Work has in human history not been often associated with pleasure. In french the word for the work “travail” comes from the latin tripalium, a torture instrument, whereas in German it is derivated from “arebeit” meaning effort and pain.
Everybody would agree that a worker enjoying his work will be more happy and performant. However it seems that in many companies, pleasure is not well regarded in the corporate culture.
In a time where it is difficult to attract and retain talents, pleasure in the job should be in the focus of every coach and manager. In this article, we look at the most important factors for enjoyment at work.
Understanding pleasure at work
Fun at work is only pleasure at the surface
The company Google is famous for providing a fun environment at work. In their office you will see employees playing babyfoot or tobogganing.
Providing employees with such funny games may give them some pleasure, but it does not change much in their experience with their tasks, which represents at least 95% of the time at work. It is just improving pleasure at the surface.
Understanding the purpose of work is not sufficient
Leaders have known for years that to motivate employees, they have to give more purpose, explaining the “why” of what we are doing.
Take a salesman who is stressed by a competitive environment and does have pleasure while persuading customers. Explaining him the purpose of his job and giving him a company car, won’t change the fact that is more suffering than enjoying the selling activity.
Pleasure is mostly influenced by the experience with the task itself, rather than from its worthwhileness.
People excelling in their domain enjoy what they do
How can we explain that a virtuoso is able to spend 10 years practicing several hours per day (14,600 hours) with their instrument?
Some may argue that it is all about achieving personal goals and discipline. If we look at most people excelling in their domain, it is clear that they have personal drive, but they also enjoy what they are doing more than others.
The violin virtuoso Renaud Capucon was already passionate about music and the instrument at the age of 4, although his parents had few connections to classical music . His pleasure with music allowed him to practice longer than others and become a worldwide recognized performer.
How could we explain that 4 years old kids enjoy some activities more than others ?
According to a study published in Psychological Science , a part of the pleasure response is partly influenced by genetic variations. It explains why some kinds immediatly enjoy some activities and others not. The pleasure perceived by a kid with an activity is later strengthended by his positive experiences.
The difference between happiness and pleasure
Happiness is a pleasant sensation coming from fulfilled needs. According to professor Robert Lustig, an american specialist about neuroendocrinology, the molecule of pleasure is dopamine whereas the one for happiness is serotonin.
According researchers, criteria for happiness are universal and comes when the human needs of the maslow pyramid are fulfilled .
While happiness can be felt in the long term, pleasure is linked to a particular event. Pleasure is an excitement which helps us to be more creative and be more efficient at work.
Looking only to short term reward without fullfilling long term needs would make us unhappy. So pleasure has to be more considered like a support to active all our ressources and reach long terms goals with delayed gratification .
Increasing pleasure at work
Put the pleasure in the focus of your team
The first action to increase pleasure is to talk about it! Do team members enjoy what they are doing?
With TeamMeter you can regularly assess the happiness and pleasure levels in your team with anonymous surveys. Start a retrospective and decide actions with your team to increase pleasure at work.
Make a list of all activities with your team and request your team to evaluate on a scale between 1 and 5 his pleasure level for the tasks. By doing this you can quickly identify activities you may improve to maintain a high level of pleasure in the team.
Help people to find the task they love!
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.Confucius
As we have seen earlier, pleasure at work is something very individual, so the easiest way to increase pleasure at work is to help people to find what they really like to do.
When you want to staff a position, ask the candidate about moments when he particularly enjoyed his work and what is doing in his free time. It will give a lot of information about what they really like to do. Does the candidate love to solve technical problems, to be creative or to create harmony in a group?
Then match it to the activities related to the position and estimate with the candidate how much pleasure the person is likely to feel in his job.
Hiring should be not only based on what people can do, but also about what people love to do.
Associate work with pleasure
Pleasure does not come only from genetics but also linked to positive emotions that we have felt in the past during activities .
In the positive reinforcement described by the psychologist B.F Skinner, the pleasure response is increased by strengthened by reward .
By celebrating small successes, we associate positive emotions with the activity and then increase pleasure response for the next occurence.
Here are some examples of actions to associate work with pleasure:
- Celebrate when you win a customer, for instance by hitting a gong or a bell.
- Encourage positive feedback.
- Crack some jokes about work.
Some people like challenges, so encourage them to define goals they could achieve during the day and celebrate their realization.
Every positive emotion that you can associate with work will have a significant impact on pleasure in the long term.
Pleasure is something very individual and partly influenced by genetics. It helps us to persevere and excel in what we do, like for virtuosos do.
Increasing pleasure at work is primarily about helping people to find the activities they really love to do.
To maintain a high level of pleasure in the long term, connect work with positive emotions, for instance by celebrating success and exchanging positive feedback.
Pleasure helps us to activate all our resources to pursue long term goals and reach authentic happiness.
- Renaud Capuçon « Mes parents m’ont laissé réaliser ce qui était mon rêve »
- “Inheritance of Neural Substrates for Motivation and Pleasure”
- Motivation: neurophysiology of the pleasure of working – Bruna Nava
- Le Plaisir au Travail – Francis Boyer – Editions Eyrolles
- Needs and Subjective Well-Being Around the World