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Being great at your work vs. feeling great about your work

If we want to be happy in our jobs, we need to be good at our jobs.

We human beings have a basic need to know that we contribute, create value and can make a difference and effect change in our environment.

That’s why doing a good a job feels amazing. It gives us feelings like pride, accomplishment, fulfilment, growth and worth.

On the other hand, when we feel that we don’t perform well at work, it creates feelings like inadequacy and lack of control plus of course fear that we might lose our jobs.

And it’s also in the company’s best interest to make sure that every single employee and team is getting great results and living up to their potential. Companies typically focus on 4 areas to make that happen:

  • Skills: Training, competencies, job skills match,  …
  • Resources: Time, tools, IT-systems, …
  • Structure: Organization, plans, goals, budgets, strategy, processes, …
  • Support: Coworker+manager support, coaches/mentors, …

These are all important and enable us to get results. If your workplace is not giving employees these 4 things, then how on earth can you expect them to perform well?

If we want people to be happier at work, we can definitely help them get better results. We can give them better training, more resources, more support, etc. in order to help them perform better.

However, many people already get great results – but don’t feel that way. And if that’s the case, then they won’t be very happy at work.

This is a crucial distinction that few companies make – the distinction between getting good results and feeling good about those results. If we want employees to be happy at work, they also need the latter - and many don’t have that.

When that is the case, employees may get great results right now but it won’t be sustainable. When people are not happy at work, it hurts their motivation, productivity and creativity. Stress and burnout tend to follow.

So in addition to helping employees get great results, companies also need to make sure that people feel great about their results.

There are 3 things that give us that feeling of results.

1: Meaning

I saw this sign in the lobby of Danish pharmaceutical company Xellia, 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, which 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.

It’s crucial that we know what we have to do at work, but  equally crucial that we know why we do it.

That is what gives work meaning and purpose: when you know why you do each task and how it somehow helps someone.

And it’s not enough that your work is meaningful to the organization – it must be meaningful to you. Your work must have a purpose that you believe is worthy.

On the other hand, if you have no idea why your work matters and no sense that it makes any kind of a difference, it really doesn’t matter how good you are at your job – you won’t be very happy.

Many workplaces take great pains to give employees performance goals to clearly show them what they are expected to do. But we must make equally sure to show employees why their work matters and how it makes a positive difference.

US online retailer Zappos are a great example of this. Whereas most customer service reps are measured on how many calls/emails they handle, Zappos’ employees are measured primarily on how happy they make their customers. The former metric makes sense only to the company, the latter is meaningful for employees too because it shows them that they make a positive difference for the customers.

2: Autonomy

When you are free to do your job your way, you are much more likely to take pride in your results and feel good about them.

On the other hand, if a micro-managing boss is telling you exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it, you are much less likely to feel good about the results you get, because they won’t be your results.

As much as possible, we should be free to choose:

  • What we work on
  • Who we work with
  • What approaches and methods to use
  • When and where we work

One of my favorite examples of this is Middelfart Savings Bank in Denmark, one of the happiest workplaces in Europe. How did they achieve that? They gave their employees huge levels of freedom and responsibility. Their former HR directors said this:

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

Another amazing example comes from the US Navy, where nuclear submarine captain David Marquet gave his sailors unprecedented autonomy. He explained how he did it at our conference in 2015:

3: Appreciation

And finally, we feel good about the work we do when we are recognized for it.

Harvard Business School professors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer talk about this in their awesome book The Progress Principle. They sum up the book’s main message like this:

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.

Even a small win can make all the difference in how people feel and perform.

Creating a culture of positive feedback in an organization is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to give employees a feeling of results.

When your coworkers, your boss or even the customers praise your good work, it clearly shows that you make a difference and get great results.

On the other hand, if you feel you do good work but nobody ever notices, it becomes much harder to maintain pride in your work. Some companies even take it a step further – they never praise good work, but all mistakes are instantly and severely punished.

Our absolute favorite way to praise others at work is The Poncho. Try it!

The upshot

It’s not enough to help employees get great results – we must help them get a feeling of results.

Of course we first need them to do good work. No one should expect to feel good about their work, if they’re not doing a very good job in the first place.

But that’s not enough.

Happiness at work only comes when people know that their work has meaning and purpose, when they have freedom and autonomy in how they work and when they are appreciated and recognized for their good work.

