News | June 5, 2018


By Dr. Robert Boggs DLA Land and Maritime People and Culture


Joy at work gives people the freedom to use their talents and skills for the benefit of society, without being crushed or controlled by autocratic supervisors or staff offices … People I have met — regardless of class, income, nationality, and education level — want a chance to make the most of their abilities to meet the needs of their families while doing something useful for society. -Dennis W. Bakke
There is no fun like work. -Dr. Charles Mayo

"Joy at Work" by Dennis W. Bakke
Joy at Work
Book cover for "Joy at Work" by Dennis W. Bakke
Photo By: Dawn Sutton
VIRIN: 180604-D-UN186-1001
Some of the words that come to mind when we think of joy include: happiness, delight, pleasure, enjoyment, bliss, ecstasy, elation, gladness, passion and even exultation. How often do any of these words enter into our business vocabulary? Not very often, if at all.

Dennis Bakke in his book Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job, wrote about his passion of making work exciting, rewarding, stimulating and enjoyable. This wasn’t a typical view of work in the mid-1990s when he was CEO of AES, an energy company that generated billions of dollars in revenues and billions more in assets. AES had a very unconventional culture and also achieved enviable financial results.

In Bakke’s opinion, the primary factor in determining whether people experience joy or drudgery in the workplace is the degree to which they control their work. To Bakke, control meant making decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions. When we confuse accountability with control, people become less responsible, less accountable. According to Bakke:

Fundamentally, however, working conditions in large organizations today are no more exciting, rewarding or fun than they were 250 years ago … We have made the workplace a frustrating and joyless place where people do what they’re told and have few ways to participate in decisions or fully use their talents. As a result, they naturally gravitate to pursuits in which they can exercise a measure of control over their lives … In most organizations I have been exposed to around the world, bosses and supervisors still make all important decisions.

If we want to create a healthy and fun workplace, we need to place responsibility where it belongs, with those who are closer to the problem. There is a time and place for decision making by high-ranking people in every organization; however, more often than not, those closer to the problem are more likely to come up with a better solution.

When we empower people, they become responsible. When we fail to empower our people, passivity can become the norm. The more controls we place on our people, the more passive they become. When individuals are given the independence they need to accomplish the mission of the organization, they accept responsibility and take initiative. According to Bakke:

We are uniquely created with the ability to reason, make decisions and be held accountable for our actions. When all of these factors come into play at the same time, we feel something approaching pure joy.

High-performing leaders who make work a joyful experience are passionate about their people. They’re also typically self-effacing, quiet, reserved and humble. These characteristics have not always been seen as positive leadership traits, yet current research shows these characteristics and traits are beneficial to long term positive organizational performance. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great wrote this about high-performing leaders, “They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.”

Great leaders understand and value the uniqueness that every person brings to the workplace. Unfortunately, early writings on leadership counseled against involvement in the personal lives of employees; however, when we separate ourselves from our people, it becomes difficult if not impossible to understand the unique gifts individuals bring to the workplace.

Given the choice between experiencing work as a necessary evil or as something that is fun and joyful, I’ll opt for fun and joyful every time. Many of us would agree with Dennis Bakke that:

A special workplace has many ingredients. The feeling that you are part of a team, a sense of community, the knowledge that what you do has real purpose—all these things help make work fun. But by far the most important factor is whether people are able to use their individual talents and skills to do something useful, significant and worthwhile. When bosses make all the decisions, we are apt to feel frustrated and powerless, like overgrown children being told what to do by our parents.

By giving our people the freedom to use their talent and skill, we let them know that they’re needed and important. When talented people are allowed to make decisions within the organization, we foster success, hopefulness and yes, even joy.

Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job by Dennis Bakke is available to DLA associates with access to LMS (digital). Through LMS, access SkillSoft Books 24 x 7 and complete a search query. LMS site is DLA CAC enabled.