What we can learn about the importance of joy in the workplace from a dude who loves trains

Meet Francis.

Francis loves trains.

I don’t give a hoot about trains. But when I watch him watch trains, I feel happy.

The world might seem a bit frazzled, fractured and fraught with tough stuff. Francis’s Instagram page, on the other hand, is pure unbridled joy and enthusiasm.

You might be wondering: what on earth does an Instagram guy who loves trains have to do with a leadership blog? It all comes down to this phenomenon called emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is a form of social contagion that involves the spontaneous spread of emotions and related behaviours – and it’s here that we find our link.

You see, in the workplace, emotional contagion can pack a big punch. And although it works both ways – with both negative and positive emotions – happiness, as it turns out, is more contagious than unhappiness.

Research suggests that joy can act as a powerful social contagion in our workplaces. It makes a big difference to employee morale and productivity. Studies have shown that when individuals experience genuine joy at work, it tends to spread among their colleagues via conversations, expressions, and even non-verbal cues. This phenomenon creates a positive feedback loop, fostering a more cohesive and harmonious work environment.

But here’s where leaders play an even bigger role: leaders who exhibit authentic joy and enthusiasm can influence the emotional climate of the workplace, leading to increased job satisfaction and team cohesion. And, it also turns out, that a culture of joy in the workplace not only benefits individual wellbeing but also links to better organisational performance.

So how can leaders make more like Francis? Here are four ways you can foster joy and positive emotional contagion with your team:

  1. Lead by example:You set the tone for the atmosphere in your team. It doesn’t mean being Pollyanna-ish all the time but be aware of your moods’ impact on others. By showing positivity, hope, enthusiasm, and joy with your team, it can inspire others to do the same. When they see you emanating positivity, they’re more likely to mirror that behaviour.
  2. Foster a supportive environment:Encourage open communication and build trust. See this post I wrote on why this should be your first priority as a leader.  If your team feel valued, respected, and supported, and when they feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie, it fosters positive emotions.
  3. Celebrate the wins and foster gratitude:Acknowledge and celebrate both the wins of individual team members and the team as a whole. It’s easy to get focused on what’s not working, but – as you go along – be purposeful about reflecting on progress and small wins. This kind of recognition will boost your team’s morale and instil a sense of pride in their work. Celebrating milestones, whether big or small, creates opportunities for shared joy and reinforces a culture of positivity.
  4. Encourage people to share their passions:A few weeks ago, in a coaching session, my client was facing a challenge and we used the metaphor of their passion for golf to help access new ideas. When they started talking about their passion for golf, it switched up their energy and provided access to better problem solving. I also felt uplifted by their discussion of one of their favourite things; there’s that social contagion again.

Joy is infectious. Passion is contagious. Genuine enthusiasm in others lifts our spirits.

So let’s bring a bit of the Francis magic into our workplaces. And thank you train guy, for lifting my spirits every time I see you watch trains.

1 Comment

  1. Tanya Houghton on March 20, 2024 at 8:04 am

    Love this post Suzi and esp love the joy of the train watching clip. Def heading off to the office with a grin on my face!!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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