In describing the tendency for adulthood to drive the wonder and joy of discovery out of our lives, Matthew McConaughey proposes a phrase to encapsulate this loss of enthusiasm: “We grow up to learn worse”. We still learn, to be sure, but it’s a more solemn affair—absent the whimsy and excitement of childhood. What if we could reclaim that wonder—that lightheartedness—in our work environments?
What does lightheartedness mean in the business world?
First of all, let’s clear away any misconceptions about how we’re using the term. Lightheartedness doesn’t involve shirking duties. It isn’t making light of serious issues at inappropriate times. And it doesn’t involve any other practices that could potentially damage a business’ bottom line. While it may be a reason to sometimes think like a child, it’s not clearance to act like one.
In reality, a lighthearted business is one in which “people can be themselves… where [people] like what [they] are doing, and where the whole team has fun working together”. These descriptors, from Alexandra Chordas, give us a much clearer picture of the lighthearted business world.
“That fun and sense of connection, in turn, drove productivity,” Chordas continues. And, to be sure, this should be our focus. The cliché that one who enjoys their work will never work a day in their life finds relevance here.
Positive Workplaces Yield Positive Results
If the workplace is positive and enjoyable, it’s unsurprising that employees who enjoy coming to work will be happier to perform their duties. And perform better as they do. You probably know this from experience.
Think of a time you felt overwhelmed or otherwise unhappy at work, and your boss lightened the mood. Maybe she made a joke, or reminded you that you were trusted, or simply thanked you for your efforts. When these moments make you feel better, does your work feel easier or harder? Are you more or less able to get back into it? Chordas is correct: lightheartedness increases productivity.
How Do You Create a Culture of Lightheartedness?
The previous examples are good captures of levity in the moment. But what kind of practices can create a more consistent lightheartedness? Nick Horton uses CashLinq Group as an example of a business that has built lightheartedness into its day-to-day operations.
From day one, CashLinq employees receive a Nerf gun, and Nerf wars are a common occurrence in the workplace. If that weren’t enough, employees are encouraged to celebrate holidays like Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day and International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
As Horton explains, “CashLinq’s workplace atmosphere may be slightly mischievous, but its mission is anything but silly”. This assessment effectively designs the ideal lighthearted workplace. One that is designed with levity and employee happiness in mind, but still fully focused on its business goals.
Let’s explore a few more ways you can create a more lighthearted atmosphere in your own workplace, and reap the benefits of increased employee satisfaction and productivity.
Lightheartedness Starts with Leadership
Kazim Ladimeji urges leading the charge from the top to truly build a culture of lightheartedness. “There’s no point trying to build a more lighthearted culture if you are going to undermine it all with sour-faced managers and a frowning CEO,” he argues, and he’s right.
Let’s apply this concept to our CashLinq example. Imagine if employees were exhorted to accept a Nerf gun and celebrate fun holidays, but every time they did so in the office, they were admonished and met with disappointment. The lightheartedness won’t feel genuine to anyone. The situation might actually lower morale—the disparity between management’s policies and behaviors might make the lighthearted initiatives feel like a trap, or a false promise.
Ladimeji also encourages hiring people who can use humor well in the workplace. This might not be as easy as picking the candidate who makes interviewers laugh the most, but it can be extremely rewarding to your team in the long run.
Lightheartedness is a Quality to Look for in Candidates
In interviews, pursue candidates whose answers to questions, work history, and general demeanor suggest that they both take their positions seriously and are able to see the positives in negative situations.
You’re not looking for a class clown, but a person who can bring others up when they’re down. This person is consistently hardworking and capable and possesses the interpersonal skills needed to know when to add some appropriate comedy to difficult moments.
With a few of these kinds of people on your team—especially working under a like-minded owner or manager—you’ll lift spirits all year round through an asset who already generates their own value.
Lift Others Up
Finally, recognize achievement. Chordas cites Michael Kerr’s article “Employee Recognition is Meaningful” to help you make recognition as impactful and positive as possible. Ask questions like “Who would the person most appreciate receiving the honor from?”. Similarly, “Is the honor bestowed in a manner that the person would appreciate?”
These questions help you get at a particularly enjoyable aspect of lightheartedness in business: the personal touch. One-size-fits-all, uniform modes of praise and operation have nothing lighthearted about them, but rewarding her sales by giving Ciara a souvenir desk figurine from her favorite movie definitely does. The possibilities are broad, and lend themselves perfectly to individual attention and levity.
Your workplace doesn’t need to slow down to become lighthearted—in fact, making it more lighthearted will almost definitely speed things up. Productivity will rise as people enjoy coming to work more. And with built-in initiatives that promote lightheartedness and are backed by upbeat leadership, the trend will quickly become a lasting part of your company culture.
Do you consider your company to have a lighthearted culture? Do you think it would benefit from a more lighthearted culture? What steps might you take to bring more levity to your workplace?