This is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read about work

Khalil_GibranKahlil Gibran’s book The Prophet came out in 1923 and has not been out of print since. The book is made up of 26 sermons by a wise man called Al Mustapha. He is about to set sail for his homeland after 12 years in exile on a fictional island when the people of the island ask him to share his wisdom on the big questions of life: love, family, work and death.

Here is the chapter on work, which I think goes to the very heart of finding happiness and meaning in work.

Then a ploughman said, “Speak to us of Work.”

And he answered, saying: You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune. But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born, And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written. You have been told also life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love; And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit, And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil. And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”

But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass; And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

Bad bosses – why they’re bad and what to do about them

bad-bossOur brand new study of what makes people unhappy at work has a number of interesting findings but none more relevant (or discouraging) than this one:

The #1 cause of unhappiness at work is bad bosses.

This is hardly news – we know this already from several other studies.

It’s partly about results

So why are bad bosses bad? Partly, there’s a sense that the boss is not there for employees work-wise, is always too busy with his own tasks to help them or simply has no insight or no interest in the work they do.

40% of respondents in our survey mentioned “A lack of help and support from my boss” as one cause of their most recent bad work day. 37% mention “Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision and strategy.”

One person wrote:

I love my actual job. It is rarely job specific tasks that make my days go bad. It is almost always frustration about having to work through hierarchy despite that fact that my boss is recognized as ineffective throughout the organization. (just writing that made my day better!)

Another wrote:

“My boss suddenly started to instruct me on things that I’ve done for 15 years. Very annoying.”

When you lack support from the boss, it becomes unreasonably hard to do your job well and get good results. And getting great results that you can be proud of is a major source of happiness at work.

… But it’s also about relationships

35% of respondents name bad behavior from bosses as one cause of unhappiness at work. One person wrote:

“My boss contributes to the bulk of the cause of everything else that is bad at work. We have a new director, and my job has not changed. Just bosses changed. I used to love my job. Now I hate it.”

Good workplace relationships and social support are crucial for our happiness at work and studies show that the most important workplace relationship is with the immediate manager.

When employees have a good relationship with the boss, they are much more likely to be happy at work. When they know that the boss sees them, respects them, trusts them and appreciates them personally and professionally.

On the other hand, when bosses show that they don’t care about their people, e.g. by being rude, disrespectful or simply by ignoring them, it is a clear sign of bad relationships and this makes employees miserable.

Crucially, this bad behavior can come from both the immediate manager or from executives higher up on the org chart. One respondent wrote:

“I love my new boss, but the c-suite is clueless and mean.”

Another wrote:

“My VP is an HR nightmare. He constantly makes derogatory remarks about employees behind closed doors during meetings that I’m forced to attend.”

So it’s not enough to have a good team managers, the whole company must have a good leadership culture and top executives who are highly visible inside the organization must be good leaders.

Dire consequences

Almost 2 out of 3

The negative effects of bad bosses are profound.

Our study showed that 2 out of 3 employees had at least 1 bad work day every week. 19% say they have a bad day at work “every day or almost every day.” When the bad work days become too many,  they can really harm people at work and at home. And as mentioned, the #1 factor that makes bad work days bad is the boss.

Respondents wrote:

“This is the first position I have ever held where I actually hate my job. I never understood people who say ‘I hate my job!’ or who constantly complain about their work lives until this last year. Now I know what those people are talking about.”

“I don’t sleep well at night, when I have a bad day at work because the anticipation and anxiety of the next day is always on my mind.”

Bad bosses are bad. Thank you Captain Obvious. So what do we do about them?

Given that bad bosses are the most common cause of unhappiness at work and given the negative effects they have on employees and on the company’s results, we clearly need to do something about this problem.

Here are our top 5 suggestions.

1: Realize that good leadership is about happiness

Good bosses are happy themselves and do their best to make the employees, the customers and maybe even the world a little happier. Therefore, workplaces must realize the value of these happy leaders and do everything they can to celebrate and spread their good example.

2: Hire and train managers for happiness

On an organizational level, we can recognize that good management skills are not an inherent trait in most people. It’s something we can look for when we select people for management positions, and something we must systematically train bosses to do well.

The best way to do that, is to realize that the best leaders have excellent relationship-building skills. They are excellent at understanding and relating to many different kinds of people – bad bosses relate only to people who are like themselves.

3: Listen to employees’ problems

Additionally, managers need to listen to employees and take them seriously when they see problems in the workplace. Bad bosses can’t take criticism and don’t care about any problems their employees face.

