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  • Writer's pictureBrent Stromwall

Employee Joy Yields Employee Engagement

What’s all this about joy? As a business owner or leader, you are likely asking, “Why should I care about joy?” Here’s the short answer: You and your employees and teams will perform better – at your best – only when you all are in joy. That’s right, ONLY when you are all in joy. Read on if you want the long answer.

In Defining Joy in a Team I wrote: “When everyone is glad to be together working on what matters the team’s solutions are better, the performance excels, communication is seamless, and everyone is more satisfied with the work.” Why or how does this happen? And how do we tap into this rocket fuel for teams? It all comes down to how our brains operate.

Modern brain science has shown that our we are actually created with two brains that each perform a unique set of necessary functions. Most of us are not aware that these functions are occurring in different parts of our brain. The left brain is our cognitive brain and does the majority of the logical, problem-solving, verbal work. The right brain does the work regarding how we relate to our world, and how it relates to us. This includes regulating emotions, awareness of others, nonverbal “sensing” and communication. We are not strictly logical beings (a la, Mr. Spock from Star Trek, one of my favorite television shows growing up). Yet, many of us default to operate primarily using the left brain in life – especially our work lives. When employees, a team, business, or organization is operating with both brains fully functional and in synch, they will achieve much greater results and enjoy each other while working (Learn more about the left and right brains here: Logical or Relational: The Anatomy of an Ideal Team.).

Most people are operating from primarily the left brain. This limits them to cognitive thought, verbal processing, intellect, tasks, analysis, fighting to be right, etc.. They tend to be rigid, non-collaborative, and non-compassionate as they interact and address any problems. The right side is not being accessed. We call this having our relational circuits off.

I was with a client recently who wanted to address his “interpersonal tactics” – the methods he used to communicate with his employees while addressing a problem. I’ll call him Greg. Greg described the situation and told me what he said and what messages he sent his employee via text. Bottom line, a mistake was made, the business lost money, and he wanted it fixed. He also wanted the employee to change their behavior in future, similar circumstances. His communication was very direct, short, and to the point. He communicated his expectations clearly as well as the consequences (to the business) of not behaving differently. Most executives would applaud him for his communications. However, Greg was not utilizing the right side of his brain (his relational circuits). He was simply being logical – using only the left side of his brain. He solved the problem but had no consideration for the other person. Greg was not being relational.

“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask, “Sounds like he did what any ‘good’ leader would do.” Consider that his employee felt slighted, belittled, and talked down to as merely a profit monkey. Greg did not ask why he had made the decision or discussed how to help modify the thought process. Nor did he reinforce the positive growth to their relationship that Greg wanted. The employee felt condemned. Have you ever felt that way when you’re on the receiving end of a similar conversation - whether with a boss or peer? Did you feel like a part of the team? Did you feel like you had a say in the solution? Did you want to engage in constructive dialog, or just get away and hide? Or, maybe fight back to make your point?

When the right brain is engaged and working in synch with the left, the functions from the right prefrontal cortex are engaged. Here are some of the functions gained in the interaction: goal-directed behavior (thinking ahead), flexibility, openness to creative solutions, curiosity and interest in other perspectives, regulating emotions (controlling outbursts), focus and attention, impulse control, collaboration, and recognizing others feelings.[1]

Imagine if everyone on your team was operating with all of these functions engaged while they are trying to solve a problem for the business. Imagine that everyone is hearing creative ideas from one another; considering creative, long-term solutions; keeping outbursts of disagreement squelched while engaged in healthy debate; and listening to each other intently with genuine curiosity, all while at the same time enjoying working together. This is a joy-filled team: remaining relational while addressing problems together.

A joy-filled team is more effective, creative, collaborative, and efficient – and enjoys being together! When everyone feels a sense of belonging, created with joy, they will bring their best and do their best. (Do I Belong Here?) Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? You and your team(s) can achieve this as you learn to be relational, grow your emotional maturity, and create group identity. We’ll address the need for more emotional leaders in an upcoming article.

[1] List is not comprehensive and is compiled from various sources: Barbara Moon, Joy-filled Relationship (Georgia: CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2012) 73-74; Deni Huttula, “What are RCs and why do I need them anyway?,” Life Model Works, February 12, 2015,; and Karl Lehman, M.D., Outsmarting Yourself: Catching Your Past Invading Your Present and What to Do about It, (Libertyville, IL: This JOY! Books, 2011), 101

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