Imagine the opposite. Imagine that you’re very good at your job and get great results. But you have no idea why any of your tasks matter, somebody else has decided how you work on those tasks leaving you no freedom and autonomy and you are never recognized for any of your efforts.

How happy could you be at work under those conditions? How good would your results be in the long run? How soon would you lose all motivation and burn out?

So improving how people feel about their results is crucial.

It’s also a lot easier. Provided a person is very good at their job already, improving their feeling of results may be a lot faster and easier than improving their actual results.

It’s also a lot more effective, because if we can’t figure out how to make people feel proud and appreciated about their work, it doesn’t matter how stellar their results are – they will never be happy at work and their performance will ultimately suffer.

Related posts

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.

5 reasons you should close your inbox on your next vacation

If you have some vacation time coming up, and if you’re like most people, you will put up an autoreply email just before you leave, saying that you’re gone, when you’ll be back and who to contact if it’s urgent.

Although this approach is nearly universal, it has two massive flaws:

  1. Emails still reach your inbox, tempting you to check work email on your vacation just to make sure that nothing urgent is happening that requires your attention or to reduce email overload when you get back.
  2. When you come back from vacation, there may be hundreds of emails in your inbox.

I have talked to many people who mention both of these as a source of stress and I’ve just seen too many parents on family vacations handling work emails on their phone/laptop by the pool, when they should’ve been playing with their kids.

Fortunately there’s an alternative: Close your inbox while you’re away. This may seem like a weird idea but some workplaces are already doing it:

The car and truck maker Daimler has implemented a new program that allows employees to set their email software to automatically delete incoming emails while they are on vacation.

When an email is sent, the program, which is called “Mail on Holiday,” issues a reply to the sender that the person is out of the office and that the email will be deleted, while also offering the contact information of another employee for pressing matters.

I think this is brilliant and ought to become the standard way we handle emails on vacations.

The autoreply during your holiday would then look something like this:

I’m on vacation and your email was not delivered to me. You can resend it when I’m back at the office on August 4 and I’ll be happy to get back to you then.

Or if it’s urgent, you can contact these great people:

lisa@company.com
stephen@company.com

Best,

John

Email

Here are 5 reasons why you should close your work inbox completely on your next holiday.

1: The “normal” way is fundamentally unfair

Here’s the problem: You’re away from work. As part of your contract with the company, you have time off and yet emails still reach you. This means that some of the work from your vacation time is simply shifted into your post-vacation work days.

And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a company that plans for their employees to have extra time after a vacation to deal with the emails that came in during the vacation. Therefore this becomes extra work you have to do on top of your regular tasks.

One consequence of this is that many people end up checking their emails and responding to them during their holidays, which is also unfair. You’re entitled to time away from work. That’s what a holiday is.

But one of the most insidious effects of this is that taking longer stretches of time away from the office is punished immediately upon return, because your inbox will be full to overflowing. I haven’t seen any research on this, but I could easily imagine that this would subconsciously discourage people from taking time off or at the very least increase stress around any time off.

2: You can relax more on your vacation

When you know in advance that not a single work email will tick in, you can relax more. You can better be present in your vacation activities and be with the people you love.

3: You get to find out you’re not indispensable

Imagine going away for 2 weeks without dealing with incoming emails and coming back to find that the world has not ended, the office is not on fire and the company didn’t bankrupt itself in your absence. In fact, things went pretty smoothly without you.

Being indispensable at work can give you quite a kick, but it’s a dangerous addiction.

In short, while you’re a valued employee who does great work, you are not indispensable. No one is. Or at least, no one should be. If your workplace cannot function at all without you, that is a clear failure of organization and leadership.

Knowing that things can function without you leads to a lot less stress and makes it easier for you to take time off in the future.

4: You teach others you’re not available 24/7

In my company, bosses send emails at all hours -  late at night, on the weekend or during vacations – and always expect an answer. If you don’t react within 20 minutes, you get a text message demanding a reply. If you don’t react to that, they call you on the phone. They basically expect us to always be available.

Some clients (these can be external or internal clients/managers/co-workers) have developed an expectation that others are available to them 24/7.

Closing your inbox sets boundaries and shows them that this is not the way things are.

5: Come back more productive

And finally, closing your inbox means that when you get back to the office, you can instantly be more effective because you don’t have to deal with a backlog of hundreds of emails and having to figure out which of them were important, which are still relevant and which were handled by others while you were gone.

