My 5 favorite Coursera courses for happiness at work

2013-02-07 15.57.48My learning position

Coursera is an AMAZING site that lets you take hundreds of university-level classes taught by highly respected people from different fields.

It’s also my latest addiction. Seriously – I may have a problem. Yesterday I finished one course, and immediately signed up for 4 more :)

I’ve taken courses on many different topics several of which have been directly useful and relevant to happiness at work so I thought I’d share the 5 best ones here:

5: Unethical Decision Making in Organizations
A seminar on the dark side of the force’ that teaches you how strong organizational contexts push good people towards unethical decisions. You will also learn how to protect yourself and your organization against such forces lurking in the dark.

4: Positive psychology
A great overview and introduction to the “science of happiness” taught by Barbara Fredrickson, one of the leading researchers in the field.

3: Introduction to neuroeconomics
Neuroscience, when allied with psychology and economics, creates powerful new models to explain how we make decisions. Neurobiological mechanisms of decision-making, decisions under risk, trust and cooperation are central issues in this course.

2: Critical perspectives on management
Using a wide disciplinary approach – from economics and history to social theory and even a smattering of biblical criticism – the course examines several core management strategies and debunks them mercilessly as wrong and damaging, including:

  • Forced employee ranking
  • The idea that all companies should always grow
  • Shareholder value

Topics include: the function of the firm; the role of incentive; the ways in which narrative forces shape decision making, and how market relationships define the managerial culture in ways that can lead to sub-optimal outcomes.

1: Social pshycology
The best, most interesting and mot fascinating course I’ve taken so far. It examines how we affect each other in groups and almost all of the content is relevant to the workplace.

The course isn’t currently offered but will hopefully return.

But I’ve taken so many other great courses as well. Here are my 4 favorites outside of the field of happiness at work:

  1. Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life
  2. Revolutionary Ideas: An Introduction to Legal and Political Philosophy
  3. Philosophy and the Sciences
  4. Model Thinking

Have you done any online courses? What’s been your favorite things so far? Let me know in a comment!

UPDATE: As I was writing this, I stumbled on a course called Classical Sociological Theory and signed up for that too :) As I said… I may have a problem :)

This company forces a random employee to take 2 weeks off every month

This is just too cool: Every month, financial-services company Motley Fool selects a random employee who gets 2 weeks off and $1,000. Their mission is to spend those two weeks on whatever they want with zero contact with the office.

They do this to show employees that it’s OK to balance work and life and not overwork yourself to death.

Genius!

The 3 most common objections to Biden’s awesome letter – and my rebuttals

biden

10 days ago I posted this picture of a memo from Joe Biden to his staff, saying that he never wants them “to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work.”

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The image has since gone viral. It was retweeted by tons of people (including the amazing Sarah Silverman) and it has gained a lot of attention on LinkedIn too.

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The 1000s of likes/favorites show that people love this idea and so do the many, many positive comments. Here are some examples:

Having worked in the past for a company who insisted you “made up the hours you’ve taken off” for hospital appointments, dentist treatment and even funerals and bereavements, this makes me smile! A breath of fresh air.
– Lee Cashman

Having just started up a new business, one of the absolute joys is finally being able to treat everyone in the business as if they genuinely matter, not just paying lip service to this. I still find it amazing that companies fail to realise that treating the team with respect and trusting them will be reciprocated massively. We have written into our contracts that everyone gets time off for school plays, sports days etc.
– Glenn Martin

There is a real longing out there for leaders who understand that while work is important we must also recognize that sometimes important family events come first.

This is not only humane, it is also good leadership because it makes employees happier and therefore more productive.

In fact, it seems strange to me that anyone could be against it, but this being the internet, of course I got some negative comments too.

For instance, with the US election going on, some comments were negative simply because Biden is a Democrat and works for Obama. This one was my favorite:

“The man is a complete baffoon!!!”

You know, if you can’t even spell buffoon… you might just be one :)

But there were three common objections that I’d like to offer my rebuttals to.

3: “This is too god to be true – it must be fake!”

Some people just can’t believe that this could possibly be true. Some sample comments:

“But those that go the extra mile get the promotion. It’s lip service of the politically correct. If anyone believes that memo they must not understand American work ethic.”

