Study: Positive feedback increases intrinsic motivation


Here an interesting study on the effects of positive feedback:

Male and female undergraduate students performed an interesting task and received either positive or negative feedback relative to their performance.

Subjects then filled out intrinsic motivation and feelings of competence scales.

Results showed that, relative to negative feedback, positive feedback led to higher levels of intrinsic motivation and competence feelings for both males and females.

So not only did positive feedback increase feelings of competence, it also gave the subjects more intrinsic motivation.

This is crucial, because intrinsic motivation (i.e. your own desire to do something) is the only kind that reliably and sustainably makes us work towards a goal.

This is just one more reason to praise people who do good work.

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Do you want to be a Chief Happiness Officer?

Here’s one of the next big things we’re working on: We want to create a training program for other potential Chief Happiness Officers.

We’ve been doing this work for corporate and government clients for over 10 years. We’ve spoken in over 30 countries and worked with organizations like IKEA, LEGO, IBM, Pfizer, Accenture, Oracle and many, many others.

In short, we have collected a lot of experience and knowledge on making workplaces happier – and we’d like to share that as widely as possible.

Here’s the idea: We will create a 4 or 5-day training some time in the first half of 2015. Possibly in Copenhagen (where we are), possibly in London or New York.

Space will be limited to approx. 25 people. We’re still working on pricing and exact timing.

The academy is for:

  • Managers and HR people who want to become internal CHOs inside their organization.
  • Consultants/speakers who want to build a business creating happier workplaces.

Happy at work in CuracaoThe content of the training will include:

  • The theory and science of happiness at work. Everything we do is based on research from psychology, neurology, sociology, management science, etc. We will give you an overview of the most relevant findings from these fields and how they apply in the workplace.
  • The practice of happiness at work. We will share all of our favorite tools and interventions, so that you can then use them yourselves.
  • Presenting happiness. We will work on your presentation skills, specifically aimed at giving you tips and tricks on how to present on happiness at work.
  • Measuring happiness at work. How do you measure happiness at work, so that you can document progress from your work.
  • How to sell this to others. How do you sell the idea of happiness at work – either inside your own organization or to potential clients.
  • Pitfalls and traps. What can go wrong? What must you avoid? How and why do happiness interventions fail?

As part of the training we will share many of our materials – including master slide decks, interventions, tools, articles and more so that you will get a ton of tools to use right away.

After the training, we will create a network so we can continue to learn from each other and develop new and better ways of creating happy workplaces.

We can safely say that being a CHO is challenging but also one of the most fun and rewarding jobs in the world :) It’s not for everyone – it takes a lot of creativity and courage to go up against established thinking – but the world needs more of us. Which is why we’re doing this.

Are you interested? Do you want to be a Chief Happiness Officer? Leave a comment on this post (remember to include your email address) and we will keep you updated as we develop this.

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can also leave those in the comments.

Get to know new employees

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In the last two months we have doubled the size of our company. We used to be three but we have added two interns and one full-time employee, who are working on some really cool projects for us.

Basically, Thomas, Nanna and Sofia in the picture above are our research department. We call them Woohoo Labs :)

Any time you add people to a team, it’s essential to get to know each other. The best tool we know for that is Personality Poker, so of course we played a game and ended up learning a lot about ourselves and each other.

2014-08-12 11.40.06Here are the personalities of everyone in the team:

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No matter which tool you use, it’s important to get to know the people you work with – both their professional skills and their personalities.

How do you do it? How does your team welcome new members?

Are you a happy boss? Take this test and find out.

Happy boss quizz

What kind of manager are you? Are you a happy boss or do you spread fear and misery all around you? We’ve created an online test that you can use to find out.

Being the boss used to be about making tough, ruthless decisions. This is changing. More and more wildly successful leaders today devote themselves to creating happiness – for employees, customers, shareholders and themselves.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, committed his company to “Delivering Happiness” to both clients and employees. Richard Branson  has said that “more than anything else, fun is the secret behind Virgin’s success.”

Take our test and learn if you are a happy boss.

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Weird Al’s Mission Statement

How could I possibly NOT share Weird Al Yancovic’s latest song called Mission Statement:

I mean, look at it. It parodies both business jargon and those ubiquitous RSA-style whiteboard videos. Brilliant.

The sad thing is that his parody lyrics are only slightly less comprehensible than some actual mission statements I’ve seen :)


5 Ways Positive Thinking Makes Us Miserable at Work

One German IT company has come up with the perfect solution to whining in the workplace – it’s made cheerfulness a contractual obligation. What’s more, the CEO has declared that those who don’t measure up to the prescribed level of jollity in the morning should stay at home until they cheer up.

The idea of positive thinking (and therefore banning negativity) is not new, but is affecting us now more than ever – at home and at work. And ironically, its effects are mostly negative. Yes, forced positive thinking makes us less happy.

Positive thinking is a poorly defined concept which at its most extreme says, that in every situation you can choose your own mood and your own reactions. No matter what happens to you, you can always choose a positive attitude.

“Fake it til you make it,” they say, claiming that faking happiness actually makes you happier. Basically, if you don’t feel happy every moment of your life, it’s just your own damn fault for not trying hard enough.

Now, this idea is not completely unfounded. In many situations, you can actually change your mood and outlook through conscious effort. Let’s say you’re stuck in traffic on your way to work. In a situation like that you can probably change your mindset and switch from being annoyed about the delay to a more positive interpretation of the situation. “Great, I have more time to listen to this interesting radio program,” or whatever. Nothing wrong with that.