If you go on vacation with an empty inbox, you come back to an empty inbox. Anything important that wasn’t handled in your absence can be resent to you now that people know you’re back.

What if your workplace won’t let you do it?

I took most of July off this and did exactly this. However, I’m self-employed, so I can do whatever I want :)

But what if your workplace won’t allow you to do it? If that’s the case, there’s also a middle way.

Julian Troian is the Chief Happiness Officer of a company in Luxembourg called Etix Everywhere. His autroreply gives people an option to interrupt his vacation but also makes it clear that there’s a cost:

I am currently out of the office on vacation.

I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return… but that’s not true. My iPhone will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I’ll probably need to interrupt my vacation from time to time to deal with something urgent.

That said, I promised my family that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our time together as much as possible. So, I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:

If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on vacation, please give me a call on +352.xxxxxx and I’ll try to take your call and provide you with assistance.

If you think someone else at Etix Everywhere might be able to help you, feel free to email one of my colleagues at HR : xxxxx@etixgroup.com and they’ll try to point you in the right direction.

Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return…

Warm regards,
Julian

Julian says it works really well and people only interrupt him when it’s something urgent that only he can deal with.

Your take

How will you handle emails on your next vacation? Could you close your inbox?

Related posts

10 simple things the CEO can do to create a happy workplace

happy org chart

Happiness at work starts from the top. This is one of the fundamental truths of happy workplaces.

In any organization where people consistently love to work, you will find a CEO and executive leadership team that places employee happiness among their top strategic priorities and act accordingly.

One of our favorite examples of a CEO who truly gets this is Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines (since retired), who put it like this:

When I started out, business school professors liked to pose a conundrum: Which do you put first, your employees, your customers, or your shareholders? As if that were an unanswerable question.

My answer was very easy: You put your employees first. If you truly treat your employees that way, they will treat your customers well, your customers will come back, and that’s what makes your shareholders happy.

So there is no constituency at war with any other constituency. Ultimately, it’s shareholder value that you’re producing.

If, on the other hand, you have top brass who don’t give a damn about anything but the bottom line and their own bonuses and stock options, I can flat-out guarantee that you will create an organization with very little happiness but with a lot of fear, stress and frustration. And, ironically, with poor bottom line results.

So top executives MUST make employee happiness one of their most important goal. Both because it’s the right thing to do for the sake of their people, but also because it will actually make the company more successful. Studies consistently show that happy workplaces make more money.

But how does a CEO or top executive practice this on a daily basis? What can they do to make their organization happier?

Here are 10 great real-life examples that we’ve seen work really well in workplaces around the world.

10: Regular lunches with employees

During a speech in Istanbul, I met an executive of a huge Turkish organization who has had a monthly lunch with 10 randomly picked employees for years now. Every month 10 employees get a chance to have a nice lunch and over the course of a couple of hours get to ask any question they want and air any concerns or complaints.

They also get a chance to meet him in an informal setting and get a sense of who he is as a person.

9: Random acts of workplace kindness

medis 1

Some CEOs enjoy doing little random things to surprise and delight their staff. Here’s an example from Medis, one of our clients in Iceland, where the CEO decided to make fresh pancakes and waffles for anyone passing by.

He even had a great time himself:

I thoroughly enjoyed it – the biggest joy I actually got out of observing the reaction of the colleagues !

FYI we did not announce anything but simply showed up in the corridor without notice and took people pleasantly by surprise.

8: Celebrate accomplishments

The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority is a government agency whose 200 employees work to enforce consumer regulations and keep markets competitive.

Every month they have a breakfast meeting where important information is shared with all employees. At this meeting, the director Agnete always shares 2-3 successes that the organization has had since the last meeting. She’ll highlight how they’ve completed a big project or won a court case and make sure that the people who worked on that are recognized and celebrated.

7: Encourage bad news

One CEO we know had a strong desire to receive all bad news as soon as possible. He knew bad things happened (they do in all workplaces) but he also knew that some employees were to afraid of reprisals to come out and directly say that they might miss a deadline or have to disappoint a client.

So he has trained himself and his managers to always receive bad news with a smile and a phrase like “Thank you for telling me that.” This took some practice.

That way bad news come out early and can be dealt with before it turns into a disaster.

6: Meet with new employees

One fast-growing company of ours has a tradition where the CEO hosts a monthly afternoon tea at his home for all new hires that month.

