May 3, 2024

Why Joy at Work is Profitable

My journey to championing joy at work began when I got fired.

Let me rewind a little bit and tell you a little story about a student called Maisie. I worked in a school of 300ish students as the Director of Assessment and Feedback. Standardized Testing and Report Cards and Conferences — your favorite, right?

Yeah, everyone was stressed: the teachers, the students, the families. AND TESTING WAS SERIOUS. Accreditation, funding, enrollment (oh, and actual educational work) all depended on accurate testing in some way. 

One afternoon, I sat in my tiny office as the recess sounds of students laughing, balls bouncing, and voices squealing floated through the window. Could I make testing feel like that? Or could I at least start with joy in mind and make this better? It was worth the try.

Instead of the traditional end-of-year testing frenzy, we moved the tests to January. We spread them out to avoid overload. I even sent home kits filled with bouncy balls, bubble wrap, and encouragement to approach testing with curiosity and ease.

Maisie was one of those stressed kiddos. In 3rd grade, this was her first year of testing. She’d heard the horror stories and felt the intense stress that permeated the school every spring.

As the testing season closed that year, Maisie’s mom, Ginger, set a bright purple gift bag on my desk. I pulled out a name plaque: “Director of Good Moods.”

“Ginger! What is this for?”

She then went into a hilarious impression of Maisie, “Mom! Testing is the best. We get animal crackers and cheese sticks. We play a game before we start, and get EXTRA recess. And I’ll have to do is do the things we already learn in school!”

I’d already seen the score reports. Our students scored in the top 25%, many scoring much higher. But Maisie’s experience confirmed my theory. Joy made the work better.

Three years later, the U.S. Department of Education recognized us as a Blue Ribbon School, an honor only awarded to 50 private schools each year. 

The Current Lack of Joy

I imagine you’ve got a few stressful experiences that routinely plague you at work. I hear phrases like this when you talk to me at events, reply to my emails, and fill my DMs.

“I just don’t know why my work matters.”
“This stress is so much, but everyone else is stressed too.”
“I have to just keep going until XYZ. Then it will be better.”
“I feel so stuck and lost. But what else am I going to do.”
“I’m just exhausted. The pressure is ridiculous.”

You’re not alone. it’s an epidemic across the world.

A few weeks ago, I was digging deep into work-related stress research for my book. And study after study showed the rising challenge of workplace stress and its impact on people, performance, productivity, and profitability.

Here is just a sample:

  • Gallup just reported engagement hit an 11-year low in April 2024.
  • Headspace published in its Workplace State of Mind 2024 that work stress has negatively impacted the physical health of 77% of employees.
  • Zippia 2023 research found more than 65% of employees find it difficult to concentrate because of their work environment, compared to 46% in 2018.

And listen, this one from Zippia’s 2023 research roundup floored me. I felt the tears sting my eyes as I read, “Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs” each year.”

We’re literally dying from lack of joy.

Most leaders believe positive culture and joy are a nice to have. It’s like, “Sure, if I get that, great.” When actually, joy is the heartbeat of a healthy organization.  

Joy is the center of how we get all the things that we need at work, including profit. 

Joy, positive culture, and people power skills (if you call them soft skills, I will challenge you like Ingio Montoya) feel squishy and theoretical. 

So I’m offering you an image the aqueduct and the arch.

The Aqueduct and the Arch

Every civilization in all of time has needed water, and a river was the most common source — until the Romans invented the aqueduct. A river flows unintentionally, following the path of least resistance. The aqueduct led water to the exact places it was needed.

If we can imagine water as culture, a river avoids the hard decisions, avoids the hard conversations, and avoids the patience it takes to be people-centered, leaving so many places nearly uninhabitable.

Then we have the aqueduct, bring the water exactly where we want it to go. Intentionally centering joy, embracing complex people, cultivating communication skills, and dealing with hard conversations so flourishing spreads through an organization.

What supports this structure is the Roman arch. An arch has two footers and a keystone. The keystone locks the stones in place, distributes the weight evenly, and allows the arch to uphold the entire structure.

Upholding a positive culture is an arch with footers of curiosity and connection. The keystone: joy. 

How Joy Creates Success

I define joy as intense happiness from a feeling of deep connection and appreciation and experiencing something greater than ourselves.

When Ginger walked in with the Director of Good Moods plaque…that was joy. When I saw testing results that accurately showed our student’s progress…that was joy. Now, when I get messages from clients like, “We are communicating so much better. The friction is disappearing”… that’s joy.

Sure, Jenn, those feel good. But what about profit? Well, here’s some data:

  • Inspired employees who experience joy at work are 143% more productive than disengaged employees, according to Michael Mankins of Bain & Company.
  • Joyful employees are 3 1/2 times more likely to help someone else and improve the group performance by 25%, reports Gitnux Marketdata Report 2024.
  • Companies with healthy cultures are more profitable and have higher stock market returns. According to research from FTSE Russell, organizations with positive culture outperform the market by a factor of 3.36.

But it’s more than that. What about you? What does joy at work look like for you?

When I got fired a couple of years after being named a Blue Ribbon school, the organization had lost its joy. From a place of joy and student-centered focus to pleasing large donors so we could get a fancy building. The keystone of the arch crumbled, and we caved in. 

Because without joy, then entire structure crumbles.

The good news? You can restore joy in your work, bringing life and flourishing to yourself, your team, and your entire organization.

If you want help figuring out your next step to bringing joy to work and creating that positive culture, let’s chat.


  1. […] Brown teaches we cannot “selectively numb.” So in order to experience the joy we talked about as the keystone of healthy culture, as well as happiness and excitement and fascination and wonder, we have to be willing to feel […]


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