Ulrich is a creative and action-oriented leader with more than 20 years of experience in the construction and real estate services industries. He is passionate about the future of work and its impact on leadership and the workplace. Ulrich has co-created a new framework for leading in complex environments called Digital–Emotional Leadership. He lectures at the ZHAW in Zurich and the Hochschule Luzern on Workplace Management and Corporate Real Estate Management.

Thomas Fundneider: What does joy mean to you?

Ulrich Kerber: What immediately occurs to me when I hear joy is something playful, purposeful. It’s fun. It’s something that has to do with passion. It has to do with the child in our adulthood.

Thomas: Can you think of situations when you experience joy?

Ulrich: I experience joy when I get a reward for something I do which has a meaning and purpose. It’s a feeling of satisfaction that keeps you running because it’s like an injection, which energizes you and makes you go an extra mile without even thinking about that. Because it’s joyful.

Thomas: Is it a short moment or does it last for a longer period?

Ulrich: Unfortunately it usually does not last for very long. However, you have to develop your own “strategy” to capture and sustain that feeling to take advantage of it when you go through frustrating times.

Thomas: For you, are those moments present more in your private or work life? What would be the ratio?

Ulrich: Since I dedicate more time to work than private life, I would say probably at work… Though even if the frequency of the joyful moments is higher at work, the stronger and deeper ones come up in private life. When I meet friends and when I spend time with my daughter… 

Thomas: Happiness is also often used as a synonym for joy. Do you think it means the same thing, or is there a difference?

Ulrich: For me, joy means a type of a moment, a thing that happens in the present time. Happiness is more of an attitude – whether you are happy overall. Do you have your life sorted out? Are you satisfied? Do you have a positive attitude towards the future?

Thomas: What would be the opposite of joy for you?

Ulrich: That`s a difficult one. I think it’s when doing something which has no meaning for you and is just simply frustrating.   

Thomas: Coming back to the relationship between joy and work… McKinsey has recently released a study saying that 40% of employees plan to leave their current job in the next three to six months. It’s a huge number, compared to the previous years. Many people don’t experience joy at work. What do you think about this?

Ulrich: Statistics consistently show that throughout the world, regardless of region, about two-thirds of people don’t have an emotional attachment to the companies where they work. So they are neutral. Then there is about 15% of people who feel this attachment. And then around 10-15% who are actively disengaged – who work against the company.

We pay for those people bringing their best knowledge and personality to work. Our largest cost item is personal costs. And it goes without saying that if you don’t feel emotionally attached, you are not going to use your full potential at work.

Also, if we want to provide people with an environment that allows them to make choices and decisions, take ownership, and grow, there needs to be some basic emotional attachment. Without it, you have to constantly motivate people, because they leave their personality outside of work.

Thomas: What impact do you think the pandemic had on this?

Ulrich: I’ve seen a lot of people going through difficult times. There’s, there’s a lot of frustration, deep life experiences, for some people on once-in-a-lifetime levels. These experiences and the added isolation certainly had a fundamental psychological impact, especially on our children and young people. In managing the pandemic there has not been much attention on the psychological dimension and I am pretty convinced that we will see and experience the consequences over years, maybe even decades, as our young people will be moving on into professional life.

Thomas: Before the pandemic, many managers said that people can’t work from home on this scale. They said we are not ready for this, it’ll never work. Now we did it and for many, it has worked quite okay. People have still been productive. 

Now companies are trying to reorganize the way they work and some people are afraid that they will lose some of the freedom of choice they gained. Also, since the claims about this being impossible to do were proven wrong, people might now trust the future claims of managers even less. Do you also experience this in your company?

Ulrich: I’ve been involved with the topic of new work for many years now. One thing I believe strongly is that we should not make such fundamental decisions in a crisis mode. In a crisis mode, we should manage with a perspective of the next couple of weeks and months, but not for the long term. And we still are in this crisis mode.

So I would rather suggest let’s first give it time to settle down. Then critically look back at the data. I don’t feel comfortable making any long-term decisions based on the data which are available to me now. Let’s bring in professional support, someone who helps us gather the data, look at it from different angles and then make a wise decision. Such long-term decisions can be revised as you move on, of course.

You can see this in some very well-known companies too. Tim Cook recently asked his people to come back to the office. 12 months before, he said that we might not need offices anymore. In a crisis mode, such fundamental statements are revised all the time, so it might not be the best time to make them at all.

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