Look around you. Everywhere there is talk about how work hours need to be reduced, how people should be given leave for different reasons, why a 6 or even a 5 day work week is detrimental to our wellbeing. And then you have China, still pushing their breakneck 996 schedule as they hurtle towards the future they have envisioned for themselves. Different strokes for different folks.
But what if we didn’t have to see work as that painful part of our lives that we must do in order to survive. Where it isn’t about showing up four, five or six days a week? Because let’s face it, once we get used to the four day week, if work is a bore, you’ll want even less of it. What if, instead, the secret to unlocking some Arbedjsglæde (Ah-bites-gleh-the) was in getting some basics right. That’s what the Danish call the sheer Joy of Work - the happiness you derive from ‘doing' what you do.
There are many things that can impact this - designation, compensation, job security, a good boss or even your positive self-talk practice. Here are five common sensical things that I believe can transform the world of work:
What draws someone to a particular company or type of work? The chances of you having something in common with your teammates are high. But then again, no two people are exactly alike. Workplaces are notorious for helping you expand your social circle, if only you would let it. What if work could be an extension of college life where you worked with different people towards a common goal - where you could find like-minded people in book clubs or on the badminton team or learn something completely new on ‘Get to know your colleague’ Day.
Where it’s okay to talk about your pet hamster as much as it is okay to talk about your professional goals. How much richer would life be if work truly helped you belong?
We all go into jobs with a certain amount of knowledge, a limited set of skills and filled with a sense of new possibilities. Some of our skills will be directly related to the work we do, some not so much. An environment that helps us grow into the best versions of ourselves, to keep evolving and learning is the kind of place we all want to be in. Yes not everyone wants to mix work and pleasure and there is a lot of merit in separating the two worlds (we are feeling that a lot more now than ever before). But an organization that encourages its people to keep learning and rewards the acquisition of varied skills which don’t necessarily have to be connected to their KPIs, is a place that will be head and shoulders ahead of the rest when it comes to building culture, employee loyalty and overall wellbeing.
How many times have you had a great idea that you had nowhere to put? Imagine a workplace where all your work ideas - no matter how crazy - were put into an Ideas Jar. Sure, work isn’t and shouldn’t be like kindergarten. But a company should actively listen to its employees and push them to think - whether it’s seeking feedback on their onboarding experience or inviting their opinion on key business decisions or simply organizing periodic brainstorming sessions - it’s just a matter of keeping conversation channels open at all times. An employee who doesn’t feel heard or valued will lose interest and motivation to keep showing up. And that stuff breeds toxicity which is highly contagious.
There are good days and bad days. Work needs to be a safe place - one that lets you apply everything you know, and is also open to you experimenting and making mistakes. We complain about the rat race, the dog-eat-dog world we live in. What makes it that is the fear that we have been taught to feel from childhood - the fear of not being good enough, of doing everything you can to stay ahead of the rest (I’m a Bengali, ask me about it!). Look up Imposter Syndrome and you will find more and more people coming out and admitting that they’ve felt it too, no matter how accomplished they are in reality. Why can’t we as fellow colleagues have more open conversations with each other about our fears and worries. There is way too much importance placed on ‘having it together’ or being on top of everything. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we didn’t have to know all the answers and could instead figure it out together?
And last, but definitely not least, is where I will circle right back to that Danish word - Arbedjsglæde. How do we feel joy at work when we are just another cog in the wheel that is going who knows where? You can feel that joy when you, the individual, is not just there for the paycheck or the profile, but for a larger purpose. Yes, you knew I was going to throw that word in eventually. But this overused word is powerful. It’s the thing that can launch a thousand ships. A sense of collective purpose is invigorating and can turn your day-to-day into something meaningful. Companies that make an honest effort to identify their purpose should do it not just to ensure that their brand stands out to their customers, but to also ensure that their employees can be proud of what they do.
As people responsible for helping organizations get their onboarding process right, we find ourselves in a unique position to actually make a difference, changing age-old processes and maybe creating new trends to eventually impact the lives of the approximately 3.3 billion employees in the world. By ticking off these five basics during the first few weeks of a new hire’s life in a company, we can set the stage for an experience that will carry the employee through the rest of their professional journey. Who knows, maybe they will grow up into empathic, brave and honest leaders, carrying the torch that will continue to make work a better place for one and all.