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Happy at Work

The energy is amazing. You can feel it throughout this large room I currently occupy. I’m one of many individuals. Pockets of groups and lone individuals all here to enjoy a coffee or another beverage of choice. The place you probably are guessing is Starbucks and your guess is correct. It’s a large Starbucks with many tables for people to spread out and just hang out. Some people come in get their order and out they go. Some, like me, are hanging out. I’m writing this post. People are reading, watching videos on tablets, talking, and conducting business. But the purpose of this post is to point out something about the workers at this Starbucks.

I’ve been here for about 4 hours and I’ve watched like a researcher just taking note of my observations. The connection I’m making as I watch them work is with a book I am currently reading entitled “How to Be Happy at Work” by Annie McKee.

The work is busy. I would even say it is stressful for them. Yet, I am seeing that they are enjoying themselves. They exude a togetherness and a commitment to each other. I sense they are happy. McKee writes in the opening of her book that it takes three simple but profound things to obtain happiness at work, Purpose, Hope, and Friendship. I don’t mean to come off as dismissive or conceded but I’m keenly aware of my biases as I observe. It’s just coffee. The work, lensed through my biases, does not seem satisfying to me. I would be unsatisfied doing the work. It does not seem like something that would engage me or come close to making me happy. However, as I sit here, I am envious of what these workers have. They seem just so unbelievably engaged. They have co-workers who are helpful and obviously care about the success of the team and each other individually. It’s just so striking and inspiring.

McKee writes that we need purpose at work. Purpose is a belief that what we do matters and that others we work with value what we do. These Starbucks employees have that in volumes. They rely on each other to make each customer experience a success. From the moment the customer walks in and gives her order and through the entire process. They have a purpose. There is the greeting at the beginning, “Welcome in. Thanks for coming to Starbucks.” The greeting sets the tone for the rest of the team. It is a call out. There is a valued customer entering, get ready to do your very best to please them. PURPOSE. Now once the order is in and the details of payment are completed the teamwork really kicks in as they get to work. It’s blindingly obvious that they know that they must work together to get this right. One team member takes the food part of the order and prepares. The drink order is sent to the barista. I noted that when they get particularly busy with back orders of drinks the barista does a simple action to reconnect with customer. She calls out the customer’s name and lets her know that she’s beginning to work on the order. PURPOSE. It all displays a desire to do great work and thrill the patron.

But again, my biases about work and the meaning seep in and I struggle with how they can keep it up coffee after coffee after coffee. It just doesn’t seem to meet the test of MEANIGNFUL work as McKee describes it. At least at first glance. Then I see what I didn’t see after paying closer attention. Back to PURPOSE for a minute to completely understand. Yes, the purpose is the order and the customer but if it just stopped there it wouldn’t provide the full MEANING. They have created a deeper layer of purpose through a commitment to each other’s success. They want to see each other have a great experience too. Ok, with that commitment they are transcending the coffee or the coffee cake. The purpose is the meta-work around the order. Like birds flying in formation, or perhaps a better analogy is a synchronized dance, the workers are getting energy MEANING from the combined success each of them is creating as part of a team.

The third element for happiness at work is friendship. As McKee says, in modern work environments there is often an apprehension to committing to friendship at work. Now, I don’t know these individuals well. In fact, I don’t know them at all. But it is patently obvious just watching them that they enjoy each other’s company. Even when the line is almost out the door and the drive-thru is around the building they are a smooth-running machine. They still have time for smiles with one another or a little joke or word of encouragement. They are lending helpful hands to each other. FRIENDS do that for each other. The support they offer each other is a catalyst to the flywheel of happiness and enjoyment. It is a signal to say we are in this together.

As I leave, I know it’s coming and I smile. One of the workers calls out, “Have a great day!” It’s one last element demonstrating that they are HAPPY AT WORK.

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