Celebration and fun

Google's St Patrick's Day graphic made me smile this morning. It's of Irish dancers and they're dancing. I'm also amused by the animated emoticons I can send on Skype. My favorite is the bear hug one. It makes the thousands of miles that separate me from my daughters feel less as I send them the bear hug. What's fun about things like that is that they are simple expressions of cheerfulness and I've spent time this week thinking about celebration and fun at work.

I've reached the section in the new book I'm writing where I give the instruction to 'Celebrate success' as you go through an organization design transition. But now I'm not sure whether that's what I want to write about. I think as well as celebrating success – which seems more spasmodic than frequent – ramping up the everyday fun aspects of transitioning would be good. We tend to focus on 'issues' on what's not working, and the drudge aspects. But a week of reading stuff on positive psychology and how various workplaces work (or not) suggest that everyday fun and keeping spirits up is what makes things work better than addressing 'issues' in a po-faced, and sometimes punitive way.

The office that I went to a couple of weeks ago added me to their general announcement email list and it's given me a lot of good cheer during the week: I've read about recovery from leg surgery, a retirement party for someone, someone else leaving after 16 years saying how much he's enjoyed the time there, and the annual wu-hu egg hunt. It's building the impression of a sense of community where people enjoy each other's stories and make an effort alongside what, I know, are some of the difficulties experienced in that workplace.

Then someone sent me a piece about ZocDoc. The CEO there says:

'Find ways to make work fun. While the occasional happy hour or Ping-Pong tournament certainly doesn't hurt, there is a distinction between having fun at work and making work fun. Whether it's including a funny Easter egg on our 404-page or rewarding success with a victory lap (cape and all) around the office, I'm always impressed by how innovative our team is at bringing happiness to their experience at ZocDoc. If the work you do brings a smile to your face and the faces of your colleagues, it's a pleasure to contribute in person every day.'

Someone else sent me a piece about Google's Manhattan office which states that:

'Google's various offices and campuses around the globe reflect the company's overarching philosophy, which is nothing less than "to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world," according to a Google spokesman, Jordan Newman.'

And my daughter told me that last week was Comic Relief Week in the UK (it's a charity fundraiser with the tagline 'Doing something funny for money') with Friday March 15 being Red Nose Day. During the week she and her work team had done all kinds of things to raise money in a fun way – including coming into work on Friday wearing plastic red noses.

Look at the Pennsylvania University Authentic Happiness site and you'll find a wealth of resources on positive psychology and positive neuroscience. The focus throughout this work is on human flourishing as:

'Research has shown that positive emotions and interventions can bolster health, achievement, and resilience, and can buffer against depression and anxiety. And while considerable research in neuroscience has focused on disease, dysfunction, and the harmful effects of stress and trauma, very little is known about the neural mechanisms of human flourishing'.

The book I've been reading the whole week is Pursuing the Good Life by positive psychologist Christopher Peterson, who sadly died last October 2012. It's 100 short essays roughly categorized. The essay on What is Positive Psychology and What it is Not has a list of points about what has been learned about the good life starting off with:

  • Most people are happy
  • Most people are resilient

Further down the list are points relevant to a happy workplace:

  • Work matters if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose
  • Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.

In the book Peterson has four short and delightful reflections on the workplace 'seen through the lens of positive psychology', my Tweet version of the set of four is that 'social contact, shared purpose, autonomy, and enforced guidelines on doing the right thing (using humanistic values) make for a good workplace.

Generally speaking transitions to a new organization design are experienced as chaotic, demoralizing, and disconnecting. In having to get to grips with new routines, new workstyles, and sometime new workplaces people lose the capacity for fun. I think we need to underpin an organization design transition with fun, irreverence, good humor, and a very strong orientation that people matter. Not in a ponderous, intermittent 'celebrate success' way but in the everyday attitudes and characteristics we demonstrate.

A good workplace that is fun to be in and engenders employee emotional well being (aka happiness) is not a Utopian, non-achievable. It can be designed in. Peterson is firm in saying, and I believe him: 'The good life can be taught'. He says that this point is 'especially important because it means that happiness is not simply the result of a fortunate spin of the genetic roulette wheel . There are things people can do to lead better lives, although I hasten to say that all require that we live (behave) differently … permanently. The good life is hard work and there are no shortcuts to sustained happiness'.

Organizations are collectivities of people like us, so we can learn 'the good life' and we can also help by designing aspects of it in. We have good examples to look at – ZocDoc and Google, I've mentioned, Zappos springs to mind and I know there are others. Is your organization one where people are happy and flourish, if not what are you going to do to design the conditions in? Let me know.