Joy at Work – A Book Worth Reading

Joy at Work – A Book Worth Reading

joy_at_work_coverIn Joy at Work, Dennis Bakke lays out a philosophy of what the workplace environment should be like. His book challenges entrenched management norms established in the 18th century and still firmly practiced across America. His philosophy proposes a 21st century approach to success.

Fun and Fulfilling Work Environments

His main proposition is that the workplace should be fun and fulfilling. To prove this is practical and profitable, Bakke shares how he and a partner developed a humane and enlightened workplace at AES, an energy company. The concept and principles resonated with me as soon as I read the book. Many of these principles of management were similar to what I had been thinking about for many years, but unable to actually experience.

One of his main points focuses on the criteria for evaluating organizational performance and success. Primary factors are no longer limited to financial goals, but rather embrace a workplace that is filled with joy for the ordinary worker and measures the worker’s quality of life.

Throughout the book, Bakke expresses his beliefs:

  • The average worker all around the world finds feelings of fulfillment and joy when his or her ability to make important and critical business decisions is recognized.
  •  The worker whose job is most impacted by a decision should be the one making the decision. A critical component of this decision needs to include input from coworkers and supervisors. If input is received and relied on, it doesn’t matter if the decision turned out to be good or bad.
  • Everyone will make mistakes occasionally. These are critical learning times for employees, which only strengthen the ability of each worker to make a better decisions.

Accountable Work Environments

A key aspect to the Joy at Work model is to build in score-keeping, accountability and rewards into the system. When decisions are made, employees are held accountable for the outcome.  They must admit when they err, ask forgiveness and commit to avoiding same mistake again.  Also, rewards and compensation must be fair and tied to performance.

Bakke goes on to describe managers and executives as servants. He proposed that the most important character traits of a leader are humility, the willingness to give up power, courage, integrity, love and passion for people. Leaders love people and need to spend time with the people for whom they are responsible. Bakke sums up his management philosophy by  proposing that the primary reason leaders experience joy at work is not prestige or status. It is the control they have and the decision-making authority that gives them a chance to make organizations succeed.


Today’s workplace environment has seen very little change in the past 250 years. The Industrial Revolution had such a tremendous impact on businesses and organizations that leaders are unwilling to risk tampering with past success. Bureaucratic behavior remains the heart and soul of most work environments, and managers have a tendency to treat workers like children unable to make good decisions and think for themselves. The assumption is that the higher the level of management the better the decisions will be.

This is perhaps the biggest challenge you will face after reading this book—how to actually experience a Joy at Work environment when you have very little control or say regarding the culture and environment of your workplace. If upper management or the owners of a company aren’t willing to implement or support these concepts, then it is very hard to actually live them out. So, while this book may resonate with many employees, the ability to actually implement the principles into the work environment is likely very limited. I found that to be the case in one of my previous jobs. I tried to introduce the owner to the concepts, but he had no interest in actually pursuing a path to implement them. I attempted in my own small department to manage with a Joy at Work attitude and was successful to a degree.

When I first read this book several years ago, little did I know that I was actually going to be able to work for an organization Bakke helped start and taught and tried to follow the Joy at Work principles. It was a positive experience, yet I learned even working for an organization that advocates a Joy at Work environment doesn’t make it always easy to remember and implement these concepts. It must be a constant pursuit, an ongoing improvement process of creating the environment.

The rewards are exponential. I encourage you to get your own copy of Joy at Work and read it.

You may find it at Amazon by clicking HERE.