Happiness and elephants


Michael Poulsen, software developer and Chief Happiness Officer, shows off Valtech’s order of the elephant.

The Danish division of the French software company Valtech are very committed to creating a happy workplace. One of their developers, Michael Poulsen, volunteered to be the company’s Chief Happiness Officer for a year and his first initative was to introduce an initative based on the most prestitious award in the Kingdom of Denmark, The Order of the Elephant.

This is how he introduced the idea to Valtech’s 100 Danish employees:

I’m happy to be able to introduce Valtechs first Happiness@Work initiative: The Valtech Order of the Elephant.

Purpose:
To bring all the good things we do for each other out in the light.

How it works:
The elephant is passed on from co-worker to co-worker on a weekly basis, with a reason why it is passed to that person in particular.

The reason for passing the elephant on to a new co-worker is up to you. Maybe someone helped you move apartment, fix a bug in your code or just have a positive impact on your day by always being happy and smiling.

There are only a few ground rules:

  • Whenever you receive the elephant you may only hold on to it for a maximum of one week.
  • Whenever you pass along the elephant you need to tell the person you give it to why they receive it and send a mail to michael.poulsen@valtech.dk with the name of the receiver and the reason why. (I’m working on a way to visualize the reasons).
  • When the elephant is in your possession he needs to be in plain view so everyone passing your desk can see him (and maybe even ask why you got it… hint hint).
  • Optional: Remember to supply him with lots of peanuts.

The reasoning behind all this is based on the Danish pioneer in happiness at work (arbejdsglæde) Alexander Kjerulf. He states that happiness at work is based on two things. Our results and our personal relations.

I hope you all will accept and support the initiative so we can keep it rolling… Elephants get very old you know :-)


A closeup of the elephant – which was donated by the CEO’s 6-year old son.

Since then the elephant has been circulating around the office, and here are some of the recipients – and the reason why they got it:

The first stop for the Order of the Elephant, on his long journey will be at Michael Gyde Møllers desk. He is receiving the company of the elephant for the next week because he has always been happy to help me when I was in a tight spot, and always did so with a smile, which means a lot to me.

The Elephant has moved, this time to Eri! At Eri’s the elephant will find itself a good home since she with such good humor shares her invaluable insights in the mysterious danish society. Through her cultural background and experience she’s able to help recent visitors to understand Denmark, may it be swedes or elephants :)

Elephant is now moved to Lone. Elephant has chosen Lone because she is always happy and sweet fair and understanding great at project management (so developers can enjoy working on the project)

I think this just fantastic. It is a fun, simple and above all highly visible way to praise and appreciate co-workers. Kudos to Michael for doing this and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

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Your take

What do you think of this? Does your workplace already so something similar? Could this work for you? What does getting praise and recognition from your peers mean to you? Write a comment, I’d like to know your take.

8 thoughts on “Happiness and elephants”

  1. My concern would be that the elephant would not be well received. Some employees are very jaded and would look on this as a ploy, like instead of rewarding the employees with a monetary reward here is this elephant. Go get the cheese and you get an elephant.
    I think that if your work force has been abused, passed over for raises, unregognizing employees has been the norm, the elephant would seem insincere.
    You need to build a culture of recognizing people and then the elephant would be appreciated.

  2. Bridget, I agree with you if all initiative comes form the top. But if you read Alexander’s story about the nurses who just didn’t accept that their workplace had to be impersonal and cold it could be instituted from below as a genuine sign of appreciation. And who knows, perhaps people would actually enjoy that their efforts were noticed – even if it was “only” by their colleagues.
    Sometimes you just can’t wait for management to wake up…

  3. I agree with Bridget’s comments above, but assuming the culture would already lend itself to this kind of gesture I think it might be nice – I have a little camel from Bahrain that would lend himself nicely to the task! However I see there are 100 employees at Valtech. I work on a very large construction project with 160 office employees (not to mention all the contractors on the job) and I don’t know if one elephant would be enough. Do you worry that those that don’t ever seem to get the elephant are going to start to feel slighted, or that it will continue to circulate among the same people over and over, and backfire that way? Kind of like cliques in high school – “YOU’RE the best! No, YOU’RE the best!” I know the environment I work in can be very political and there are certain people that are just habitually negative and thus not particularly well-liked; naysayers like that, in a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way, could really bring something like this down by making fun and ridiculing people with the elephant as brown-nosers. I know I’m probably overthinking it – I guess this is part of the culture that needs to be in place already before you bring this kind of thing to life.

  4. I work in the security industry and the closest we have to this is an employee of the month who gets mentioned in the monthly newsletter.
    All of the static guards are extremely jaded about the whole thing, as it always goes to the mobile guards usually for catching someone or stopping a fire etc.

    All notable achievements but when you read about the mobile drivers each and every month it gets tiresome

  5. Interesting to see your different views on this.

    An Elephant Order will not work in all kinds of companies. Size is not the only factor, but company culture matters as well.

    When I introduced the elephant on the picture I was worried that the “game” wouldn’t be accepted and it would just strand on a dusty table somewhere. It didn’t and it’s still being sent around every week. Please remember that I’m not a manager and the Elephant Order was not invented by the management either. Maybe that makes it easier for the employees to embrace. Maybe not. My experience, however, tells me that you cant force people to be happy, so if my colleagues didn’t want to play the elephant would just be parked in a closet.

    At Valtech it has become a little competition, and something to strive for, to get the elephant. But still only on a fun-level.

    If someone does not get the elephant, maybe they should wonder why. Am I not helping other people enough? Am I always grumpy when I enter the room? Should I change?

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