All posts by Alexander

Happiness tip: Find and use your strengths at work

Do you know what you’re really good at in your job? Where you shine? Do you have a good sense of your contributions to the workplace?

This week’s happiness tip is to take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire and find what your top 5 personal strengths are out of a total of 24 potential personal strengths.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Go take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire. You’ll be asked to register as a user first but it is free.
  2. Take the test. It has 240 questions so this can take a while :)
  3. Make a list of your top 5 strengths.
  4. For each of your top 5 signature strengths, try to write down some situations at work where you used those strengths.
  5. Take a look at your list. What strengths do you get to use often at work? These represent your main contribution to the workplace.
  6. What strengths do you rarely or never use at work? These represent untapped potential for you and your workplace. Is there any way you could get to use them more often?
  7. If you like, come back to this post and write your top 5 strengths in a comment so we can get to know each other a little better. I already wrote my top strengths in a comment :o)

This is a great exercise because it helps you discover your personal contribution to the workplace and also to find out of you have strengths that you are not currently using at work. Using your strengths daily is an important factor in becoming happy at work and in life. It will also make you more successful at work.

Finally, a strengths-based approach where you look at your personal strengths and how you can use them more at work is a lot more effective and a lot more fun than looking at your shortcomings and problems.

Hate your job? March 31 2017 is International Quit Your Crappy Job Day

Too many people hate their jobs but still stay in them for years. This is what we know:

  • Around 20-40% of employees are unhappy at work
  • Hating your job can severely damage your career, your health, your relationships and your private life
  • Many people are reluctant to quit and stay for too long in bad jobs

This is clearly a recipe for disaster for everyone who feels stuck in an unhappy work situation.

We want to change that, so we’ve declared March 31 to be International Quit Your Crappy Job Day and have created a web site to match at www.internationalquityourcrappyjobday.com.

Here’s our announcement:

On the site you can take a test to see if it might be time to quit and you can read a number of articles about quitting.

There are also a ton of stories from people who found the courage to quit bad jobs. This one is my favorite.

So if you are not happy at work, take a look at the site. Or if someone you know and love is stuck in a crappy job, consider sharing the site with them.

We want more people to quit, but more than that we want many more people to realize that they have that option. Because if you hate your job, but believe that you are not free to quit and get away, the situation gets much, much worse.

11 government policies that promote happiness at work to give a country a competitive advantage

Discussing public policy in Dubai

Given that happy companies have significant competitive advantages, governments have a strong interest in enacting public policies that promote happiness at work in their country.

But what exactly could a government do to achieve this?

At the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this month I was part of a panel that discussed how public policy could promote workplace happiness.

We had  a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion and came up with many cool ideas. Some of these may seem radical or weird but many of them are already in place in countries around the world.

Here are 11 ideas I would suggest:

1: Regulate and inspect psychological workplace safety

Pretty much every country has a government agency that sets requirements for physical workplace safety and sends out inspectors to visit e.g. factories and construction sites to make sure that the correct safety equipment is being used and that workers are following safety regulations.

So why not do the same for psychological workplace safety?

In the Scandinavian countries, this is actually in place. The Working Environment Authorities conduct inspections in cases where they suspect that working conditions are psychologically unsafe. They inspect things like:

  • Amount of work and time pressure
  • High emotional costs of labor
  • Bullying and sexual harassment
  • Contradictory or unclear work requirements

If they find that the workplace is psychologically unsafe they can issue orders that the company must follow. In serious cases they can even issue fines.

Breaking a leg because you trip over something at work is painful and can take a long time to heal. But make no mistake about it: being bullied by your boss or working under constant stress can affect your mental and physical health just as severely.

Therefore it makes perfect sense to mandate standards for psychological workplace safety and inspect workplaces to make sure they’re followed.

2: Regulate against permanent overwork

In Denmark, we have laws protecting employees from permanent overwork. The result is that Danes tend to leave work at a reasonable hour most days, and they also get five to six weeks of vacation per year, several national holidays and up to a year of paid maternity/paternity leave. While the average American works 1,790 hours per year, the average Dane only works 1,450.

Even Japan where the culture of overwork is so rampant that they have a word called karoshi that means death from overwork, is trying to enact similar laws:

The law, introduced as a response to the social problem that has been serious since the late 1980s, makes it the state’s responsibility to take steps to prevent death from overwork. It calls on the government to study the situation of heavy workloads that impair the health of company workers and lead them to take their own life.

Protecting employees from permanent overwork makes them happier and more productive.

3: Mandate employee representation on board of directors

Here’s another idea from Scandinavia – give employees representation on the board of directors:

Employees in Danish companies employing 35 employees or more, are entitled to elect a number of representatives to the board of directors. The number elected by employees should correspond to half the number elected by those who own the company at the general meeting, and should be at least two.

Crucially these employee representatives are not mere observers – they have all the same powers and responsibilities as the “regular” board members.

This means that employees are informed about and have influence on major strategic decisions.

4: Make government workplaces role models

I would love to see governments take a leading role by making public sector workplaces among the best in the country.

