LeBron James isn’t happy. He’s having a fantastic personal season. At age 37, he missed fewer games due to injuries compared to the last three seasons, he scores an average of 29 points per game (his best in the last ten years) in good percentages, his assist and rebound numbers are as good as always, and with all the young stars running around in the league he still has more games of over 30 points than any other player in the league.
But he is not happy. He does not smile, he celebrates scoring with roars but not with smiles, not with laughter. Everything looks serious. Too serious. This might be due to the fact that his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, is suffering a disappointing season.
Does joy affect success or vice versa?
Up north, but still in sunny California, Golden State looks happier, and rightly so. A combination of Steph Kerry’s incredible personal season, along with a relatively comfortable games schedule at the start of the season, created a positive momentum that put Golden State at the top of the league even before the return of Steph Kerry’s second half, Klay Thompson (recovered from injury). This week Klay returned, and the celebrations on the bench were no less interesting than the game. The players celebrated each scoring and were genuinely happy for Klay in a way that looked, to me, very authentic.
So… is joy important to organizations?
According to a Harvard article, joy comes from a combination of harmony, influence, and recognition — all of which managers can influence in their organizations.
Harmony — In sports teams (but also in teams at work) every employee has a role in achieving the goals. One documents better, another plan, another is responsible for collaborating with other teams, and so on. When diverse skills and strengths blend well, harmony is created.
Impact — Harmony leads to an impact that leads to joy. Peak events have a tendency to produce a burst of joy (assuming they are positive). In sports, this happens of course more frequently (every game has the potential for a peak event).
Recognition — Many good coaches ask their players to do something a little weird. After a player scores, the coach has them point at the player who passed them the ball, who created the opportunity for them to score. The legendary coach of North Carolina University, Dean Smith, required his players to practice this recognition in training to make it a habit. Think how much impact such an event could have on organizations. People who receive recognition compliment colleagues who have created the opportunity for them to succeed. This intensifies the cycle of joy → success → joy.
In a 2018 survey, employees reported how much joy they experience in the workplace and then rated their degree of agreement with a number of statements that reflect the above three parameters — harmony, impact, and recognition (very similar to online surveys we are all familiar with).
As the chart shows us, unsurprisingly, employees who reported feeling happier at work agreed more with the work statements much more often than employees who said they felt less happy at work.
Of course, there are intervening variables here and there is also the possibility of reverse causality. But in practice, there is an effect of joy on the experience from work.
Another topic that was examined in the survey is the joy gap. Nearly 90% of respondents said they expect to experience a considerable degree of joy at work, but only 37% report that this is their actual experience. This gap is also measured as “cross-generational”. At least in this study, the findings did not suggest that young people expect more joy at work than adults. For Generation X and Millennials the joy gap was 57% and 44%, respectively
We often tend to think only of success and performance, and less of joy. Not all organizations even bother to measure happiness.
In the last survey we did at Forter (www.forter.com/careers), we asked employees to rate their level of agreement with the statement “I’m happy to work at Forter”. 87% of our employees reported that they were happy to work at Forter.
By the way, There was no significant difference when comparing different age groups, or genders. This statement has also been found to be very highly correlated with our engagement scores.
How do we create joy in organizations? At least according to the study, there are some recommendations that organizations should adopt:
· Make corporate joy a stated goal. It may sound like something fluffy, but the idea is to touch the roots of what makes employees happy — to see employees, to hear them, to acknowledge good work.
· Connect employees to organizational goals at a level where they will understand the impact they are creating. This can be done by sharing business results, or the organization’s roadmap and goals for next year.
· Celebrating successes — sounds obvious, but often organizations tend to reach the endpoint of projects without the energy to celebrate the success, and then immediately move on to the next task. There is value in this celebration and as I mentioned earlier — joy → success → joy
So is LeBron not happy because his team is not successful enough, or is his unhappiness affecting the results?