All posts by Alexander

Freedom at work = happiness at work

“You’d be amazed what happens once people are empowered to make decisions.”

Here’s a great article from CNN on how Denmark’s happiest workplace became so happy: they gave their employees freedom and responsibility.

This is the moment they won first place in the Danish Great Place to Work ranking:

10 simple questions to ask yourself at the start of a new work year

The beginning of a new year is a great time to take stock of your work life. Were you happy or unhappy at work? What would you like to change?

It’s important to evaluate because how you feel at work has such a large influence on you at work AND at home. When you’re happy at work, you have better job performance and more career success. You also have better health and a happier private life.

Unfortunately most people look back and think exclusively in terms of what went wrong. The things they should have done. They goals they ought to have achieved. The progress that didn’t come.

We gain much of our happiness at work (and in life) by appreciating the good things we have and do. Sure, you should also make sure to improve your circumstances and address any problems but it is just as important to be able to appreciate the things that do work.

This is hard. Negativity bias is one of the most well-established psychological phenomena and it means quite simply that our minds devote more mental focus and cognition to the bad than the good. Our thoughts automatically go to problems, annoyances, threats and fears but remembering and appreciating the good in our lives takes effort and focus.

We think you can achieve much more by turning that around 180 degrees, so here’s our suggestion for a little new year’s exercise in happiness at work.

Think back at your work life in 2016 and answer the following 10 questions. It works best, if you take some time to do it and if you write down your answers:

  1. What went really well for you at work in 2016?
  2. What did you do that you were proud of?
  3. Who did you make a difference for at work?
  4. What new skills have you learned professionally?
  5. How have you grown and developed personally at work?
  6. Who has helped you out at work in 2016?
  7. Who have you admired professionally?
  8. Which 5 things from your work life in 2016 would you like more of in 2017?
  9. Which 5 things from your work life in 2016 would you like less of in 2017?
  10. What will you specifically do to become happier at work in 2017?

Most people think that they must work hard to become successful – and that success will make them happy. They’re most likely wrong.

So this year, make happiness at work your #1 career goal – because being happy at work will make you more successful in your career.

I wish you a very happy new year at work!

Try this Jedi mind trick in your next meeting

Just got this awesome message on LinkedIn:

Hi Alexander,

I have been reading your work for a few days now, and I cannot get enough.

We have 4 analysts on our team, who touch many if not all groups in our company, and the insight you provide in your articles is invaluable. Our role often means our view is black and white in order to deliver results, which is often received in a bad light.

So, I immediately utilized item 1 of your five weird tips for great meetings. It was like the Jedi mind trick for convincing others to lobby for our interests!

My Sr Analyst was struggling to keep her jaw from dropping. No more than a simple ask of what is the funniest thing your kids have said to you lately. Everyone had a story, and we all laughed for a quick 2 minutes before getting to the agenda.

Just wanted to say, “Thank you,”

All the best,
-Grant

Sometimes the simple things work best.

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How time scarcity kills productivity – and 5 ways to avoid it

“Your car is having trouble and will need repairs at a cost of around $1,500. How would you handle that situation?”

Scientists from the University of Warwick led by professor Anandi Mani stopped customers at a New Jersey mall and asked them that question. Next the subjects took an IQ test and the results was stunning: For financially well-off participants, this question did not affect their IQ scores in any way. But people who were struggling financially underperformed by 13 IQ-points simply because their money worries had been brought to their attention.

This experiment is described in the excellent book “Scarcity – Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by professor of economics Sendhil Mullainathan and professor of psychology Eldar Shafir, in which the two scientists clearly lay out the negative cognitive effects of scarcity.

When we have too little of something that is important to us we become a little dumber, less disciplined and we make poor choices. This helps explain – among many other things – why poor people keep taking out pay-day loans, even when they should know better and even though those incredibly expensive  loans just put them deeper in the hole.

And this is not only about lack of money; the book gives plenty of examples of how time scarcity has the same kind of effects, making us dumber and worse at managing what little time we do have effectively.

So, knowing this, why is it that so many workplaces mercilessly keep putting their employees under massive time pressure? Why do leaders consistently create time scarcity?

This happens when:

  • Employees are routinely expected to increase their productivity year after year with little or no additional support, training or resources.
  • A manager commits to their team doing more work with the same staff.
  • A company is growing and taking on new clients/projects without a commensurate increase in staff and resources.
  • An organization lays off staff but expects the reduced staff to the same amount of work.
  • Schedules are filled to capacity with meetings and tasks before the work week even starts, leaving no time for ad-hoc or unexpected tasks.

Some leaders think that these situations create a burning platform that pressures employees to work effectively and creatively towards the company’s goals, but the truth is the opposite: Time scarcity reduces employees’ cognitive resources and makes it much harder for them to do their jobs well.

And what’s worse, this can become self-reinforcing. Here’s an example: An organizations reduces headcount leading to increased time pressure and scarcity among those left. This weakens their cognitive capacity and productivity drops, leading to even more busyness and scarcity.

Is this something you see happening in your workplace? Here are 5 things we can do about it.

1: Take time pressure off employees

Instead of giving employees hard-to-reach productivity goals and filling their work week to the brim (and beyond) we need to give them more realistic goals and leave some slack in their schedules so any ad-hoc task that comes along (as it inevitably will) does not topple the whole load.

Most employees actually get more work done when they have productivity goals that are reasonable and within their capacity.

Here’s a great example: The IT company Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor only lets employees work 40 hours a week and then only schedules 32 hours of work per employee per week. That way there is no time scarcity and always time for unexpected tasks. This is described in the excellent book “Joy Inc” by Menlo’s CEO Rich Sheridan.