It’s a completely informal gathering that serves two functions: He gets to meet all the new people and get a sense of who they are and he takes some time to talk about the company’s history and vision which is a powerful way to show the new hires the values and purpose of the organization.

5: Solve problems

Overall Board

South African social media agency Quirk has a process in place that encourages employees to bring about any problems they see to the attention of the executive team. The process gives all employees a voice and guarantees action from the executives in two weeks at the most.

You can read about their process here.

4: Give employees time for family

Here is a letter that US vice president Joe Biden sent to his staff in 2014:

biden

 

He explicitly tells them that it’s OK to prioritize important family events over work.  Appreciating staff and giving them time for family makes them happier – and happy staff are more productive. It also combats the ubiquitous cult of overwork.

3: Say good morning

Carsten and Karsten, two sales managers at Danish company Solar, wanted to do something nice for their employees.

Early one Monday morning, they stood at the entrance and greeted every employee with a cheerful “good morning” and a breakfast they could take to their desks.

2: Celebrate mistakes

In one company, the CEO was told by a trembling employee, that the company website was down. This was a big deal – this company made most of its sales online, and downtime cost them thousands of dollars an hour.

The CEO asked what had happened, and was told that John in IT had bungled a system backup, and caused the problem. “Well, then,” says the CEO “Let’s go see John!”

When the CEO walked into the IT department everyone went quiet. They had a pretty good idea what wass coming, and were sure it wouldn’t be pretty.

The CEO walks up to John’s desk and asks “You John?”

“Yes” he says meekly.

“John, ” says the CEO, “I want to thank you for finding this weakness in our system. Thanks to your actions, we can now learn from this, and fix the system, so something like this can’t happen in the future. Good work!”

Then he left a visibly baffled John and an astounded IT department. That particular mistake never happened again.

In many workplaces,  employees who do good work are rarely recognized but anyone who makes a mistake is immediately and harshly punished. This is dumb.

When we can openly admit to screwing up without fear of reprisals, we’re more likely to fess up and learn from our mistakes. And that’s why top executives should help employees celebrate mistakes.

As an example, IT company Menlo Innovations in Michigan has this banner hanging in their office:

Make mistakes faster

1: Walk the halls and meet people


One day, the IKEA store in Gentofte, Denmark was a hive of activity. Not only was there a European executive meeting taking place, but the company founder, Ingvar Kamprad himself, was in the house. That’ll make most employees straighten up and put in a little extra effort.

The execs wrapped up at 6 in the evening and Ingvar then took a stroll through the entire store as if this was the most natural thing in the world, kindly greeting each and every employee. He encountered two female employees talking to each other and approached them with a smile and the words: “And what are you two lovely ladies talking about?” – following up with big hugs for both of them.

I love this because it shows a genuine interest in the employees and because Kamprad is clearly happy himself and not afraid to show it.

We know from psychological studies that emotions are contagious and top leaders can spread a lot of happiness simply by being happy themselves.

The point

This list is by no means exhaustive and it’s definitely not meant to be prescriptive. We’re not saying all executives should do these things.

What we are saying is that top executives play a huge role in creating happy workplaces. They do this in the big stuff – by making sure that the strategies, plans, goals and values they set for the organization are defined with the employees’ well-being in mind.

But they also do it in small, daily, interpersonal ways where they can show that they genuinely care about their people, can build relationships with employees and can let employees see them as real human beings.

However, this can only work under a few conditions:

  1. It must flow from a genuine care for the employees. If the CEO doesn’t honestly care about her employees, she shouldn’t try to fake it. But I’ve always said that if you don’t care about people, you have no business leading them.
  2. Executives must WANT to do things to make employees happier. It’s OK to go a little outside of your comfort zone but if you do things you actively hate, that fact will shine through and it probably won’t work.
  3. Actions must match words. You can’t on the one hand make pancakes or hug employees and on the other hand introduce large-scale organizational changes with no regard for how employees feel. They will see right through that.
  4. Consistency over the long term is mandatory. If you do this for a short while or only do it some of the time, it will be recognized as fake.

Understanding this and acting on it gives the executives in a workplace huge leverage to make their employees feel valued professionally and personally – thus increasing happiness, engagement and motivation as well as productivity.

Not doing this – and let’s face facts, most executives don’t – means failing your employees, your customers and your investors.

Your take

Do you think executives should care about the happiness of their employees? Do the executives in your workplace honestly care about their people? How do they show it / not show it?

