Igniting Joy

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have been analyzing 12,000 diary entries created by hundreds of employees in many different organizations in an attempt to understand inner work life:  “the conditions that foster positive emotions, strong internal motivation, and favorable perceptions of colleagues and the work itself.”  It is about the work, not the “accoutrements.”  Meaningful work, clear goals, autonomy, help, and resources are the required elements identified in their new book, The Progress Principle:  Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.  “And it depends on showing respect for ideas and the people who create them.”

Their work has revealed that “…people are more creative and productive when they are deeply engaged in the work, when they feel happy, and when they think highly of their projects, coworkers, managers, and organizations.”  They were also startled to learn that 95% of the hundreds of managers they surveyed misunderstood the most important source of employee motivation and ranked “supporting progress” least important.

Thinking back over my own career my inner work life has clearly been “joyful” in those situations where I felt good about the work I was doing, had the resources with which to be effective, and the trust of my supervisor to do the work.  I still remember going to the best supervisor I ever had with a problem to her expecting her to tell me how to solve it.  When she asked me what solution I would suggest, I was startled and delighted!  That expectation of autonomy was huge to my attitude about my work.

So what can we do to ignite that joy, engagement, and creativity?  What have you done today to improve the inner work life of your staff and coworkers?












From Series: DOCUMERICA: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Program to Photographically Document Subjects of Environmental Concern, August 1975, National Archives Identifier 557882

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2 Responses to Igniting Joy

  1. Super cool post, Big Dude! I laughed at the photo, a building plastered with stop signs and a car speeding by it in a blur instead of having come to a halt in from of them. The car is the New NARA, the stop signs traditional Fedland!

    I like your anecdote about your supervisor and even more the fact that you chose to include it in your post. Some bosses make the mistake of giving off a vibe as if they sprang to the top fully formed and never experienced what line workers did. I’ve seen that, it never signals confidence to me. You’re the opposite, you talk with great ease about having started off as a shelver and describe interactions with your past bosses.

    I actually think that is one way people signal respect for each other. I guess what I’m trying to say is that joy in the workplace is linked to respect, showing it and receiving it, both. From and to individuals, and in the context of the modeled and rewarded (not just stated) values of the organization. There are countless opportunities to do that every day with colleagues, if one is open to that and can intuit their unarticulated needs.

    This one really is making me think! I may write about it at my own blog. Now, if it just were possible to do breaks in paragraphs here, I’d be all set. Oh wait, maybe those of us who comment can’t do grafs so we’ll keep our comments short. Doesn’t stop me, I’m incorrigible! Seriously, thanks for putting this one up, I really enjoyed reading it.


  2. David totally has mad skillz! And that reflects well on people such as the supervisor he describes here. Pay it foward! The Big Dude best models what he discusses here in the way he rolls himself. I explained why and how in a post riffing on this one and discusses how he acts with friends in professional circles such as I: http://nixonara.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/i-was-startled-and-delighted/


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