Joy at Work

Joy can be a powerful force. But what factors lead to joy, and how successful is the business world in cultivating joy in the workplace? To find the answers, Kearney sponsored a global survey.

Executive Summary

Joy can be a powerful force for business success. In any endeavor, success sparks joy, then joy fuels even greater success, in a virtuous cycle. Further, the shared experience of joy connects people as powerfully as any other human experience.

To help business leaders understand the opportunities and obstacles they may encounter when working to tap the practical power of joy, Kearney sponsored a global survey of 503 people (including more than 150 C-suite executives) working in companies with more than $2 billion in revenues. The survey explored:

•    Whether people expect to experience joy at work

•    How often they do, in fact, experience joy

•    Which factors correlate with the experience of joy at work

Finding: There is a “joy gap” in the business world. People overwhelmingly expect to experience meaningful moments of joy at work. Yet fewer than half say they actually feel high levels of joy in their workplace. This “joy gap” is most pronounced in companies more than 10 years old. 

Finding: Shared impact and higher purpose matter most. Correlation analysis suggests that employees who believe their “company makes a positive societal contribution” and who feel “personally committed to achieving the company’s vision and strategy” experience the most joy at work. 

Finding: Team dynamics are also important. Survey respondents who feel more joy on the job also more frequently report having the kinds of in-team experiences that visibly yield joy during team athletic competitions. 

Finding: The work experiences most strongly correlated with joy are also those holding the greatest room for improvement.

Joy and Success

The practical power of joy is clearly visible in the sports world. When a team performs at its awe-inspiring best, every player—indeed the entire arena—experiences a brimming ecstasy that lifts the team even further. Success sparks joy. Joy fuels further success. Everyone is caught up in the moment. 

Joy@Work Podcast

When’s the last time you felt real joy at work? Join host Alex Liu as what brings each of his guests joy.Listen

Joy can also be a powerful force for business success. Why? Two reasons. People universally relish the experience of joy, which makes it intrinsically motivational. And shared joy connects people as powerfully as any other human experience, uniting them in inspired and cohesive efforts to meet great challenges and realize unprecedented achievements.

To gain insights into joy at work, Kearney conducted a global survey that explored people’s workplace experiences across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific. The sample included more than 500 executives and employees of various ages in companies with more than $2 billion in revenues, in a range of industries (see figure 1). 

Graph of The joy survey included works from various roles, regions, generations, and industries

Joy Drivers 

What leads to joy at work?

Making joy a priority at work

Managing Partner Alex Liu writes about joy’s intrinsic value to business in Harvard Business Review.Learn more

We first asked respondents to report how much joy they experience in the workplace. We then asked them to rate how much each of a series of statements reflects their own experience at work, so we could gauge which variables most notably correlate with feeling joy at work. In correlation analysis, a correlation coefficient of 1 means the two measured variables always occur together (perfect positive correlation), while -1 means they never do. For this study, any correlation measure of 0.40 or above was considered a significant degree of positive corre­lation (see figure 2).

Graph of Those who believe they are doing meaningful work are likely to feel joy on the job

As shown in the chart above, a range of factors correlate with the experience of joy at work. Above all, joy on the job stems from believing one’s work is truly meaningful. Employees who feel “personally committed to achieving the company’s vision and strategy” and who believe their “company makes a positive societal contribution” experience the most joy at work. 

Several team experiences also correlated with joy at a statistically significant level, most notably “Celebrating shared success within the team” and “Feeling strong bonds within the team.” 

Further, the factors most closely correlating with joy at work were largely consistent across organizational levels and generations (see figure 3).

Graph of The factors leading to joy at work were largely consistent across organisational levels and generations

The lesson? Crafting business cultures that more consistently engender such experiences can create a much stronger sense of personal interconnection, shared purpose, and heartfelt pride across the organization. 

The Joy Gap 

There is much work to be done, however, as the survey also points to a pronounced “joy gap” at work. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they expect to experience a substantial degree of joy at work, yet only 37 percent report this as their actual experience (see figure 4). 

Graph of Respondents indicated a substantial “joy gap” in their workplace experiences

A closer look at joy in athletics.Learn more

This joy gap is not confined to any particular generational cohort. For Gen X and Millennials (the vast majority in our sample), the joy gap registered at 57 percent and 44 percent respectively. 

Company age also appears to shape how much joy people experience at work, as participants from companies less than 10 years old (just over one-tenth of the total sample) reported substantially higher levels of joy than did people from older companies (see figure 5). This suggests that to reap more of the practical benefits of joy, legacy companies must be particularly diligent in cultivating the joy drivers identified above. 

Graph of Respondents from companies less than 10 years old reported higher levels of joy

Joy opportunity

A further comparative analysis suggests that the factors most strongly correlated with joy (noted above) may also offer the most room for improvement. Figure 6 compares how people who reported feeling lower versus higher levels of joy at work responded to the question “To what extent do the following characteristics reflect your current experiences in the workplace?” for each joy driver, using a 1 to 10 scale. 

Graph of The factors that correlate most with joy also offer the most room for improvement

The differences were largest in the areas most closely correlated with joy, pointing to opportunities for companies to focus their efforts to cultivate joy at work to the greatest practical effect. 

And as before, this pattern largely held true across organizational levels and generational cohorts (see figure 7).

Graph of Joy opportunities are consistent across organisational levels and generations


In sum, our survey found remarkable consistency in how people experience joy at work and surfaced a wealth of highly actionable opportunities for companies to cultivate joy.

Business leaders tend to think a great deal about success, but rarely about joy. Chances are, few are even aware of the joy gap in their organization and the resulting lack of interpersonal connection and team aspiration. Companies that prioritize joy in the workplace will be better positioned to apply the full power of their human potential to improving business performance.

This report is the first in a series of articles exploring joy in the workplace
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