The exact cost has been debated over the years — some researchers say billions, some say hundreds of billions — but the truth of the matter is undeniable: Negative attitudes in the workplace are actively harmful to your bottom line. Everyone’s been there. A coworker with a bad attitude can poison the entire office. The effects on morale and productivity can be devastating. But it’s not just about the monetary cost; it’s about the people cost.
At a previous job, I worked with an employee who came to HR almost every day complaining about the latest tiny thing that had bothered them, whether it was about someone’s desk set-up or their morning routine. Eventually, I told this person, “I’m sorry. I can’t have you bringing negativity in here every single day.” We couldn’t afford to let trivial issues upset the entire organization.
Obviously, I don’t say this to discount any complaints brought to HR, because many are serious, especially today, and must be treated with the proper weight and gravity. I am only saying that if we’re not careful, these kinds of attitudes can have disastrous effects on company culture.
Which brings me to Marie Kondo. I was recently drawn into the worldwide craze surrounding her new Netflix show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” and I can’t stop contemplating it. For those unfamiliar, she operates a home (and often life!) makeover show where her focus is on helping people de-clutter their lives. She focuses on her novel concept, “spark joy,” and works with people to determine which items they need in their physical and mental space and which they don’t. She also teaches people fun ways to fold their clothes! Put simply, though, if something “sparks joy,” keep it. If it doesn’t, lose it.
The show is entertaining, comforting and heartwarming, but naturally, I began to think about it from a different angle. What could “spark joy” mean for HR? How could we alter our practices, processes and approach to ensure we’re making decisions that spark joy within the company? It’s about more than just running the company. It’s about changing the company and creating a positive and productive environment where employees are excited to come to work.
This all starts at the beginning. From an HR perspective, we must take a more individualized approach in recruiting, training and onboarding for new employees. It’s hard to feel welcome if you don’t feel welcome, and showing employees the tools and opportunities for growth available to them from Day One sets a strong foundation.
We must also think about exactly who we’re bringing on board. Successful companies don’t just consist of people with the right competencies but people who are motivated and excited to come to work every day. Negative people tend to feed off other negative people, and the destruction of your company isn’t worth a nice-looking resumé. As Marie Kondo says, focus on what sparks joy. This culture will build on itself exponentially. And it won’t just spark joy — it will provide a spark to your entire enterprise.
Of course, your employees can’t build this “spark joy” culture all on their own. HR’s approach must incorporate modern advancements and technology in its approach, whether that means encouraging data-driven decision-making and increasing automation or building a thoughtful workspace environment that encourages creativity and positivity, and allowing talent to operate with flexibility.
Similarly, by removing tasks that don’t spark joy from the plates of employees — including compliance-related responsibilities, administrative assignments and non-strategic initiatives — HR can simply and quickly boost engagement and efficiency. All it takes is keeping an eye on the latest trends and an ear to the ground to know what employees need and care about. It’s easy to forget in the day-to-day, but it’s not just about people, and it’s not just about technology. It’s about a beautiful marriage of them both.
Finally — and critically — never forget to look in the mirror. Am I blaming my problems on everyone else and forgetting to interrogate my own contribution to sparking joy? How am I adding value? Am I excited to be part of the company’s mission? Am I focused on building real relationships with everyone around me rather than using them as means to an end?
From the top down, we need to be questioning the ways our actions are — or aren’t — sparking joy. As Marie Kondo proves in her show, holding onto these observations, carefully considering them and reflecting on their impact is essential. Nobody can be perfect every single day, but carrying the “spark joy” philosophy into the workplace can help us make the best of every day. HR can’t help you fold your clothes, but it can help chart a path forward for tomorrow’s workforce.
Hilde is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Zalaris. She carries more than a decade each of executive HR management expertise and executive search consulting. Hilde joined Zalaris in September 2018.