Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job by Dennis W. Bakke. Pear Press. 314 pages. 2006
The author, who was CEO of AES, an energy company, writes that his passion is to make work exciting, rewarding, stimulating, and enjoyable. He states that this is a book for people who want more from their jobs than a paycheck and a benefits package. He believes that the workplace should be fun and fulfilling. He writes that 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.
The author strongly believes that people should be able to bring many of their basic beliefs about life into an organization. He believes that there is a transcendent truth behind principles like integrity and justice that does not and should not change over time and should certainly not be adjusted because of economic setbacks. While our understanding of the values may change with time, the values and principles themselves are timeless.
He writes that there is little disagreement that the corporate values at AES arose out of the personal values of the co-founders. He discusses how the transformation of personal values to organizational values is accomplished with the word “shared.” Shared implies that members of an organization agree on the definition and importance of a value.
He states that the values articulated by many companies have only a minimal effect on how they conduct their businesses. But values and principles mean something only when they affect everything we do, every day of the week. He believes that we should attempt to live according to a set of unchanging shared ethical principles, because it is the right way to live.
He believes that for the most part, 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. He states that the label “human resources” has a dehumanizing connotation – and I agree! We have financial resources, fuel resources, and human resources.
He states that in his experience, most people don’t believe that fun and work can coexist. But he writes that the key to joy at work is the personal freedom to take actions and make decisions using individual skills and talents. The author tells us that a special workplace has many ingredients, with the most important factor being when people are able to use their individual talents and skills to do something useful, significant, and worthwhile.
He shares some of the practices he followed at AES in an effort to make it a more fun place to work, beginning with the belief that joy at work starts with individual initiative and individual control. They attempted to design a workplace where the maximum number of individuals have an opportunity to make important decisions, undertake actions of importance to the success of the organization, and assume responsibility for the results.
AES was organized around multi-skilled, self-managed teams. The primary factor in determining whether people experience joy or drudgery in the workplace is the degree to which they control their work. By “control,” he means making decisions and taking responsibility for them. The amount of fun in an organization is largely a function of the number of individuals allowed to make decisions.
The author believed in decentralization, limiting the number of people in the home office, central staff, and senior executive offices. He believed that every decision made at headquarters takes away responsibility from people elsewhere in the organization and reduces the number of people who feel they are making an effective contribution to the organization.
He believes that moral leaders serve an organization rather than control it, with their goal being to create a community that encourages individuals to take the initiative, practice self-discipline, make decisions, and assume responsibility for their actions.
He writes that one of the most difficult lessons he had to learn is that leadership is not about managing people. He writes that a leader’s character is far more important than their skills. He states that the most important character traits of a leader who embraces the principles and values championed in the book are humility; the willingness to give up power; courage; integrity; and love and passion for the people, values, and mission of the organization. He states that humility is at the core of a leader’s heart. He states that the most important aspect of this leadership style is letting others make important decisions. When that happens, leaders dignify and honor their subordinates.
He writes about love in the workplace. He states that love pushes us to do whatever it takes to help others succeed, and that leaders who create dynamic, rewarding, enjoyable workplaces love people. He believes that love is the final and crucial ingredient in a joy-filled workplace.
He states that being passionate about your people and what they do is a key characteristic of a leader who can make work a joyful experience, and that the key to a great workplace is the freedom to make important decisions and take responsibility for the results.
He writes that most AES board members loved his approach primarily because they believed it pushed the stock price up, not because it was the “right” way to operate an organization. Throughout the book, the author is open about mistakes he made as the leader of AES.
He writes about the importance of our work, stating that the idea that daily secular work is spiritually inferior comes to its ultimate destruction in the person of Jesus of Nazareth—the Carpenter. He indicates that nearly every kind of work is significant, if it is consistent with the person’s calling and the person is working to glorify and worship God.
He writes that Biblical leadership requires those in authority to serve the people they lead. Leaders do whatever it takes to allow followers to use their talents effectively. Good leaders delegate decisions and create an environment in which others can manage God’s world.
He writes that he can recall only two or three visits to his place of work by one of his pastors in 30 years, and doubts he is an exception. He writes that if our daily work is a sacred calling from God, pastors and priests should come to the workplace often.
You may not agree with how the author defines joy at work, but I believe you would benefit from reading this book.