2: Celebrate good performance

We also need to constantly praise and appreciate people and teams for the good work they do. This give employees a sense of accomplishment and purpose that goes a long way towards combatting time scarcity.

Some workplaces do the opposite though: First giving people unrealistic goals and then hitting them over the head for not reaching those goals.

3: Leave time for learning and development

Every single employee must have time to get better. To learn new professional and personal skills. To reflect on what is working well and what can be improved in the workplace.

This becomes near-impossible under time scarcity, preventing employees from getting better at their jobs.

The IT company Next Jump in New York give each employee significant time every week to develop their skills with a mentor, in weekly meetings or on their own. That way employees always have time for growth and development, which they deem essential to their success. Here’s a great article on how they do it.

4: Maintain good workplace relationships

One of the first things to go in a workplace facing time scarcity is the workplace relationships.

When we are very busy it becomes exponentially harder to care about other people, to help and support co-workers and to maintain a habit of helping each other.  Needless to say, this just makes the effects of busyness that much worse.

Instead we need to make sure that there is always time to create and maintain relationships between employees. There should always be time for a coffee break and a chat with a co-worker. No one should eat lunch alone at their desk. Even something as simple as saying a cheerful “good morning” to your team mates in the morning can make a positive difference – and can be neglected and forgotten under time scarcity.

 

5: Avoid permanent overwork

Some companies try to solve this by making people work more hours. Don’t!

First of all – overwork can kill you:

… those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke than those working a 35- to 40-hour week.

And to make matters worse, all those extra hours don’t even mean you get more work done:

[Overwork] … doesn’t seem to result in more output.

So overwork is killing employees while not improving business results. Can we stop it already?

It’s a topic I’ve talked about a lot on this blog.

The upshot

Simply put, many workplaces put employees in a situation of near-permanent time scarcity, thinking this will pressure them to work harder. The truth is the opposite: It makes them more stressed, more sick, less happy and less productive.

Instead, we should do our very best to reduce time pressures because that way, the organization will be more successful.

Your take

Do you see any of this happening in your workplace? Is time a scarce resource and how does it affect you?

Write a comment, we’d love to hear your take.

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5 ways to create some happiness in the office this Christmas

December can be a cold, dark, busy and stressful month at work.

Or we can use the Christmas season to actively create some cheer in the office. Here are 5 great ways to do it.

1: Random acts of Christmas cheer

nissebanden

Here’s a great example from a Danish company called Solar, where two department managers Carsten and Karsten toured the entire office and ris a la mande (a traditional Danish Christmas dessert) for all their employees.

Here’s a video of them doing it:

The holiday season is a great opportunity to make other people happy. What could you do? Hand out candy? Sing carols together?

2: Decorate like crazy

christmas-office-decorating

A few years ago I was flying out of Copenhagen and at the airport I saw this office that had been decorated with with insane amounts of Christmas decorations. Just looking at it put me in a happier Christmas mood.

Why not decorate your workplace in a fun, over-the-top way? You could even sit down together and make your own handcrafted seasonal decorations.

3: Stealthy acts of kindness

Many Danish workplaces have a Christmas tradition for pranking each other in december. The way it works is this: each person draws the name of a team member and has to lightly prank that person throughout the month without getting caught.

Like maybe gift wrapping their office:

We suggest turning that on its head and make the game about doing nice things for the other person without getting caught. Maybe hide some candy in their desk, write them a note with positive feedback or send them a slice of cake anonymously. Or maybe even gift wrapping their desk, if you think it would make that person smile.

Then on the last working day before the Christmas break you can get the team together and let them try to guess who’s been nice to them all month.

4: The Christmas Dice Gift Grab Game (only opposite)

At many Christmas workplace events, teams play the Dice Grab Game. The rules are simple: Everyone brings a wrapped (cheap) present and places it on the table. People take turn to roll a die and if you roll a 6 you get to take a present from the table. Once all the presents are taken, a 6 let’s you take a present from another player.

It can get pretty intense :)

So change the game like this:When you roll a 6, you get to take a present from one player and give it to someone else.

It changes the dynamics of the game completely and makes it a lot more fun and a lot less competitive.

Try this version with your family – it works really well when there are children present too.

5: Give each other Christmas presents

Some workplaces give all employees a Christmas present, which is nice, sure, but not really something that tends to make people terribly happy. This is mostly because the gifts are not personal, so they’re not an indication of you contributions or how you’re seen as a person.

But we’ve convinced some of your clients to do this differently, and get team member to buy presents for each other. Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of december, each employee draws the name of one of their team member and get to buy a present for that person. They will of course be reimbursed by the company and there’s a maximum amount they can spend.

They are not allowed to just ask that person what they should buy them. They have to figure out what that person wants for Christmas and what gift would make them happy.

Throughout December people buy their gifts, wrap them and out them under the office Christmas tree.

At the end of December, the team has a holiday party where the gifts are given and unwrapped. Only the do you find out who’s bought you something.

The advantages of this method are:

  1. The gifts are personal and specifically chosen for each person.
  2. Co-workers get a chance to get to know each other better.
  3. People think investigating each other and picking the present is a lot of fun in itself.

Your take

What do you think? Would any of this work in your workplace?

What is December otherwise like where you work? Fun or busy or both? What have you done to create some Christmas cheer at work?

Write a comment, we’d love to her your take,

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5 lessons you can learn from Denmark’s happiest call center

Call centers are notoriously tough workplaces.

But City Call Center in Copenhagen is different. Very different. They were recently named one of Denmark’s best workplaces in the Great Place to Work Survey and people love working here.

In this interview, their founder and CEO Pouline Mangaard explains how she has created the (nearly) impossible: A happy call center.

 Her ideas are simple, effective and are relevant in any kind of workplace.