You may have heard of the Japanese concept of Ikigai – it’s a key ingredient to living a long and happy life. Although popular for individual wellbeing, it can also be utilised by managers and leaders to help inspire teams and improve workplace culture.
WHAT IS IKIGAI?
In its simplest terms Ikigai means ‘one’s purpose in life or reason for living’. In order to find Ikigai you can answer four key questions:
- What do I love?
- What am I good at?
- What does the world need? (or how can I support my community?)
- What can I be rewarded for? (or what pays my bills?)
If you can find an activity that answers all four of these questions, then you have your Ikigai.
Some people go through their day to day lives feeling a sense of listlessness because they don’t have a purpose. They may be doing a job that pays the bills, but without a sense of greater meaning. They may enjoy what they’re doing, but not be good at it and therefore feel stressed and challenged. They may have a side hustle which is their true passion but they are unable to get it off the ground. Only when all four areas are catered for do people feel truly fulfilled in life.
THE BENEFITS OF IKIGAI
Having a sense of Ikigai can really support people’s health as is shown by the island of Okinawa, which has a record beating 24.55 people aged 100 years old for every 100,000 inhabitants. Alongside a good diet, daily gentle exercise and good community connections, each person is encouraged from a young age to find a sense of meaning in their work and hobbies so that they spend each day in a fulfilling way – well beyond retirement age. This taps into the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche:
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
People with a strong sense of purpose are able to demonstrate resilience in the face of challenges and greater longevity because they care about how they are spending their time. This results in better stress management and a more optimistic mindset which supports positive mental health.
PURPOSE IN YOUR BUSINESS
Although Ikigai focuses on personal life purpose, it can be applied to the world of work. Organisations that are motivated by a strong mission statement or purpose will weather storms much better than those whose aims focus on profits or merely turning up each day. Having a meaningful vision encourages innovation, effort and, to some extent, well being in staff. The conversation around Ikigai should not be limited to individuals working on their own personal development – it can actually be a valuable conversation for managers to have with their teams in order to have happy and harmonious work environments.
Research indicates that people with a strong sense of meaning and enjoyment are more likely to enter ‘flow’ as they do tasks. This is a state of focus and enjoyment where people are fully immersed in tasks and time flies by. The advantage to an organisation is that teams in flow are much more productive and happier.
So… imagine being in a team where everybody felt that their purpose was being fulfilled in the workplace.
How much could you get done?
How alive would the office be?
How much would people go above and beyond because they care about what they do?
As a leader, if you can unlock the secrets of Ikigai in your team, you have a powerhouse.
HOW TO CREATE A MORE PURPOSEFUL WORKPLACE
The four Ikigai questions provide a great template for leaders and managers to work on their organisational culture. This may be through strategic level plans or from simple coaching conversations with individuals and teams.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE?
- Talk about meaning – ask your team members what drew them to the job? Is it the work itself? The social interactions? The client group? Identifying what people like about the job allows you to nourish that element of the workplace to create even greater satisfaction.
- Encourage a culture of sharing – getting team members to tell each other (and maybe even clients) what they love about their work can be an excellent way to increase enjoyment, pride and maybe even do a bit of positive PR along the way.
- Help your team to love the mundane – there may be parts of the job that aren’t so exciting but are important and necessary (think doing the laundry, filing, logging expenses). Sometimes the mundane moments give us an opportunity to get mindful and enjoy being present – which is great for our mental health. Also you may be able to help the team learn to love those under appreciated tasks because they all add up to the organisation fulfilling its purpose.
WHAT ARE YOU GOOD AT?
- Consider your hiring process – most organisations hire people with particular skills and talents so that they can hit the ground running. However, it’s sometimes worth holding back and hiring someone less experienced but who meets other criteria (values, passion, attitude) and then taking the time to train them up so that they become good at the job later.
- Stretch your team – there is a fine balance here between challenge and competence. If a task is too easy because your team are already skilled, this could create boredom. If a team is overwhelmed and too far out of their comfort zone then this can create anxiety and pressure. Leaders must pay attention to people’s skills, knowledge and tasks to hit the sweet spot: where team members feel slightly stretched but that their skills are being utilised well.
- Provide training – this is the easiest part of Ikigai for leaders to take action on. Providing training, shadowing, mentoring, CPD courses and coaching ensures that people develop and hone their skills so that they feel they are good at the task in hand.
- Value the ‘other’ skills and talents – there can be a tendency for leaders to focus on the skills, knowledge and talents that relate to the job. However, your team members have a wealth of expertise outside of work that add value to your team. Who do people go to when the need cheering up? Event planning? Serious advice? Take note of people’s non-work skills and make sure to celebrate them and maybe even bring them into projects.
WHAT DOES THE WORLD NEED?
- Clear vision – your organization may not be helping the whole world but make sure your team knows who your product / service does benefit and how. Is it that you’re benefiting one customer at a time by solving their issue? Are you providing a hearty meal? Are you providing a product or service that people enjoy? Emphasise the impact that your team’s work is having. The more they can recognise how they are meeting people’s needs, the greater fulfilment they’ll get.
- Share feedback – make sure that your customer experience process feeds back to the team. This allows them to see the benefits their work has on clients and customers as well as identifies further needs and improvements that you can focus on.
WHAT CAN YOU BE REWARDED OR PAID FOR?
- Living wages – the most obvious step here is to ensure that your team members are being paid well enough to life a healthy and comfortable lifestyle.
- Praise – being rewarded doesn’t always mean financial payment. Celebrate people’s contributions, effort and achievements. Let people know how much you value them. You’ll find that this increases engagement and maybe even love for the job.
- Time – some organizations now reward people with time off to volunteer on things that they care about, to work on other projects or spend time with family. Time is a valuable resource that your people will appreciate.
- Flexible benefits – this could include a whole array of things such as training packages, social events, perk schemes, memberships etc. It is important to check with your team what they would actually find rewarding before heading down this route.
An effective and emotionally intelligent leader will feel comfortable having open conversations about people’s sense of meaning and purpose. This can lead to improvements in employee engagement, productivity and wellbeing – which benefits the team as well as the organisation as a whole. Put simply, Ikigai is a powerful way to transform your workplace culture for the better.
Need help in addressing purpose and meaning in your workplace? The Self Leadership Initiative can help by facilitating bespoke training, workshops and coaching programmes. Unlocking the passions and skills of your people could help you take your team to the next level. Book a discovery call today to discuss your team’s needs.