Embracing Our Ikigai: How A Japanese Philosophy Can Transform The Workplace

Embracing Our Ikigai: How A Japanese Philosophy Can Transform The Workplace
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In her latest guest post for B&Tthe co-founder of Sydney content agency Storyation, Lauren Quaintance, (pictured below) takes a Japanese angle to a very modern take on the Aussie workplace… 

When I was a kid, my parents used to say that they didn’t mind what I did with my life. I always remember my Dad saying: “You can be a street cleaner if you want. But you better be the best damn street cleaner in the whole street.” What he probably couldn’t envisage at the time was that I was probably never going to be one thing. I’ve been a journalist and a marketer and an entrepreneur. I’m also an art lover, a mum, a runner and and obsessive traveller and reader. And I’ll probably be many more things before I shuffle off this mortal coil. 

Lauren Quaintance

And so when Mimi Cullen and I launched Storyation five years ago next month we were determined that we would see our staff as whole people with full and interesting lives outside of work. We started by making a point of embracing part-time workers and flexible working days.

If we found a brilliant editor or producer or salesperson who also happened to be a fledgling musician who wanted to spend a day a week writing music, or a mum who wasn’t ready for full-time work, we always made sure we found a way to make it work.

You could say that we openly embraced “side hustles” or the so-called “gig economy” that Millennials are so famous for except that more than one of those staff members was on the wrong side of 40.

I prefer to think that this is a reflection of the changing nature of work in 2018. That whether you are 25 or 55 no-one really wants to be shackled to a desk in an office 10 hours a day and that many people are actively choosing a different kind of life.

Now as well as part-time mothers and fathers with young families we have one staff member who is completing her first documentary feature film, another who is writing a dystopian thriller and is the star of a recent prime time ABC quiz show. We have one employee who is an emerging Instagram travel influencer and another who has just completed a Master’s degree in sustainable architecture.

Having so many part-timers does not come without its challenges, of course. We’ve had to develop systems to support our part and full-time workers – including ensuring that everything we do is in the cloud – and encourage our highly independent staff to work collectively at the same time. We haven’t always got it right, but we know it makes for a richer workplace and that our clients benefit enormously from dealing with staff who have life experiences outside of our office.

In 2018 we’ve gone one step further and introduced the Japanese concept of ikigai giving each staff member a paid half day off a month to spend time doing something “that moves them towards their perfect state of balance.”

That means, our staff are actively encouraged to do something outside of work that gives them a sense of meaning and purpose.

Combining the Japanese words iki (life) and gai (value or worth) ikigai is most often translated to mean “a reason to live.” On the island of Okinawa, home to some of the longest-living humans on the planet, it is apparently translated as “a reason to get up in the morning. 

While you might immediately associate it with finding a vocation, a person’s ikigai may or may not be related to paid work. In a survey of 2,000 Japanese men and women found just 31per cent considered work as their ikigai.

We know that many of our employees are deeply passionate about the award-winning content they create for our clients, but that’s not the whole picture. Whether it’s learning to paint or volunteering with refugees each one of them have their own nuanced, shifting and sometimes contradictory interests and Storyation is but one part of their lives. Just as it should be.

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