Building the enjoyment factor into a workplace culture can only be achieved one person at a time because no one can tell a person what they will enjoy. It is perhaps the last bastion of free choice and personal control. That was a core principle I learned to respect in my 30 years as a Recreation Planner. I successfully helped people of all ages and backgrounds increase the quality of their personally chosen recreational interests, facilities, programs, and range of opportunities. What more powerful state of mind can a person have than when they are totally in charge of what they do and for the primary reason of enjoying it. You will almost certainly have your own personal example of what I mean. Personally, I sing in two choirs and love every moment of it. It would never happen in a business workplace you might say? Read on.
Towards the end of that career, I wrote: “Enjoy Being You – How leisure can help you become the person you want to be”. It sold well and brought me to work with a business team experiencing intense burnout. The team leader asked if I could run a workshop for the team, based on my book. I said yes and later thought to myself “Peter what have you done!? I know nothing about burnout!” It turned out to be an outstanding success. Why? The following were some key reasons:
- the manager was aware there was a burnout problem that had to be fixed or highly professional staff would soon be lost to the organisation
- having a workshop based on staff personal non-work enjoyment interests
- gave the team a sense of relief from stress
- gave the team a chance to get to know each other more personally in ways that increased their mutual bonding
- showed the staff how much an interest outside of work brought out the real person within and what it means for their mental fitness and resilience to cope with the constantly stressful workload.
- gave them a sense of fun and enjoyment in the workplace that they had never experienced before – they were workaholics of the first order!
- gave the team a new sense of respect for and commitment to the team leader.
One special story is worth relating here. In planning the workshop the team leader gave me a brief rundown on each of the staff in the team. One was regarded as a loner. He worked well but rarely spoke to the others. He proved it right in the workshop, having little to say….until some time into a discussion on leisure interests. “The loner” eventually opened up to say he was rather fond of chess. I prompted him gently for more about why he liked it, where he played and what it did for him, etc. He spoke for some time about it while we all listened in awe to hear him. “I have never heard him say so much” was the reaction of one of the others later.
The workshop was held in two sessions a week apart. At the close, I was given a presentation by the group (over and above the payment I received). Guess who made the presentation on behalf of the group….”the loner”. The content of the workshop had clearly gone way beyond the hopes of the team leader. I can recount many similar experiences over the years since then where “aha” moments have unlocked many a hitherto closed mind.
While I had to change. the jargon from leisure-based to business-based I found my experience proving highly respected and beneficial in the workplace environment. I re-invented myself as a Life Mentor and have, so far, enjoyed 18 years of helping people re-discover their natural-born enjoyable qualities.
Enjoyment and the Work Ethic
In business thinking, enjoyment was seen as ‘a frivolous waste of time’.
My greatest barrier as a Life Mentor has been the principle of the Work Ethic. For almost four centuries now the work ethic has dignified work and demeaned leisure and enjoyment. “Hard work is the way to success. If you can’t stand the heat in business, get out of the kitchen”. This built a solid wall between work and enjoyment/leisure/fun. In business thinking, enjoyment was seen as ‘a frivolous waste of time’. That has gradually changed in recent decades as people seek relief from the pressures of working at any time 24/7. Even now though, in all too many areas of business, enjoyable interests away from work still carry a negative stigma.
The Covid-19 catch-cry that ‘we are all in it together’ continues unabated even where the virus has been largely contained. No one in business, including the CEO, has been immune to the mental impact of Covid-19. This has sharpened business awareness of mental health as a very real factor that can no longer be shunned in the workplace. A recent Weekend Australian article emphasised effectively dealing with mental health issues must start with the CEO.
Enjoyment Sustains Mental Fitness
While enjoyment has its place in helping overcome mental illness, my thrust relates to the professed four-fifths of the population who are mentally fit and want to stay that way. Mental fitness is like the sister to physical fitness – something positive to aspire to. Regular self-generated enjoyable experiences have the effect of sustaining and strengthening mental fitness.
There is more to enjoyment than just pleasure
So what is ‘enjoyment’? Recall any recent thoroughly enjoyable experience in your life. Recall not just the event but also how you felt during and following the experience. I would suggest the experience activated five features, any of which could trigger the other four:
- Purpose – the mind was aiming for some degree of purpose and outcomes arising from the experience. For example, planning to take the family to the beach, planning to meet a friend for a coffee. Typically every enjoyable experience has three phases – planning, the experience itself, and the resultant memories
- Energizing – energizing is the process of generating new energy, energy that fires you up and drives your thinking forward
- Empowering. Your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and your self-belief are on a high. Because no one else can tell you what you should enjoy, you are in total control of creating the experience.