4: Stop bad managers

And crucially, we need to stop bad managers. Every workplace has them; bosses who should not be bosses because they lack the professional or personal skills to manage well. If bad bosses can not learn to be good bosses, they need to stop being bosses altogether.

One company even let’s all employees rate their managers twice a year and the resulting scores are published for the whole company to see, creating massive pressure on bad bosses to mend their ways.

Most importantly: Never ever accept jerks in management positions. They’re incredibly toxic.

5: Learn to recognize and deal with bad bosses

On an individual level, each of us can learn to recognize bad management when we see it and realize exactly just how badly it affects us professionally and personally.  And if you find yourself working for a bad manager with no desire or skill to improve their ways, the best (or even the only) solution may be to quit and go work somewhere else.

New study confirms that positive feedback increases performance

Thumbs upYet another study confirms what we all know: Giving employees positive feedback leads to more happiness at work, less stress and better performance:

In the study, participants… were asked to solve problems. Approximately half of the participants were told to ask friends and family members to send them an email just prior to their participation that described a time when the participant was at his or her best.

Overwhelmingly, those who read positive statements about their past actions were more creative in their approach, more successful at problem-solving and less stressed out than their counterparts.

For instance, participants had three minutes to complete Duncker’s candle problem. Fifty-one percent who had read emails prior to the task were able to successfully complete it; only 19% of those who did not receive “best-self activation” emails were able to solve it.

Those who received praise were also significantly less stressed than the control group.


Which is kinda sad, when we know how many employees feel under-appreciated.

In our recent study of what makes people unhappy at work, a lack of praise and recognition was one of the major causes. 37% of participants in our survey mentioned it as something that made them unhappy at work.

So get praisin’. Positive feedback takes no time and costs no money. It does require you to actually pay attention to other people and be able to see their good work and positive qualities. But if we can’t even do that, there is something more fundamentally wrong.

My 5 favorite speeches about freedom at work

Earlier this year I spoke at the WorldBlu Freedom at Work Summit in Miami. I’ve been to every single one of their events and they are the best and most inspiring business conferences I’ve ever been to.

I talked about being a rebel and saying no at work – because there is no freedom without the freedom to say no.

Now they’ve just released videos of several of the talks from this year’s event. They are all AWESOME – seriously, just go watch them all – but here are my 5 favorites.

Rich Sheridan on how to hire democratically:

Carrie Brandes on how to set bonuses democratically:

Garry Ridge, the CEO WD-40 gave this excellent talk:

Our good friend Steve Shapiro did actual magic on stage:

And of course the founder of WorldBlu, Traci Fenton, talked about freedom at work:

So I really encourage you to sign up for their next event which is in May 2016 in Miami. I will be there :)

What an obscure Danish philosopher can teach modern workplaces

Professor Knud E. L¯gstrup.

Unless you’re Danish, you have probably never heard of K.E. Løgstrup, who was a  Danish philosopher and theologian whose work has exerted considerable influence in postwar Nordic thought.

His most influential idea was presented in his 1956 book The Ethical Demand (Den Etiske Fordring).

Here’s the basic concept:

Trust is not of our own making; it is given. Our life is so constituted that it cannot be lived except as one person lays him or herself open to another person and puts him or herself into that person’s hands either by showing or claiming trust.

By our very attitude to another we help to shape that person’s world. By our attitude to the other person we help to determine the scope and hue of his or her world; we make it large or small, bright or drab, rich or dull, threatening or secure. We help to shape his or her world not by theories and views but by our very attitude towards him or her.

Herein lies the unarticulated and one might say anonymous demand that we take care of the life which trust has placed in our hands.

To paraphrase, he acknowledges the fundamentally social nature of humans. He says that you never interact with another human being without holding a little bit of that person’s life in your hand.

I think this applies in every aspect of life but in the workplace we often fall into a pattern of thinking that puts other concerns first and our attitude towards other human beings is affected by time pressure, economic pressure, performance pressure etc.

We know that conformity makes people very quickly adopt the norms and behaviors of people around them (especially people in authority) and toxic cultures very quickly make people act in ways that can border on sociopathic.

But it doesn’t matter what types of pressure your job brings to bear on you – none of that gives you license to treat other people with less than utmost respect and care. None of that gives you a pass to treat customers, coworkers, vendors etc badly.

This goes double for managers, whose bad behavior is always seen by employees and adopted as the new norm.

In short, while the ethical demand formulated by Løgstrup has become a lot harder to live by in modern workplaces, it remains as valid as ever.