“If I ever got a letter like this from an employer I would think there is a hidden agenda.”

“This is Reverse Psychology at it’s best.”

I’ll be the first to admit that this sounds unrealistic. In many workplaces, particularly in the US, there is a strong belief in the cult of overwork.

And I have to say that I’ve never actually worked for Joe Biden’s office or met anyone who has so I have no way of knowing if this is true or just nice words.

But what I have been able to learn from some internet research, is that Biden is, by all accounts, a tremendously nice person.

Here’s republican senator Lindsay Graham talking warmly about Biden.

“I called him after Beau died, and he basically said, ‘Well Beau was my soul’,” Graham said, his voice trembling, adding that Biden gave a speech at Graham’s retirement party from the Air Force Reserve “and said some of the most incredibly heartfelt things that anybody could ever say to me.”

“He’s THE nicest person I’ve ever met in politics,” Graham said. “He’s as good a man as God has ever created.”

Graham added, “We don’t agree on much,” but noted Biden has “been dealt a real gut blow” yet “focuses on what he’s got to do, not what he’s lost.”

“His heart has been ripped out but he’s gonna make sure the other members of his family are well taken care of,” Graham said. “He’s more worried about his grandkids than anything…. He started talking about the future, the future of his family.”

This GQ article on Biden also notes his friendly spirit and happy personality. Here’s what happened when Biden went to the Italian President’s palace:

I saw him freelance a grand Joe Biden entrance into President Giorgio Napolitano’s palace, teeth gleaming, arms fully outstretched, ready to hug this guy, that guy, Hey, guys! I’m here! You’re here! We’re beautiful!

Decked out in his smooth blue suit, white pocket square—his broad smile the kind a man reserves for his bowling team. This demeanor contrasted sharply with everyone else’s. Guards in shiny helmets sprouting horsehair ponytails, bedraggled White House advance team in smart skirts and solid-color pumps. A Biden entrance can make the stuffiest event intimate, for an instant human and vaguely…funny.

2: “This is easy in the government sector”

By far the most common objection was that this lax attitude of letting staff take time for family is easy in government. In a “real” workplace, it would never work. Some sample comments:

“Very easy to do on gov’t time.”

“Easier to write if one is not running a profit-making business, fulfilling commitments to clients.”

“Sure what does he care. Its the people money and he never signed a paycheck in his life so its not his money.”

Nonsense. This is good leadership in any workplace, public or private sector.

I firmly believe that if you want to give the taxpayers’ the best possible government, one that works as efficiently as humanly possible, then this is the exact right policy.

1: “This is soft – bosses must focus on results!”

Some commenters lamented that this soft attitude would surely tank any workplace sentimental enough to actually let its employees take time off for important family events:

“Nice sentiment, but totally disconnected from current reality & results. Consider it this way — If you were a C-level exec running a lackluster company with many problems and then taking long lunches and letting your staff take free days whenever they had an important moment… you’d be out of business.”

“What is right is the mission and getting the job done in either public or private. Showing you care is not the decisive management technique or sole point…winning is much more of a motivation.”

“I hope my competition reads this and adopts the policy, I’ll be happy to close deals while they attend graduations.”

This is exactly the kind of dinosaur thinking that is so prevalent in business today – and it’s exactly the kind of thinking that is creating a lot of stress, frustration and ultimately poor performance.

I call it the cult of overwork – the irrational belief that the more hours bosses can make people work, the better.

Look, it’s not rocket science: Studies show that happy employees are more productive, committed, conscientious and creative and also have lower absenteeism and turnover rates.

Simply put, happy workplaces get better results. And many bosses get that.

I found an excellent blog post about Wisetech Global, an Australian IT company with a completely different attitude to overwork:

If employees work more than 40 hours a week regularly, they have to talk to their manager to redress the situation.

WiseTech Global chief executive Richard White said the company’s approach was consistent with its core values, which state that although staff should strive for the best outcomes, “we do not ask people to impale themselves on their work commitments”.

“Its not the amount of work, it’s the quality of the work,” he said.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of boss who demands that employees come to work even though they have important family obligations, you demonstrate clearly that you care nothing for the well-being of your people. What happens is they become stressed and frustrated. The best employees quickly leave and find work elsewhere, where they’re treated with respect and you are left with only those employees who lack the skills or the energy to get away from you.

