jobs: WFH? Higher salary? Opportunities for career growth? Job security? Progressive company culture? Or is it something completely different — like joy? 


Productivity is driven by compensation, right? Not so fast…

Conventional wisdom says that if we just pay employees enough, they’ll be more productive. But it turns out there’s something more at play.

Here’s a mind-blowing fact: happy employees make for a more successful company. Research connecting productivity and employee happiness is revolutionizing how some innovative companies structure their culture and compensation (and no, that does not include slashing salaries and bonuses).

Surprise. Sadness. Fear. Disgust. Anger. Joy. Say hello to the six primary universal emotions. Joy is connected to thriving, which tells us when we’re moving towards things that can help us succeed. And little moments of joy can radically improve work performance.

A study cited by Harvard Business Review is part of a growing body of research chronicling the impact of a positive organizational environment for employers, employees, and yes — the bottom line. And the cost of disengagement is high. Studies by the Queens School of Business and the Gallup Organization showed that disengaged employees had:

  • 60% more errors and defects
  • 49% more accidents
  • 37% higher absenteeism

A lack of happiness could be costing your company — a lot. Economists at the University of Warwick conducted a study that found that unhappy workers were 10% less productive overall. In contrast, those that were happy had a 12% spike in productivity, which led the research team to conclude that “human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”

Joy was also found to beneficially impact working memory by 12%, an essential function of our brains that helps us complete work and tasks. If businesses can get 12% more productivity by injecting more joy into the workplace, it may be time to recraft company practices to help up-level joy in your workplace.

Yes, all jobs have aspects that are challenging and tedious. The goal is not to magically get rid of those aspects of work, but rather to focus on making work as happy as it can be.

Professor Andrew Oswald, one of the three Warwick study researchers, noted that “companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37 percent; (and) they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”

Financial incentives alone are not enough to kick productivity into high gear. If you want to attract and retain top talent, providing the framework for an overarching purpose is vital. Igniting joy in the workplace requires a proactive approach that creates feelings of appreciation, wellbeing, and worth within a team.

Here’s how to spark more joy in the workplace:

  1. Make work more meaningful. A joyful workplace starts with employees committed to its mission, vision, and values. Ensure people understand what they are working toward and what their role is in achieving that aim. People want to feel that they are essential to their team’s success, regardless of their job title. When they can see how their accomplishments contribute to achieving a business’s overarching goals, they gain a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment.
  2. Acknowledge good work. Did you know that feeling underappreciated is the number one reason Americans leave their jobs? People want to be appreciated, and expressions of gratitude and appreciation help cultivate joy in the workplace. A simple “thank you” or “job well done,” particularly after completing a challenging project, can go a loooong way. Studies show that doubling the number of employees who regularly receive recognition has a powerful snowball effect, resulting in a 24% rise in work quality and a 27% reduction in absenteeism, among other benefits.
  3. Craft a company culture centered on building relationships and community. Fun fuels joy. While it may not be a cardinal rule, it’s pretty close. Organizing team events where employees play, laugh, and solve problems together goes a long way to cultivating a culture of happiness and community.
  4. Make storytelling part of your company culture. Teach important values through the stories told about company history, founding, and vision for the future. Encourage teams to share these stories with new teammates and the world. This storytelling pattern will deepen the sense of company culture, augmenting a sense of belonging as this history becomes part of an individual’s story.
  5. Be the joy. It has been said that bosses command, but leaders influence. Ingrid Fetell Lee, former design director for IDEO and author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, writes that in an office context, studies show that managers who exhibit more joy had teams who completed their work more quickly and cohesively. It turns out that joy feeds productivity and is contagious, too!

The Bottom Line

Want sustainable high performance for your company? Want to retain your best employees and attract top talent? Make joy a strategic imperative. Crafting a company culture that taps into the productive powers of joy and a strong sense of shared purpose and belonging is just smart business.

About the author.

An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist—Karina writes, produces, and edits compelling content across multiple platforms—including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Yahoo News, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties and has spanned insight pieces on psychedelic toad medicine to forecasting the future of work to why sustainability needs to become more sustainable.