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originally posted by Jamey Baumgardt: (link) - please comment at original post

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of employment, specifically about how most of us typically spend about a third of our lives at work, getting ready to go to work, on our way to work, or thinking about work. That’s an awful lot of work! If you are lucky (like I am), you receive a regular paycheck in return for your services. This is the social construct in which we operate. This is the contract we sign when we take a job.

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, it would be called “fun” instead of “work”, and our unemployment rate would probably be much lower. But no, even if you are lucky enough to have a job you honestly love doing, you will still encounter hardship, frustration and disappointment. There are a lot of reasons for this, and obviously the nature of most of our work has to do with problem-solving and overcoming challenges, and frankly hardship and frustration are just part of the deal.

But I think there are other reasons why work isn’t always fun, reasons that are perhaps not as well understood, and in my experience, often overlooked entirely. I believe each and every one of us has passion and interests and abilities, both inside and outside our defined roles within the companies for whom we work, and that more often than not, our individual passion is not being realized during the third of our lives we spend making a paycheck. And that sad fact is the source of our discontent.

It goes without saying that happy workers are productive workers. Any good manager knows this, and most successful companies do what they can to keep their peeps relatively happy. However I would posit that this endeavor, to keep employees productive and engaged, might be easier than conventional wisdom may dictate. Maybe it’s not so much about free Snapple in the break room or pinball machines or foosball tables. Maybe that XBox and HD TV and keg-O-rator that gets rolled out each Friday at 4:00 in the afternoon isn’t really cutting it. Perhaps those things are mere bandaids, temporary fixes at stemming an inevitable tide. Perhaps they even do more harm than good, coming across as condescending or even appearing as gross bribery.

So, what then?

Passion. I truly believe that for us humans to be happy, really happy, our passions must be realized daily in our lives. The message here is really two-fold. I alluded earlier to the notion that we all have passion and interests and talent, both in and outside of our work. Sometimes these two realms (for the very lucky among us) can overlap. Regardless, both are equally important.

If a company wants to keep its staff happy, loyal and productive, I argue that they must find a way to harness each individual’s unique passion. But that’s only half of it. Secondarily, I would also argue that the company should, as much as it can, support each individual’s interests outside of work as well.

By engaging the employee’s particular talents or areas of interest and expertise inside the workplace, you are guaranteed a higher level of production as a direct result of his or her increase in personal satisfaction. Sometimes this means creating a new role to fit the individual, but that’s ok. I’d much rather break an org chart than lose a valuable employee. It can also mean shifting or modifying the company’s business goals to accommodate an area of focus or interest, but that’s ok too, as long as it’s within reason. I’d rather give a couple talented employees a shot at proving their particular idea than have them leave and try it out elsewhere.

By supporting employees’ out-of-work interests as well, you not only help increase levels of happiness and production even further, but you also build trust, loyalty, and even maybe a sense of family. If the message to employees comes across as “you are recognized as unique individuals with talents and interests in life that we want to support”, and you follow through by acting on this sentiment, you will see a happier, healthier workforce. And acting on this idea can be as simple as allowing flexible schedules, within reason, to, for instance, accommodate Bill’s training for that triathlon, or Jill’s once-a-week afternoon judo class. Whatever your employees’ extracurricular activities are, find them out and figure out a way that the company can support them. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

So yes, I suppose free beverages and an XBox in the workplace are pretty cool, and sure, they’ll go a certain distance in keeping folks happy, at least for awhile. But for companies truly interested in attracting the best talent out there, getting them on board, and then keeping them engaged, productive and happy, more has to be done. Each individual’s passion must be realized and harnessed, to both benefit the company and the individuals themselves. Areas of interest at work must be identified, encouraged and nurtured. Outside interests should also be recognized, supported and accommodated as much as possible. Doing so will only make us all that much healthier and happier.

After all, we are all just trying to live our lives one day at a time, together. There’s no good reason why we can’t all try to make “work” just a little more “fun” too.

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