Add to that the trail of devastation, the ruined health and the broken families that this antiquated management style also causes and I simply don’t understand how these managers can live with themselves. It is bad leadership, it’s bad for people, it’s bad for business and it’s just plain stupid.

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AWESOME letter from Joe Biden to his staff. Every boss should say this.

biden

This 2014 letter from US vice president to his staff is AWESOME. Here’s the full text:

“To my wonderful staff,

I would like to take a moment and make something clear to everyone. I do not expect, nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work. Family obligations include, but are not limited to family birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, any religious ceremonies such as first communions and bar mitzvahs, graduations and times of need such as an illness or a loss in the family. This is very important to me. In fact I will go so far as to say that if I find out you are working with me while missing important family responsibilities, it will disappoint me greatly. This has be an unwritten rule sine my days in the Senate.

Thank you for all the hard work.

Sincerely,

Joe.”

There are three reasons why I love this:

  1. He shows staff that it’s OK to prioritize important family events over work.
  2. He starts with “To my wonderful staff.” This man clearly likes, respects and appreciates the people who work for him,
  3. Appreciating staff and giving them time for family makes them happier – and happy staff are more productive. It also combats the ubiquitous cult of overwork.

Considering the losses Biden has  suffered in his family, this letter becomes even more poignant.

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5 reasons you should close your inbox completely this summer holiday

The summer holidays are rapidly approaching, and if you’re like most people, you will put up an autoreply email just before you leave, saying that you’re gone, when you’ll be back and who to contact if it’s urgent.

Although this approach is nearly universal, it has two massive flaws:

  1. Emails still reach your inbox, tempting you to check work email on your vacation just to make sure that nothing urgent is happening that requires your attention or to reduce email overload when you get back.
  2. When you come back from vacation, there may be hundreds of emails in your inbox.

I have talked to many people who mention both of these as a source of stress and I’ve just seen too many parents on family vacations handling work emails on their phone/laptop by the pool, when they should’ve been playing with their kids.

Fortunately there’s an alternative: Close your inbox while you’re away. This may seem like a weird idea but some workplaces are already doing it:

The car and truck maker Daimler has implemented a new program that allows employees to set their email software to automatically delete incoming emails while they are on vacation.

When an email is sent, the program, which is called “Mail on Holiday,” issues a reply to the sender that the person is out of the office and that the email will be deleted, while also offering the contact information of another employee for pressing matters.

I think this is brilliant and ought to become the standard way we handle emails on vacations.

The autoreply during your holiday would then look something like this:

I’m on vacation and your email was not delivered to me. You can resend it when I’m back at the office on August 4 and I’ll be happy to get back to you then.

Or if it’s urgent, you can contact these great people:

lisa@company.com
stephen@company.com

Best,

John

Email

Here are 5 reasons why you should close your work inbox completely this summer.

1: The “normal” way is fundamentally unfair

Here’s the problem: You’re away from work. As part of your contract with the company, you have time off and yet emails still reach you. This means that some of the work from your vacation time is simply shifted into your post-vacation work days.

And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a company that plans for their employees to have extra time after a vacation to deal with the emails that came in during the vacation. Therefore this becomes extra work you have to do on top of your regular tasks.

One consequence of this is that many people end up checking their emails and responding to them during their holidays, which is also unfair. You’re entitled to time away from work. That’s what a holiday is.

But one of the most insidious effects of this is that taking longer stretches of time away from the office is punished immediately upon return, because your inbox will be full to overflowing. I haven’t seen any research on this, but I could easily imagine that this would subconsciously discourage people from taking time off or at the very least increase stress around any time off.

2: You can relax more on your vacation

When you know in advance that not a single work email will tick in, you can relax more. You can better be present in your vacation activities and be with the people you love.

3: You get to find out you’re not indispensable

Imagine going away for 2 weeks without dealing with incoming emails and coming back to find that the world has not ended, the office is not on fire and the company didn’t bankrupt itself in your absence. In fact, things went pretty smoothly without you.

Being indispensable at work can give you quite a kick, but it’s a dangerous addiction.