But the most fanatic proponents of positive thinking (especially fans of The Secret and similar pseudo-scientific nonsense) go much further. They claim that you can always change your thinking in any situation, and that external circumstances don’t matter. No matter what situation you’re in, they say, you can simply choose to be happy.

Tell that to someone who’s seriously ill, who’s just been fired or who is suffering from severe depression. Actually, you should never tell them that, because telling someone in a really rough life situation that they should think more positively is incredibly condescending and a terrible way to trivialize their pain.

You could say I positively hate positive thinking :)

There is nothing wrong with the milder form of positive thinking, but the extreme version is bad for you in life and at work. Here are 5 ways positive thinking screws up our workplaces.

1: Faking emotions at work is stressful

In this fascinating TEDx speech, Danish researcher Mette Boll talks about an experiment she performed, in which grocery store employees were subjected to stressful situations on the job.

She found that the most stressful condition was not just having to deal with rude customers – the most stressful thing was to have to fake being positive as it happened.

She talks about biological authenticity and says that:

If you respond to an encounter with your systemic impulse, then there is no stress to your system…

If, however, you filter your response and you do what you’re trained to do in a situation like that, (the customer is always right), then it’s more stressful than anything else we could measure or detect in any of these scenarios.

So simply put, having to fake emotions you don’t have is stressful. That sort of demolishes the whole “Fake it till you make it” idea.

2: Positive thinking makes it even worse for people who are unhappy at work

According to the extreme version of positive thinking, if you’re unhappy at work, you’ve only got yourself to blame. It may be that your boss is a jerk, your coworkers bully you and the culture is completely toxic – you should just “have a positive attitude” and “make the best of it”.

So not only are you miserable, but now it’s all your fault. That makes things even worse.

3: Negative emotions are a natural part of work

Here’s a story I once shared from my previous career in IT consulting:

I had a big client in France who couldn’t make up their mind. In every single meeting, the customer changes the specs for the system. First they want this, then they want that. First they want it this way, then that way. Meanwhile, I’m quietly going crazy.

Finally, I lose it in a meeting. They introduce change number 283 (by my loose count), once again going back on what they’ve told me previously, and I snap. I actually pound the table with my fist, snap my folder shut and say through clenched teeth “No. This can’t go on. This system will never get off the ground if you keep changing your mind at every meeting. We need to make decisions and stick to them”.

In this situation I felt AND showed anger – a negative emotion. I could’ve forced myself to be positive in that situation, but it would have been a betrayal of my work and myself and it would have felt even worse. Not only was authentic by being angry, that outburst finally got the client to respect me.

The thing to remember is that negative emotions are not called that because they’re wrong, but simply because they’re unpleasant. Sometimes a negative emotion is exactly the right emotion and if you’re always forcing yourself to be positive you’re being both less authentic and less effective.

When your circumstances are bad, there is nothing wrong with being unhappy; it is only natural. In fact, negative emotions tend to drive us to action more than positive ones, so feeling bad about a bad situations helps you do something about it.

4: Positive thinking can contribute to quelling dissent and ignoring problems in the workplace

Ever heard someone say “In this workplace we don’t have problems, only challenges”?

I hate that phrase with a vengeance, partly because it’s wrong but mostly because it’s so often used to stifle dissent and criticism.

No workplace is perfect. No job is without problems.  If we consistently marginalize and criticize people who are unhappy at work by telling them to be positive and never complain, we lose some very valuable voices of reason and realism in the workplace.

5: Trying to force yourself to be positive, makes you unhappy

All of this means, ironically, that positive thinking at work makes us unhappy. If we expect to be happy all the time at work we are bound to be disappointed.

So let’s give negativity it’s central place in the workplace – as a perfectly natural, even helpful, state of mind. And that, ironically, will lead to more happiness at work!

Your take

Have you ever felt pressured to be happy at work when you weren’t? What did that do to you? What constructive role do you see negativity play at work? Write a comment, I’d love to hear your take.

A quick note: One thing that often bugs me is that some people confuse positive thinking with positive psychology. We base a lot of our work on positive psychology which is the branch of psychology that studies what makes people thrive and feel happy, where traditional psychology focuses mostly on mental illness. The only thing they have in common is the word “positive”.

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Voting on new employees

This WP article shares an interesting and rare practice from US grocery chain Whole Foods, that has me feeling a little conflicted:

New hires are voted in — or out — by their teams after their first 90 days at the company. A two-thirds majority is required to keep an employee on board.

The employees quoted like the system because:

  1. Existing employees can get rid of new coworkers who don’t pull their weight
  2. New hires get a sense of acceptance themselves because their coworkers have actively chosen to keep them

I’m torn on this. On the one hand I see obvious benefits but on the other hand I can also see some pitfalls. What if someone with a grudge against a new hire campaigns to get that person fired? What if employees see this as management abdicating their responsibility? What if a new hire who gets fired sees this as a rejection by his peers, rather than just a corporate decision?

Read the article and let me know what you think. Is this something you’d like to see introduced in your workplace?

UPDATE: Apparently the article may be explaining the practice wrong. Here’s a comment on reddit from a Whole Foods employee:

It doesn’t really work out as one might assume from the title of this post. No one is fired by vote. Feedback is collected on the new hire’s performance from all of the existing long term people on the team. It is shared with the new person and either his/her probation period is over or extended according to the performance ratings received by the fellow team members. WFM utilizes the same progressive discipline practices used at most large companies.

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