[MaD 2014] Who Stole My Happiness in Work?

Writer: Hui Ki Ki

MaD has become an annual event for years. We can see how it grows to be more diversified and professional. The main concept of this year is about detecting a new direction, which is not a directive thought but an idea of accepting differences at the same time. MaD 2014 has provided various talks, experiential theatre and offsite visits, etc. Among these art dialogue, what grabbed my attention most was the “Exchange with Shigeru YAMATO”, who is the founder and director of Happy Workplace International Project.

We are busy for all-rounded development when we were young, and understand the importance of work-life balance when we grow up. As work occupies a large part of our life, it is sad to hate it. Even it is not that attractive, there must be some bright sides or you are able to create. Participants (MaDees) in this event came from different parts of the world. It seems that a happy workplace is a common desire and a mystery to develop.

Yamato did lots of research to convince Thai government to start this project with financial support. He introduces 8 elements leading to happiness in work, in which 6 of them are individual factors of employers and employees, while the remaining 2 concern about environment like family and society.


Someone says personality decides your destiny as attitude can change everything. That’s why Yamato also encouraged MaDees to set up informal committee at workplace to find out the negative factors and promote positive culture. I believe most people would think Yamato was just telling things superficially but they are true.

If it is hard to change the environmental factors, we can still control our mind. Go on complaining makes you fall into negative emotions and forget the passion at the beginning. Then you are difficult to get involved in your work again. But staying positive could widen your horizon and be more ready to change.

Being a Japanese, Yamato shared his difficulties in understanding Thai working culture at the early stage. Japan insists on rules and order while Thailand is more flexible. For instance, Japanese would apologize for one-minute delay of train service but Thai will probably get angry if you mind their late for work. To ensure his Project is able to provide tailor-made services, his first challenge was learning to respect and adapt to a new culture.

To many of us, Yamato has set up his company as a role model already. It focuses on both physical and mental well-being of his staff, by providing healthy lunch and meditation session within office hour. Staff can take rest in garden, doing yoga and a monk would visit his company regularly as religious belief is essential to Thai.

Though different culture has its specific intervention point, Yamato hopes the Thai research and experience can be beneficial to other South East Asia countries in a long term, and most ideally to let his home country Japan to be aware of its importance. Since there is no standardized way suitable for all, Yamato is suggesting a possible concept for people to try, which somehow is sympathetic to MaD’s The Fifth Direction concept as well.

Just outside the theatre, an installation art “Horizon” was trying to spread this concept. Every MaDee would receive a glass of water determining their entrance rights of different functions.


MaD hoped to satisfy a common interest through sharing but of course many realistic obstacles existed. Owning to insufficient seats, people were less willing to exchange their glass of water in some popular events. But it didn’t mean this experiment ended in failure. I would rather think it showed the fact of limited resources in our life. For instance, when we order a McDonald’s Hot Pancake breakfast, there are 3 pancakes inside but we can get 2 boxes of butter only. You may try to ask the staff to give you extra butter, but the breakfast has taught me the essence of even distribution and sharing resources with those in needs.

Another objective of “Horizon” was to let everyone’s glass of water to be at the same water level at the end. This could be achieved if it was a common goal and it actually hint a possible solution of the above resource allocation problem. We are born to be unique with different background. But we can share our ideas and experience to enrich the properties of all. Even you were unable to attend a talk, the audience could still share the content and reflection when they came out.

After talking with Yamato, we know that happy workplace doesn’t mean lazy working culture or fighting for employees’ rights only. Instead, if both employers and employees listen carefully to each other, they can regulate expectation and requirement according to their values. Most of the time unhappiness appears due to lack of understanding and communication.

This makes me think of my study in the burn-out situation among Hong Kong working class in master degree. I raised Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership concept established in 1970. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the top, servant leadership is different. The servant leader serves others, rather than others serving the leader. To him, personal growth is an approach to serve others better, while trusting relationship is a basic platform for service and collaboration. He therefore shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. This is a philosophy and set of practice that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.

“Horizon” used water as a soft media to remind us open for possibilities. At the same time, water can be a strong power to make changes through penetration to get more people involved. As a wider horizon allows us to discover something new, and to reflect is an important step to make a difference, I believe situations will gradually improve and a happy workplace is not far away.


Happy Workplace International Project



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