In short, while you’re a valued employee who does great work, you are not indispensable. No one is. Or at least, no one should be. If your workplace cannot function at all without you, that is a clear failure of organization and leadership.

Knowing that things can function without you leads to a lot less stress and makes it easier for you to take time off in the future.

4: You teach others you’re not available 24/7

In my company, bosses send emails at all hours –  late at night, on the weekend or during vacations – and always expect an answer. If you don’t react within 20 minutes, you get a text message demanding a reply. If you don’t react to that, they call you on the phone. They basically expect us to always be available.

Some clients (these can be external or internal clients/managers/co-workers) have developed an expectation that others are available to them 24/7.

Closing your inbox sets boundaries and shows them that this is not the way things are.

5: Come back more productive

And finally, closing your inbox means that when you get back to the office, you can instantly be more effective because you don’t have to deal with a backlog of hundreds of emails and having to figure out which of them were important, which are still relevant and which were handled by others while you were gone.

If you go on vacation with an empty inbox, you come back to an empty inbox. Anything important that wasn’t handled in your absence can be resent to you now that people know you’re back.

What if your workplace won’t let you do it?

I’m taking most of July off and I’ll be doing exactly this and closing my inbox. I’m self-employed, so I can do whatever I want :)

But what if your workplace won’t allow you to do it? If that’s the case, there’s also a middle way.

Julian Troian is the Chief Happiness Officer of a company in Luxembourg called Etix Everywhere. His autroreply gives people an option to interrupt his vacation but also makes it clear that there’s a cost:

I am currently out of the office on vacation.

I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return… but that’s not true. My iPhone will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I’ll probably need to interrupt my vacation from time to time to deal with something urgent.

That said, I promised my family that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our time together as much as possible. So, I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:

If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on vacation, please give me a call on +352.xxxxxx and I’ll try to take your call and provide you with assistance.

If you think someone else at Etix Everywhere might be able to help you, feel free to email one of my colleagues at HR : xxxxx@etixgroup.com and they’ll try to point you in the right direction.

Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return…

Warm regards,
Julian

Julian says it works really well and people only interrupt him when it’s something urgent that only he can deal with.

Your take

How will you handle emails on your next summer vacation? Could you close your inbox?

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Our 3rd international Woohoo Academy was a huge hit

2016-06-24 16.14.18

Last week we held the 3rd international Woohoo Academy. 21 people from 12 countries (including Malaysia, India, China and Canada) came to Copenhagen to learn all about happiness at work in our most intensive, in-depth, 3-day training.

It was a major hit – everyone loved it and everyone passed. Not only did we get to share everything we know about creating happier workplaces, the participants also got to share their best experiences and tips with each other and with such an experienced and varied group, that was incredibly valuable for both them and us.

Our next Academy is on October 18-21 in New York City. Read more and get your tickets here.

UPDATE: Our partner in Hong Kong wrote about his experience at the Academy here, saying:

Besides gaining in-depth and latest information on the subject, I have also learnt to pass on the knowledge and tools to professionals and leaders through short keynotes or full-day workshops.

It was one of the best training events, and included field trips, sightseeing and lots of fun and games.

Here are some of our favorite pics from 3 amazing days in Copenhagen.

More upcoming open international gigs

alexander kjerulf

While most of our speaking gigs are for client companies and therefore limited to only their employees, we also speak at some open events.
If you want to see me speak about happiness at work, these are my upcoming international speaking gigs that are open to the public.

Check them out – they’re all great events :)

Our 7th. annual conference about happiness at work was a hit

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Last week we had our 7th annual conference about happiness at work in Copenhagen and this one may just have been the best one yet.

We had 14 inspiring speakers and 350 engaged participants to help make it a great day and as always, we filmed all the speeches and will be releasing them over the next few weeks. Here’s the first video – David Marquet’s excellent closing speech on how leaders can improve results by giving up control:

Our next Academy is nearly sold out

WoohooAcademy-2392

Our next Woohoo Academy in Copenhagen on June 21-24 is nearly sold out. We currently have 20 participants from 8 different countries, making it a very international affair.

So if you want to be a part of our in-depth, intense 3-day training about happiness at work, you should hurry up and book one of the last 5 seats.

And if you can’t make it to Copenhagen in June, the next Academy is on October 18-21 in New York.