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Joy At Work: A Revolutionary Approach To Fun On The Job Hardcover – March 7, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Dennis Bakke was co-founder and eventually CEO of AES, a large energy company which grew to over $8 billion in annual revenue and over 40,000 employees. Bakke's Joy at Work is in part, a CEO memoir, as it chronicles AES's growth, complete with anecdotes about boardroom confrontations, employee relations, and new openings of production facilities. Joy at Work goes beyond the standard business tale, though: Bakke believes in moral values as ends in themselves, as opposed to means towards the end of greater financial return, and he's not afraid to say it.

A number of authors in recent years have made the case that companies which embody humanistic values, and which nurture uplifting cultures, come to house happier, more productive employees. "Values" should be embraced, the argument goes, because they lead to better business results. Bakke shuns such thinking. He wants "values" for values' sake--because he believes they are an integral part of the human experience, and one that daily work should incorporate. He argues that financial return is only one good alongside others. As Bakke writes at one point in Joy at Work: "Why should enriching shareholders be more important than producing quality products and selling them to customers at fair prices?"

Readers who start off sympathetic to Bakke's worldview will likely enjoy Bakke's book. "Joy at Work" is situated perfectly within values-led business literature, alongside books like Howard Schultz’s Pour Your Heart Into It, the Body Shop's Anita Roddick (Take It Personally) and Ben & Jerry's Double Dip, by the ice-cream guys. Joy at Work provokes questions and warrants a read, if, for no reason other than its impressive string of blurbs from friends of the author: Everyone from President Bill Clinton to Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren vouches for Bakke and his gospel. --Peter Han

From Publishers Weekly

Bakke cofounded international energy giant AES in 1981 and was its president and CEO from 1994 to 2002. This memoir-cum-inspirational business book has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel; in relaxed, roundabout prose, Bakke tells of his first work experience (chasing cows to the barn for milking at age five), his schooling, his friendships and partnerships, and how it all coalesced into a philosophy of work that puts employee satisfaction ahead of profit as a company's goal—a frightening thing for most managers. Bakke believes worker autonomy and self-determination to be the straightest path to success. Most of the book takes AES as a case study; his matter-of-fact descriptions of the Houston power plant's experience with "honeycombing"—or transition to egalitarian, collective self-supervision, including spending—or of humility as a managerial necessity, are genuinely inspiring, though job elimination is involved in the transitions he proposes. Bakke argues that his values and techniques did, in fact, lead to profit (until, he says, the energy industry scandals of the past few years), but that profit is not the point of work. While most managers would not dream of experimenting with Bakke's ideas, they will find it difficult to deny their potential. 22-city author tour.(Mar. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 314 pages
  • Publisher: PVG; 1 edition (March 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0976268604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0976268604
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gerry Stern on February 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Few books about fun in the workplace are based on a real-life account by a CEO, but this one is, and perhaps it's the only one. Bakke presents a very personal account of his 20 years spent building a highly successful multi-billion dollar company centered on the values of integrity, fairness, having fun, and being socially responsible. Bakke's view is that these values made his company financially successful, a result which he views as a second-ranked goal.

While the book is truly the tale of a CEO's adventure, we at Stern's Management Review Online ([...]) find it to be a unique portrayal of the creation of a values-driven enterprise. Don't let the title fool you...this work goes far beyond "joy." Cutting through Bakke's excellent storytelling and quantum-leaping to the back of the book, we found that the author thoughtfully offers the reader a to-the-point profile of 49 items (Appendix A, The Joy at Work Approach) arranged under the following headings: treatment of employees; purpose, mission, goal; annual reports; leaders and managers; compensation; education, training and information; auditing; and board of directors. Here's where you'll hit the meat 'n potatoes of "JOY." Whether or not you buy into all these points is your call, but at least they are there for your perusal. Face it, when it comes to management books, page-flipping to the back often pays off, big time.
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Format: Hardcover
Back more years ago than I can count on all my fingers and toes I remember an organizational theory teacher saying that the Roman Catholic church was easily the most successful organization of all time. One of the mail reasons, he said, was that the Catholic Church essentially had three layers in its chain of command: priest, bishop, pope.

At the time I was working for a computer company as an engineer and had eleven layers in the chain of command just to get out ot the plant I was in, and who knos how many more to get to the president. This one of those computer companies that completely missed the PC revolution and is now still alive but pretty sickly.

What attracted me to this book was reading a page where Mr. Bakke said that the corporation he founded had a three layer chain of command. I then went on to read of his concept of management of a company. He believes in empowering the worker to a greater extent than anyone I've read before.

In this book he presents a workplace vision that he apparently carried out in the formation of a quite large company. I am left with the feeling, however, that the company became a reflection of Mr. Bakke rather than the principles that he describes in the book. As I look at the AES web site now, I see words like "Focus on Performance" and little mention of Mr. Bakke, apparently he is not even a director. Certainly the structure of the company as he founded it would make it a joy to work there. I wonder if it still is.

This book is very interesting to read. It's more attuned to the individual starting or running a company than to the person working eleven or fifteen layers down.
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Format: Hardcover
I regard most new books aimed at business leaders as recycled drivel. But Bakke's work stands out, and it could indeed be the seedling for a revolution in business culture, particularly in light of recent spectacular corporate failures.

Revolutionary: Early in the book, Bakke backs up and offers a brief history of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on current corporate structures - hierarchy, hourly wages, corporate specialists (i.e. accounting, purchasing, contracting), policy manuals, centralized decision-making, etc. Then he explains how these forces have removed personal initiative, measured risk-taking and a sense of contribution from workers, thus removing "joy" from the workplace. He replaces it with genuine respect for all workers, allowance for mistakes, and giving everyone an opportunity to make key decisions that can impact the whole company. He argues AGAINST the fundamental belief that return on shareholder value is the primary goal of a corporation.

Refreshing: Bakke makes the case for values over profits - even if adherence to corporate values means missed opportunities or forgone profits. In the post Enron/Tyco/WorldCom era, there has been renewed emphasis on values. But Bakke provides lengthy examples of how to identify, proclaim, teach and maintain on-going conversations about a company's values. He does away with the concept of our work life being differentiated from the rest of our life - if most people's goal in life is to "make a positive contribution in the world," the workplace should provide an opportunity for such goals.
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Format: Hardcover
Dennis has written a book that contains some radical and very compelling ideology about how to run the workplace to make the work itself more meaningful and fun for employees. His basic premise is that in order for work to be "fun" the employee must have the ability to be engaged in making important decisions. Therefore, he sought to knock down the usual hierarchy and structure that exists, cut out many middle management roles, and engage his people at all levels in being part of the "fun".

On this I would completely agree. There is no question that engagement, meaningful work, job satisfaction and performance are correlated. I found his approach so radical that even though I consider myself very progressive in how business and organizational dynamics exist, and how they may be improved to engage people, I was left feeling a bit rigid in my thinking in comparison. Whenever a book poses ideas so radical they make me re-examine my own biases and operating principles, that is a very good thing.

However, it should also be noted that to be quite honest about it, it didn't work. The company did not exceed all expectations indefinitely, and Dennis himself was asked out. I think a closer look will show some inherent flaws in the execution of his philosophy.

First, Dennis assumes that all employees desire the accountability and responsibility for the bigger picture. His depicts an approach that is male-centric and focuses on a western culture of "winning a game" that may not fit for many employees; therefore requiring them to do that role may be counter productive.

Second, a culture that expects all employees to make difficult and strategic leadership decisions requires a huge effort on costly employee development and training.
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