Sadly, the public sector usually has a bit of an inferiority complex. Since they usually can’t offer the same salaries, perks and incentives as private sector workplaces, they feel that they can’t be as good workplaces.

However, it turns out that those factors matter very little for workplace happiness, as long as they’re fair. However, public sector workplaces have a huge potential for being happy because they can offer something that many private workplaces struggle to give their employees: Meaningful work.

Public organizations almost by definition work for an important purpose. Schools educate children, hospitals heal the sick, city planners create better and more liveable cities - even the garbage men play a huge role in making people’s lives easier and better.

By contrast, let’s say  you work in an ad agency. The end result of your hard work might be that some company somewhere sells a fraction more detergent. Is that really meaningful to you?

If public sector workplaces would take the lead on offering their employees things like meaningful work, great leadership, good working conditions, work/life balance, professional development and employee empowerment they could serve as role models for all workplaces.

5: Promote lifelong learning

When a government makes education available cheap or free to its citizens, there is a much bigger chance that they get to realize their full potential and become happy at work.

And this should not be limited to young people. Lifelong learning should make it easy and affordable for anyone to upgrade their skills so they can get different or more interesting work.

6: Require companies to measure and report on employee happiness

Pretty much all countries require strict financial reporting from companies.

So why not require companies to measure and report on employee happiness?

7: Require all government suppliers to be certified happy workplaces

The government of any nation buys huge amounts of goods and services from private sector companies.

No government should knowingly buy from a company that used slave labor or child labor or polluted the environment.

So why not require that all government suppliers be good workplaces?

8: Don’t hobble trade unions

Trade unions have a somewhat mixed reputation and can fall victim to corruption or cronyism.

However, on the whole it is clear from the research that collective bargaining is a powerful tool to improve working conditions not just for union members but for all workers in many areas including compensation, vacation time, maternity/paternity leave and workplace safety.

Employers and lobbyists in some countries are trying to restrict unions, making it easier for employers to keep costs low. If a government protects workers’ rights to organize, the result is better working conditions and happier workplaces.

9: Celebrate the best workplaces

Several private companies conduct surveys to find the best workplaces in different countries, but these rankings are always limited to those workplaces that pay to be included. This limits their usefulness.

So why not let the state publish a ranking of the best workplaces in the country?

10: Make unemployment benefits widely available and liveable

When unemployment benefits are too low to live on or too hard to obtain, employees are locked in to their jobs, because leaving a bad workplace could have disastrous financial consequences.

However, when unemployment benefits support a decent standard of living and are available also to people who quit a job, getting away from a toxic workplace is much easier.

11: Make bad workplaces and managers legally responsible for the harm they cause

If a workplace is run in a way that systematically harms its employees mental health, causing stress and depression, it should be possible to hold the leadership of that company legally accountable.

We already do this for workplaces that don’t live up to physical workplace safety regulations – serious violations can lead to fines or even jail time for the managers responsible.

I think it makes perfect sense to do the same for companies or managers that harm their employees mental health.

The point

Any government has an interest in enacting public policies that strengthen the competitive advantage of companies in that country.

However, this is often done by cutting corporate taxes, deregulation or corporate subsidies – none of which have much of a track record of success.

If a government is truly serious about giving companies a sustained, strong competitive advantage, they should really focus on policies that create happier workplaces.

This would not only be good for the companies and the employees, it would also be good for the national economy, as it would boost national productivity and reduce absenteeism, stress and related healthcare costs.

Shouldn’t your country have a happiness minister?


The UAE’s minister for happiness opens the conference.

I am back from Dubai where I spent 3 days at the World Government Summit along with 4,000 other delegates.

One theme running through the entire event was how government policies can further the happiness of citizens. I was invited to participate as an expert in happiness at work.

And the event was REALLY fascinating. They had many of the biggest names in the field come and speak, including Ed Diener, Sir Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs and the prime minister of Bhutan where they have been focusing the country’s development on happiness for the last 15-20 years.

Here I am with Sir Richard Layard:

The closing speakers were the economist Joseph Stiglitz and Elon Musk.

I am hugely impressed with the scope of the event and also with the consistent focus on how governments can focus on the wellbeing of their citizens, rather than just on economic growth. I think this is a fascinating vision for the future of public policy making.

And the two are not the same. It is entirely possible to create economic growth in a way that does not make people any happier. Here is a graph showing how GDP per capita grew consistently over a 30-year period in the UK while life satisfaction stayed flat:

So shouldn’t your country have a happiness minister? I wish mine did!

My meeting with the Danish healthcare system

Danish hospital wear - stylish AND flattering :)

Yesterday I went in for a very minor planned operation at Bispebjerg Hospital close to where we Iive here in Copenhagen.

So here are 3 reflections on my first major meeting with the Danish healthcare system since I was a kid.

1: The people were awesome

Every single person I met was friendly, cheerful and competent. I felt seen and genuinely cared for the whole time. So many people welcomed me to the hospital. Many said “We’re going to take good care of you,” which I felt was a wonderful touch.

All staff also went out of their way to keep me informed at all times and took time to answer all my questions. Everything they did was explained clearly and with great empathy.