- Expanding – it widens your perspective even if only marginally. You learn something new. It is a life-enriching experience
- Infectious – it’s the best form of infection. Your enjoyment positively infects people around you.
Nor does it stop when the experience has ended. There are ripple effects into everything you do immediately following the experience. You see life differently, your problems before the experience take on a more positive perspective than before. The more frequently you have enjoyable experiences, the greater you build your ongoing resilience to cope with life.
Seven Key Features of Enjoying Being You
My business is based around the following model that identifies seven key features of enjoying being you:
- The enjoyment factor is at the centre because when you are enjoying life, everything else falls into place
- Enjoyment fosters a positive outlook in which opportunities outweigh doubts and negativity
- Your natural-born talents/gifts are the basis of your difference – a particularly essential factor in a competitive business world
- enjoyment generates the energy needed to replace burnt energy and sustain the resilience to survive and thrive in this changing world
- passion excites your very heart, soul, and reason for being. Even when life stifles your passions, they never go away
- Connection with others (two-way connection) goes to the very heart of the fact that we are social beings. Never did this become more important than during lockdowns and the subsequent questions of whether or not to continue working from home
- We are always hungry for continuous growth, personal development, and new learning. It continues for life, including life after leaving work.
Any of the seven features can trigger the chain reaction that fires up the other six. Best of all, the outcome is greater than the sum of the seven individual features.
Building the Enjoyment Factor into the Workplace Culture
Clearly, the ideal is for every member of a business organisation to reflect all the above in their workplace operations. The benefits of improved work productivity, creativity, innovation, loyalty and staff stability, commitment to corporate goals, reduction in staff conflict would be amazing. And perhaps most important of all – there would be a pervasive sense of strong mental fitness and wellbeing. Even more so if the workplace culture (“the way we do things here”) reflected the seven key features of enjoying being you.
The realities of business life suggest these elements can only exist in certain ideal situations and businesses. However, I believe implementation of the following tips would kickstart a change of office thinking towards the above concept eventually becoming a feature of the workplace culture. It’s a bit like the tugboat that gradually turns the Queen Mary around.
The Buck Starts at the Top
To parody the sign on US President Harry Truman’s desk (“The buck stops here”) for these tips to work the buck STARTS with the Chief Executive. Without his or her total commitment to the scheme, the program is “dead in the water”.
Most CEOs have their own regular enjoyable interest totally away from the work environment, knowing it does much to provide the mental fitness benefits needed to cope with the pressures at the top. There are many public examples of this practice by world business and political leaders.
The CEO needs to make known this fact to all staff and outline to them the benefits he or she gains from having that interest.
The CEO could then encourage every member of staff to have their own regular freely-chosen enjoyable interest away from work (no corporate subsidy needed of course). The reason in short being the CEO believes he/she would in return gain his/her “pound of flesh” in terms of the benefits outlined in this paper.
Staff responses would at the least be positive, simply in knowing the CEO has this belief. In most cases the staff already have their own enjoyable interest away from work and are buoyed by the fact that the CEO recognizes the benefits and officially encourages it.
The next step is that each team meeting have a standing item on the agenda in which one person is given 5 minutes to indicate their “enjoyable interest away from work” and particularly something about what it does for them in terms of the earlier-mentioned five features of what goes on during that experience (purpose, energizing, etc). This practice to continue at least until every team member has had their turn. Very soon every member of the team would have a new understanding and appreciation of every other team member.
If your organisation has any sort of Skills Audit program, it could include the skills and talents people develop away from work. Think of the skills lost when a staff member departs after a long period of service to the organisation. You lose much more than what was on their job specification. For example, the person who was the ‘go-to’ person for computer knowledge, or social events organiser, or ‘father/mother confessor when people have personal problems. These skills are normally developed away from work and should be recognized in any workplace skills audit.
I would suggest that in the months following the introduction of these tips, there would be a positive and productive feeling in the organisation about changes “in the way we do things here”.
Enjoyment Energizes Your Natural Strengths
In conclusion, let me give you an analogy from nature, where these things happen naturally. Think of any significant tree in your local neighbourhood. The strength of that magnificent product of nature is hidden beneath the surface. Typically, its root system is one and a half times the height and width of what you see above ground. This gives the tree:
- The strength to withstand the wind, rain, and storms that batter it regularly, and
- The resources through which it seeks and gains the nutrients that constantly feed the growth, height, and beauty of that tree.
Similarly, your strengths and those of your people are also hidden, irrespective of their height or strength. These hidden strengths can be found in the Seven Key Features of Enjoying Being You outlined above.