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While we live in a free, independent country, the question of whether we truly live a free life has always remained in my mind? What does it mean to be truly free and liberated? How do we experience that in our lives?

Since we spend most of our awake time at work, freedom at work would be a very important part of the liberation we desire. The TGIF phrase always to denote that somehow most of the people working in organizations seem to see work as a burden, some punishment they have to endure to earn a living, to buy a house, car and other gadgets. The two days of the weekend or a vacation seem like the glow of a faint candle in a dark room.

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Why have we come to believe that work is a bondage we have to endure? How can we create workplaces which allow people to experience the freedom to chart their own destiny? Is the leadership team responsible for this state of mind? Or is it something we cultivate subconsciously in some way. I think both play an important role. The early upbringing at home and school can embed a belief system deeply in our minds to ignore the burdens and not challenge the diktat handed over to us by our parents or teachers. Once embedded, this is very hard to reverse, but yes reversal is possible.

That is where leaders can help and employees can participate. There are four things which in my opinion contribute to the experience of feeling freedom at work.

1> Seeing Meaning in work
2> Cultivating Mutual Respect
3> Harnessing individual strengths
4> Making workplace joyful

A lot of research has shown that human beings need to see that the work they are doing is meaningful and not some obscure irrelevant piece of drudgery they have been handed over. Great leaders take effort to show the context and meaning to the work done by thousands of people in their organization. Once people are able to see the meaning of their work in line with the vision of the organization (read NOT profits), they experience that their contribution is valued and feel responsible and empowered for their actions.

Human beings love to feel respected. With the slightest sense of disrespect, people can feel demotivated and not part of the workplace. This leads to a sense of insecurity and significant disengagement. Leaders have a huge responsibility here.  To disagree or not be happy about someone’s work is ok, but if done respectfully it can help people feel free and continue with the same zeal and enthusiasm which the leaders want in the first place.   Exemplary leaders like JRD Tata cultivated a climate of mutual respect and trust and it was quite common to see how the people working with them felt free and empowered.

Leaders also need to recognize innate strengths and talent of their people and give them opportunities to use their strengths. Rigid organization structures and roles often stymy the ability of the individual to leverage one’s strengths.  This leads to the feeling of chained, bonded and opportunities wasted. This is absolutely contrary to the feeling of free at work. The work on positive psychology and strengths based work has proved that engagement and productivity are directly related to the ability of an individual to contribute meaningfully and using one’s strengths.

Finally, a boring and serious workplace is de-energizing and gives the feeling of a prison. Workplace practices to make it a place to be where joy is a priority too is very important. However, fun at work and joy are quite different while looking synonymous. Doing fun activities bring relief to the monotony but finding joy in the work itself is much more liberating. This is when leaders create excitement about the challenges and how they can learn from them.  Celebrating mini-successes and a culture of appreciation are some of the ways workplaces become joyful. A joyful workplace is freedom from the negativity which surrounds us very often.

If these simple things can be demonstrated at workplaces, I think we can all experience freedom and empowerment and lead happy, fulfilled lives.

Happy Independence Day to all!  Be Free