Related posts

How to praise yourself at work – and how NOT to

i-am-awesome

Is it OK to praise yourself at work?

Could you tell a coworker something like “Hey, let me tell you what I just did – it was AWESOME!”

Is it OK to send an email to the rest of your team to proudly share  that you found a creative solution to a tough problem?

Can you take a little time in a project meeting to tell others about that task you just completed on time and under budget?

Most people are reluctant to do that. They don’t want to seem arrogant or boastful or like they have a big head. But if you ask me, it’s perfectly OK to be proud of the good work you do AND to share that pride with others.

Just as an example, If I’ve given a speech that I felt went REALLY well (which happens all the time these days) I share that with my coworkers. I tell them what happened and what it was that worked so well.

However, self-praise can become really annoying if you do it wrong :) Here are 8 tips for praising yourself at work:

1: Only praise yourself when you’ve earned it

Just like any other praise, self-praise must be earned. You must have done something awesome before you praise yourself, otherwise it’s completely meaningless.

2: Share the praise

If you praise yourself for something you’ve done together with others, then you must include them in the praise. In that case you don’t say “I’m awesome,” you say “We’re awesome.”

3: Don’t always only praise yourself

It’s no good if you always only praise yourself and never recognize others. It’s required of all of us self-praisers that we’re especially good at acknowledging the cool things others do.

4: Admit your mistakes too

If you’re good at praising yourself when you rock, you should be the first to admit when you suck, apologize for your mistakes and be willing to learn from them and improve. People who can only see the good they do and completely overlook their own flaws  invite nothing but scorn and contempt.

In fact, why not celebrate your mistakes?

5: Praise yourself with genuine enthusiasm

When you praise yourself, do it with an honest infectious enthusiasm. It’s OK to be proud of yourself. It’s OK to have a smile on your face, a spring in your step and pride in your voice when you share your accomplishments. In fact, it will be received more positively by others than if you do it with false humility.

6: Moderation in all things

It goes without saying that anything can be overdone – including self-praise. Don’t overdo it.

7: Practice, practice, practice

Practice makes perfect. It’s banal but true. Try it, see what works and then improve from there.

8: Be ready to face scepticism

Praise is sorely lacking from many workplace – including self-praise. This may lead to scepticism and resistance from others if you start doing it. If this happens, consider carefully if the criticism is because you’ve gone too far – in which case you should listen to it – or if it’s simply that people are not used to it – in which case you should continue doing it.

Why you should praise yourself

We can see four major advantages of self-praise. First, when you share your successes, others can learn from your best practices and maybe apply them themselves.

Secondly, genuine enthusiasm is infectious. When you share something that made you happy, others become a little happier too.

Thirdly, you can inspire others to also share their victories, so the whole team becomes better at sharing what works, to the benefit of all.

And finally, if you are good at praising yourself, you’re not as dependent on receiving praise from others. As Spencer Tracy put it:

It is up to us to give ourselves recognition. If we wait for it to come from others, we feel resentful when it doesn’t, and when it does, we may well reject it.

And if all else fails, there’s always the self-praise machine that an employee at one of our clients built:

Your take

What do you think? Do you ever praise yourself at work? How do you do it? What are good ways or bad ways to do it? Write a comment, we’d love to hear your take.

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The 5 most important findings from the science of happiness that apply at work

Happy workplaces are more profitable and innovative, attract the best employees and have lower absenteeism and employee turnover rates. Simply put, happy companies make more money.

But how do you create a happy workplace? We believe some of the answers are found in positive psychology - a fascinating field and one of the main inspirations for the work we do with our clients around the world.

Traditional psychology looks at everything that can go wrong with our minds – psychosis, neurosis, phobias, depression etc – and asks how it can be treated/cured. It’s an incredibly important field but positive psychology asks the opposite question: When are we happy? What does it take for people to live good lives  and thrive psychologically? The field has been especially active for the last 30 years and we are learning some really interesting and surprising things about happiness.

Here are the five findings from positive psychology that we believe are the most relevant in the workplace.

1: Positive emotions have many beneficial effect on us and on our job performance

We tend to trivialize emotions in the workplace. It doesn’t matter what you feel, the prevailing thinking goes - it matters what you think.

You should never show emotions at work and the true professional has no emotions at work. You should be like Spock from Star Trek who once said “Emotions are alien to me. I’m a scientist.”

