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How to Thrive and Create Joy at Work

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PING PONG
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Is it about flexible working, table tennis in the office, sleep pods or being transparent about salaries? How should businesses and entrepreneurs ensure the wellbeing and happiness of the people they work with?

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives" said American author Annie Dillard. Given that most of us spend a large number of those days at work, work comes to color and shape our lives as a whole. If you're lucky, your work is a way in which you find meaning in the world, a part of your life that feeds and energizes you. If you're less lucky, work can mean stress, sleep deprivation, unhealthiness or just plain boredom.

Where, when and how we work is coming under increased scrutiny. Not just for those employed by an organization -- as Richard Branson cited yesterday, "More joyful employees are more productive, creative and innovative". And now A-list entrepreneur Arianna Huffington and workplace pioneer Richard Sheridan have weighed in on the debate ... here's a little of what they had to say.

Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom and wonder

Arianna has been in conversation with her ancient Greek compatriots in her new book, which explores that eternal philosophical question -- what is a good life? Thrive asks us to question what success really means, arguing that "there's a collective longing to stop living in the shallows".

It took Arianna a nasty fall from overwork and stress to see the light. She likens the achievement of money and power by themselves as a two-legged stool -- eventually you'll topple over. The third leg of the stool is what she calls the 'third metric' which is built of four pillars -- well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.

Here are a few things I loved from Thrive:

  • "Life is shaped from the inside out." Thrive re-evaluates how work and success fits within the context of our whole lives. "We cannot thrive and lead the lives we want (as opposed to the lives we've settled for) without learning to go inward." Her discussion right at the beginning of the book about eulogies was powerful. Eulogies are never about how many hours we worked, or our job promotions -- they're about who and how we loved, our compassion, truthfulness, wisdom, humor: "A life that embraces the Third Metric is one lived in a way that's mindful of our eventual eulogy."
  • "Sleep your way to the top." We idolize leaders who get by on four or five hours sleep, seeing it as a sign of strength. Yet lack of sleep is bad for our health and for business. She cites specialists from Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine -- "Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions: the combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance". So, don't be shy to grab a 10-minute nap in the office -- at the HuffPost they have sleep pods for this very purpose.
  • "So, please, walk." If Arianna Huffington invites you on a hike, you'd be wise to go. Turns out she's made some big decisions and deals while stepping out with friends and colleagues. It's also hard (though not impossible -- just google 'texting while walking fails') to walk while on a digital device, so it's the perfect activity for taking some digital downtime and reconnecting with ourselves. It's also increasingly being seen as an antidote to depression.
  • "It shouldn't take a natural disaster for us to tap into our natural humanity." Giving is the final pillar of Arianna's Third Metric. "We are in the midst of multiple crises -- economic, environmental and social. And we cannot wait for a leader to ride in on a white horse to save us." Use what you have and where you are to create positive change.

Joy, Inc: How we built a workplace people love

I don't think I've described many business books as 'page turners.' But reading Richard Sheridan's opening story about his 'journey to joy' took me two stops past where I should have got off the tube for work and feeling -- well, quite joyous! His software company, Menlo Innovations, is the embodiment of his childhood dream. And the whole thing is built on "the business value of joy". Here are a few things I loved:

  • Menlo babies. Menlo's culture is one of experimentation. For me, the best story in the book is when Richard agreed on the spot to let one of his employees bring her three-month-old baby into the office every day as she couldn't find daycare. Despite the phantom HR department shouting no in his head (they didn't have a HR department!) it was an experiment that worked. There have been eight 'Menlo babies' since.
  • Be vulnerable. Sheridan talks passionately of sharing his vision for Menlo with the entire company so that they could feed in, challenge bits of it, but then ultimately come on board in a shared endeavor. And he takes developing others' leadership potential very seriously too. He trusts his team to take decisions without him and creates an environment in which they can feel safe to test their emerging leadership skills. Key to both is being accepting of vulnerability -- his and his team's.
  • "You'll never work alone". Nearly everyone at Menlo works in pairs - sharing computers, the mouse -- brainstorming and tackling problems together. Every week they switch partners, and often switching projects too. Their big open workspace is flexible and frequently remodeled by staff themselves to fit these new pairings and projects.
  • 40-hour work weeks. "We know the people who work the smartest and most conscientiously -- who produce the best results for their clients -- are people who know when to work and when to rest." At Menlo, it's not about ping-pong tables and interestingly, it's not about flexible work hours or work-from-home options. But they don't work long days, their vacation time doesn't expire, and they don't take their work on leave with them. Their focus on "sustaining the humans who work for us."

At the end of the book, Sheridan shares his lifelong inspiration -- Edison, the inventor he discovered from visiting Henry Ford's Edison Institute as a boy. The Institute's goal was to "create a museum that would not only record the past but would shape the future." It seems Richard Sheridan is creating a Menlo Park of our modern times, and the 2,000+ people who tour it every year to discover how to get joy in the workplace might in future be citing him as their inspiration for a better way of working.

We're in an age where people are questioning more and more how we spend our time, and to what end. As Roman Kznaric says, "We have entered a new age of fulfillment, in which the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning."

I believe those organizations that are driven by a meaningful purpose to make the world a better place, and work towards that goal in a way that gives people the chance to thrive and find joy are the ones that will succeed in the future. As with all the best things in life, this is a journey, and there are many innovations to come. Don't be shy to shape the organization in which you work. As Richard Sheridan puts it, "Every organization has invisible walls, walls that no one ever tests. Once tested, they can disappear like a morning fog."

How will you innovate?

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Virgin Unite to explore ways we can all thrive at work.It's also the subject of a Google Hangout on March 31, moderated by Guy Kawasaki and featuring Arianna Huffington and Richard Sheridan. Instagram or tweet your ideas and comments by using the hashtag #workthrivejoy.

Visit here to join us on Monday, March 31:

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