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The Secret to Happiness

Joseph Alonzo

How to Inspire and Engage Employees

Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth, in his 2011 TED talk, discussed what he observed while attempting to identify the link between living in the present moment and happiness. What he found was that we’re often happiest when we’re lost in the moment, and conversely, the more our mind wonders, the more likely we are to become unhappy.  Keep this in mind as I share with you a recent adventure that resulted in an unexpected epiphany. 

A few weekends ago, I learned something new about myself.  It turns out that I prefer going to the ballet over going to the ballpark.  Now, this is quite a confession considering the family and friends I’ve grown with, and that I’m far more familiar with sport than I am dance. I do enjoy watching sports on television, and attending a live event is truly an exciting experience of tribalism; however, it is rare that I find myself lost in a moment.  At a baseball game, for example, I am mindful of stadium size and energy, the friends I am with, the cultural norms I am adopting, and the phenomenal skill of each player.  Games, however, seldom lure me into a trance in which I forget that I am an observer and instead become a part of what I’m observing.


There is something very special about watching someone who has dedicated their life to mastering a craft perform before you.  It’s inspiring, and the residual effects of an inspiring experience can linger and carry great potential for influencing our attitude and behaviors.     

My experience with ballet, as I reflected on that night, was transformative in nature.   The depth of emotion and the marrying of artistic expression—skill, creative musical and kinesthetic interpretation—all swimming together in a sensory stew, contributed to a crippling of conscious awareness.  What occurred then was transference of inspiration, and its flow trickled down to me in a fashion such as this:  A musician was inspired to compose, which inspired a choreographer to create movement that inspired dancers to embody that movement, which created within me inspired potential.  Inspiration is an elusive experience.  It is difficult to create and nearly impossible to sustain, and so we channel it into works relative to our interests.  Inspiration appears in many forms, so it would not be beyond the scope of definition to say that it is an intrinsic desire to act often initiated by external stimuli.

So, I’m moved to wonder, how might workplaces play a role in inspiring employees?  This question assumes that workplaces can create an experience that will manifest into an inspired employee, and that inspired employees will transfer that feeling into an inspired work, rather than just let it fizzle out.   Perhaps it’s presumptuous to suggest that inspiration can be manufactured with the intent of transforming it into productivity, but how’s one to know unless it is pursued?  By actively creating opportunities for inspiration, these questions are being explored and answered by several Best Companies. In one of last week’s blog, Fast Facts from this year’s Best, several behavioral trends emerged amongst the Best Small and Medium Workplaces that struck a common chord.

 The offering of unlimited sick time and either on-site or subsidized off-site gym membership, for instance, encourages employees that their workplace cares for, and values, their health.   The option of compressed work weeks provides the flexibility necessary for a balanced life. College tuition reimbursement displays faith in the virtues of employee development and its cumulative effect on the collective workplace.  Each of these facets, encouragement, flexibility, and faith, it should be pointed out, have motivational and inspirational modalities.  And, when workplaces choose to embed such practices into their culture it suggests that they care, not only about inspiring employees, but for the holistic wellbeing of their employees.  This, I believe, is the new paradigm of workplace ethics, which acts on the notion that when employees are cared for, they will, in return, care for the workplace. 

Now, that is inspiring.      

Read more on the 2012 Best Small & Medium Workplaces and how they successfully inspire and engage their employees.

Joseph holds a Master’s in Organizational Development from Saybrook University, and is an education and innovation consultant in the San Francisco, Bay Area.  Joseph is a guest blogger for Great Place to Work®.


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