But this turns out to be impossible. Not only do we have emotions, those emotions affect our physical and mental well-being in many ways and, in general, positive emotions have some strong positive effects on our work performance.

Here’s one example:

… a number of the participants were either shown a comedy movie clip or treated to free chocolate, drinks and fruit. Others were questioned about recent family tragedies, such as bereavements, to assess whether lower levels of happiness were later associated with lower levels of productivity.

… they found happiness made people around 12% more productive.

So far, studies have shown that experiencing positive emotions makes us:

  • More productive
  • More creative
  • Healthier
  • Braver
  • Less stressed
  • More resilient
  • More helpful
  • Less biased
  • More optimistic
  • More intrinsically motivated
  • Faster learners
  • More likeable
  • Better team players
  • More generous

Simply put, happy people not only feel better and thrive more, they also do better work. This helps explain why happy companies are more profitable and hence why no workplace can afford to ignore how people feel at work.

2: Emotions are contagious

One study in emotional contagion at work brought test subjects together for a simulated negotiation. They didn’t know that one member of the group was an actor extensively trained by the researchers to exhibit certain emotions during the meeting.

Would the emotions of one person affect the rest of the group? The answer is yes – and when the emotions transmitted by the actor were positive, the whole group became more effective:

There was a significant influence of emotional contagion on individual-level attitudes and group processes. As predicted, the positive emotional contagion group members experienced improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and increased perceived task performance.

It turns out that how people around you feel rubs off on you and vice versa. Being around others involves taking on some of their emotions and transferring some of yours to them. We have all experienced this. Being around happy people makes us a little happier. Being around miserable bastards has the opposite effect.

This is highly relevant in the workplace because it shows we don’t exist in isolation. Happiness is a social phenomenon and each of us influence, and are in turn influenced by, the people around us.

3: Small actions can have a large effect on our happiness

One of the coolest things about positive psychology is that it is highly research-based and the various interventions are tested in numerous studies.

You may think that in order to become happier in life, you have to win the lottery or achieve massive amounts of success. But what they have consistently found is that simple interventions are surprisingly effective. Here are some examples of proven happiness interventions:

  • Write a gratitude letter to a person who has helped you
  • Make a list of 3 good things that happened to you today/this week
  • Perform a random act of kindness for someone else
  • Receive positive feedback

In the workplace, this means that while organizational factors like strategies, vision, values and processes do matter, it also matters how we work together and interact in our teams on a day-to-day basis. Do managers treat their employees with respect and kindness? Do coworkers trust each other, help each other and maintain good relationships? Do people take the time to treat each other well in the workplace?

However, the research also shows that happiness interventions only work under 2 conditions:

  1. You have to do it and keep doing it. This is hardly surprising.
  2. You have to want to do it yourself. If someone else forces you to do it, it doesn’t increase happiness. This is why you have to be careful not to mandate certain behaviors at work in the name of happiness.

4: Unexpected things make us happy

According to research, we become a happier when good things happen to us (duh!) but the effect is even bigger when good things happen to us unexpectedly:

Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine researchers used Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain scans to measure changes in human brain activity in response to a sequence of pleasurable stimuli.

They used a computer-controlled device to squirt fruit juice or water into the mouths of 25 research participants. The patterns of the squirting were either predictable or unpredictable.

The researchers found that the MRI scans showed a brain area called the nucleus accumbens to be much more active when the subjects received unpredictable patterns of juice and water.

So:

  • Something nice happens that you expect = good
  • Something nice happens unexpectedly = even better

This is interesting in the context of happiness at work because many of the things companies do to make their employees happier are utterly predictable: Summer parties, Christmas parties, Bonuses, team events, and so on happen on an almost completely fixed schedule, which serves to diminish their effectiveness.

This is why we advocate also doing random acts of workplace kindness. According to this research, a small well-meant surprising gesture towards an employee or a team may make them much happier.

So what could you do, to surprise a co-worker today? Here are some examples:

5: Making others happy, makes us happy

It’s been shown consistently that doing things to make yourself happier has a small effect on your happiness but doing things for others, elevates their happiness AND yours much more.

In one study, participants received a small amount of money that they could spend either on themselves or on others. Their happiness was measured before and after, and subjects who spent the money on others experiences a much larger boost to their happiness.

This means that one of the most reliable paths to happiness at work is to focus less on your own happiness and more on making others – be it coworkers or customers – happier.