They all seemed very happy at work and were really nice and friendly around each other as well. This is important, because some research indicates that happy hospitals have better patient outcomes.

2: The whole process was highly efficient

The surgery went just perfectly and I was in and out in a few hours, just as scheduled.

It was clear that the different teams and wards had spent a lot of time optimizing the processes and figuring out the best ways to share information between them and how to optimally use the available resources.

These people clearly care about doing their jobs well and efficiently.

3: This is for everyone

I’m wealthy. If I didn’t trust the public hospitals in Denmark, I could easily afford treatment at a private hospital somewhere.

So my main reflection is that this level of care is available for free to every single Dane, regardless of income or social status. This is one of the things that make me proud of my country.

My only worry is that I’ll have to take it easy on the training for a while –  just when the CrossFit Open is coming up. Dammit :)

Is your company’s purpose this clear and inspiring?

Last month I gave a keynote at Danish pharmaceutical company Xellia. While waiting in their lobby, I noticed the sign above, carrying probably the simplest and most inspiring company purpose I’ve ever seen.

As you may know, one of the biggest current medical crises is the increasing risk of infection by multi-resistant bacteria, that are immune to traditional antibiotics.

Xellia produces an antibiotic that is still effective against multi-resistant bacteria. Their research and products directly saves lives all over the world and we are proud to have them as a client.

After the keynote, they sent us this feedback:

“Your speech clearly showed why happiness at work is so important and helped us focus on it and maintain it in our workplace. You gave our entire team a huge and much-needed boost – thank you!”

– Morten Rank, People Manager, Chemical Laboratory, Xellia Pharmaceuticals

The 20 most common objections to happiness at work and why they’re wrong

It seems weird, but some people are against happiness at work.

Very serious pundits and cynics are coming out of the woodwork to declare that happiness at work is stupid, impossible, naïve, silly, manipulative and/or bad for you.

They’re wrong and their criticisms often reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of the happiness research.

I was getting tired of slapping these curmudgeons down one by one, so here is our combined definitive smack-down of the 20 most common anti-workplace-happiness objections.

If you like the video, please share it – we need your help to stand up for happiness at work against the cynics :)

A simple (and free) way to let employees share hobbies and passions

Here’s another great and simple tool for creating better coworker relationships from our Czech Woohoo inc Partner Michal Srajer.

In this video he describes how he used Google Groups to help employees at IT company Avast connect around shared hobbies and passions.

This fosters better workplace relationships, cross-team collaboration and better teamwork.

Related posts

Say good morning at work – it works

This is beyond amazing: This fifth grade teacher in North Carolina has a personalized handshake and greeting for each of his students. What a great start to any class.

While this might be a little too much for the average workplace, one thing we teach many of our clients is the value of actually saying “good morning” to your coworkers/employees in the morning.

There are several approaches to saying good morning at work:
Level 0: You ignore people completely
Level 1: A somewhat unintelligible grunt
Level 2: Saying good morning without looking at people
Level 3: Make eye contact as you say good morning
Level 4: Also say something more than just good morning, e.g. “How are you?” or something more personal.
Level 5: Also touch the other person – e.g. a handshake or a pat on the shoulder. You can even hug, but only if you and the other person want to.

Specifically, we recommend the “Level 5 Good Morning.” What you see in the video above with the teacher is probably more of a level 6 or 7 :)

It’s a small thing. It takes no time and costs no money, but  it makes people happier at work - in our opinion because it reinforces good workplace relationships between coworkers and between managers and employees.

And it works. Here are two examples:

I once worked for a bank in Germany (well these are two locations in which you would not normally expect “personal affection” ;-)).

The team was large, about 40 people worked in one open space office. It surprised me a lot that every morning, whoever arrived, walked through the whole office and greeted everybody with a handshake and some personal words. It did not matter if the team members came, the bosses from higher up or anybody from another department. It was known everywhere that here you greet everybody personally.

For the first week, I found that very strange and a bit intimidating. Also, it cost a lot of time all in all. Yet afterwards, I really enjoyed it. It gave everybody the chance to get to know the colleagues a bit better, to hear what they are off to or to realize that somebody is not in or just returned from a trip or vacation. There was no need to e-mail weekly lists on who is out when. We just knew it.

Btw, when I moved on to another job, I sort of missed it.

And this one is great too:

Actually the level 5 good morning is working a treat – which is why I’ve kept it up!

I have a new team member that I supervise who sits next to me, and Mihaly also sits with us in the same section, which can be a bitdaunting for a new team member!! The three of us collaborate really well together, and I think the level 5 good morning has helped our new team member feel comfortable…

In fact, the three of us just worked on an urgent roll-out of our new website, and we had a great team dynamic – everyone knew their role, trusted one another, communicated perfectly. It was great.

I think the level 5 good morning was a big contributor to that… It’s hard to measure though isn’t it, you sort of just ’feel’ the effect. Anyway, thanks for the invaluable advice!

The opposite is also true: If someone comes into the workplace and says good morning and gets no real reaction, that can lead to people feeling isolated, ignored and lonely – which makes some people really unhappy at work.

So say “good morning” at work. It works!