The Quietly Happy Workplace

© Polushkina Svetlana |

There’s a common misconception that the joyful, engaged workplace has to include a lot of waved pompoms, ringing bells, and people popping up like toast over their cubicle walls with a spontaneous WOOHOO!

While I’m all in favor of getting wild and crazy in the interest of workplace engagement, all this woohooing is only an outward expression of an inner joy. And while many workplaces can and should allow their joy to spill over into public view, some others—a hospital ICU, for example, or a funeral home—might call for a little discretion.

But not TOO much discretion. These workplaces are just as prone to dysfunctional, crazymaking behaviors as any other. And they can be even MORE prone to the negative, depressed emotions that can drag a workplace environment into the pits.

So let’s say I’m the owner of a funeral home. A few of my staffers spend half their time working and the other half making everyone else miserable—gossiping, whining, backstabbing, the works. I can’t exactly encourage my staff to put clown noses on the departed, or to woohoo and greet grieving family members with a hearty, “Hey, how’s it going, dude?” They wouldn’t be there if things were going well.

Workplace engagement is founded on mutual respect and on being of profound service to others. Both of these are as compatible with my hypothetical funeral home as they are with any other workplace.

That doesn’t mean people in these “discreet” lines of work can’t go a little crazy in celebration. You can and you should. A party in a funeral home could have a casket full of ice for the drinks and ladyfinger cookies covered with frosting and standing on end to look like tombstones. Why not? Okay, that is a little too weird.

But engagement doesn’t start with wild parties. It starts with employees who care for each other and treat each other with basic kindness. This it both a matter of what we do (“I remember your daughter wasn’t feeling well—is she better now?”) and what we don’t do (no gossiping behind someone’s back—giving OR receiving).

But it’s also a matter of reframing EVERY aspect of your daily work in terms of being of profound service to others. That, not employee cheer pyramids or conga lines through the lobby, are what transforms a workplace into a place of genuine engagement and joy.

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