Perhaps the basic melancholy nature of Finns is to blame, but it was much harder to find causes of joy than ways to eliminate it. A brief review of my own working life experiences brought to mind some unpleasant moments when the behaviour of a supervisor or colleague caused me to feel underestimated, “watched” or even embarrassed. One concrete memory of ending a joyful moment occurred when I and my colleagues were told to stop laughing at the workplace. Our supervisor at the time was annoyed by the sound of women giggling in the coffee room.

Our group identified finding a scapegoat to blame for mistakes as one the most important ways to snuff out joy or creativity. We all make mistakes, and that’s fine as long as we don’t make the same mistake again and again. Trying, testing and even failing allows us to develop things. Good products and services are often the result of learning and making mistakes. It’s impossible to know everything in advance or even carefully plan it all out in advance. That’s why we need experiments and the courage to take a leap into the unknown.

Promoting a culture of experimentation requires the acceptance of failure without fear of consequences.  An internal Nokia mem was recently leaked to the Talouselämä magazine. The article speculated on the company possibly shutting down its health technology business. Without expressing an opinion on the Nokia article itself, I liked the central message in the memo: “Failing fast isn’t failure, it is accelerated learning.”

Exactly. A work community that learns and succeeds is a place where people are not afraid to talk about mistakes and no-one is side-lined if something goes wrong. People become cautious and timid if the prevailing atmosphere in a work community is one that punishes errors rather than permitting them. Creativity, development of new ideas, and experimentation will inevitably end, and we will become the type of “I just work here” employees who simply perform their job.

The human mind is a wonderful thing, because that “I just work here” attitude is simply not enough for most of us. If you JUST work, it’s hard to get much joy out of it. Joy of work is greatest when we succeed in a difficult task or project. A sense of challenge makes us work hard and seeing the eventual results gives us energy and joy. I did it. I was successful. And sharing that feeling of success makes it even better. We did it!

Joy of work is an emotional state based on a person’s strong motivation about really wanting to do their work and an understanding of what they are actually doing at work and why. According to this definition, joy at work can be influenced – at least indirectly – by promoting internal motivation.

Studies show that job motivation can be affected by giving people autonomy, or independence related to performing their work. Motivation is also enhanced by perceptions of personal ability, in other words, knowing how to do the work and being capable of it. This can be influenced by feedback and competence development. And thirdly, people want to be part of a team – a sense of belonging and community is important at work. I would add a fourth point, which is safety – a safe environment in which to fail and develop, a safe environment to be yourself and discuss different matters honestly.

If the sum of these three or four factors is motivation that simultaneously produces joy at work, they are worth the effort. None of us wants to spend two-thirds of the day in a boring environment when the alternative is a happy and learning work community that is also certain to be much more productive.