This is not to say that you should sacrifice yourself for others, to the point where you neglect your own happiness. It just means that focusing only on your own happiness is likely to be a shallow, meaningless and ultimately unsuccessful.

The upshot

Happy employees are healthier and more productive and happy companies make more money.

That’s why every company and every manager need to make happiness at work their most important strategic priority. These findings from positive psychology  help point the way on how to do it.

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3 reasons why “Never Give Up” is really bad advice

Ever seen one of these little “inspirational” images on facebook or linkedin? They’re are all over the damn place :)

Not only is this kind of advice vapid and simplistic (and frankly it annoys the crap out of me), I believe that it might ultimately be doing us a major disservice.

Here are 3 reasons why “Never Give Up” is really bad advice.

1: Sometimes giving up is just the right thing to do

TinaKibergI’m reminded of the story of the world famous opera singer Tina Kiberg.

As a child, Tina was a competent violinist and spent her free time practicing and practicing. One day she participated in a violin contest and realized that she would never be more than a mediocre violinist and that she also enjoyed singing more. She gave up the violin, took up singing and became a leading international opera singer.

If she had seen quitting as always the wrong thing to do, she might have been stuck as a run-of-the-mill violinist. Her courage to give up is what allowed her to become a world famous opera diva.

Now try to guess what these somewhat successful people have in common: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Tiger Woods, Reese Witherspoon, John McEnroe and John Steinbeck?

Yep, they all dropped out of Stanford.

Ever heard that ”Winners never quit and quitters never win?” What nonsense!

Look at pretty  much any successful person and I bet their past is littered with things they did at one time and then gave up.

Sometimes you’ve got to stick with something, even through tough times. But sometimes you have to have the courage to give up. And you have to be open to the fact, that sometimes giving up is the right way forward.

2: Powerful psychological biases already make it hard for us to give up

There are a number of cognitive processes that systematically make it harder for us to leave existing situations and move on to something new – even when we’re miserable with the status quo.

Just off the top of my mind, here are some cognitive biases, that conspire to keep us stuck in bad situations:

The sunk cost fallacy
When you’ve spent a lot of time/money/focus on something, it becomes very hard to walk away from it. People think “I’ve invested so much in this already. If I quit, that will all have been wasted.”

The ambiguity effect and the status quo bias
People tend to select options for which the probability of a certain outcome is known, over an option for which the probability of that outcome is unknown. Example: “I know my current situation is tough, but I know what I have. If I give up, I don’t know what I will get.”

Loss aversion and the endowment effect
Once we have something, we hate to lose it. Things we don’t have yet, don’t carry the same value.

Given these cognitive biases, it’s already hard enough for us to give up, which might help explain why people stay stuck in bad jobs, bad marriages,  abusive friendships etc. We don’t need the added burden of simplistic “Never give up” advice making it even harder for us.

3: Society attaches a stigma to giving up

And yet, in the face of all this evidence to the contrary, society stigmatizes people who give up. Quitting is seen as weak, as a lack of passion or as personal failure.

As I see it, “Never give up” is easy to say and therefore gets repeated a lot. It’s still not true and that makes it tremendously bad advice.

I think it makes more sense to tell people to know why they do what they do and occasionally evaluate if it still makes sense to be doing it. There should be zero shame in giving up a fight you can’t win or in dropping a goal that no longer works for you.

Quite the opposite – it’s the sign of a strong, mature mind to have the courage to reevaluate what you’re doing and either choose to keep doing it or to choose something else.

So the next time you see someone post one of those “Never give up” type images on facebook, be sure to tell them just how wrong (and potentially harmful) that type of advice can be.

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How Toyota Gothenburg moved to a 30-hour workweek and boosted profits and customer satisfaction

The video has English subtitles. If you don’t see them, press the  subtitles button in the video.

Could a 30-hour workweek work?

It not only could, for the mechanics at Toyota Center in Gothenburg Sweden it has worked incredibly well for over 10 years, leading to happier employees, happier customers and higher growth and profits.

In this short 13-minute speech, CEO Martin Banck of Toyota Center Gothenburg explains why they made the transition from a 40-hour workweek to 30 and what the results have been.

One outcome: Their mechanics now get more work done in 30 hours a week, than other mechanics do in 40. Not only is productivity higher (which you would certainly expect), their actual total output is higher!

In fact, several workplaces in Sweden are now trying it out, including hospitals and nursing homes.

I fully realize that many people are going to dismiss this out of hand. They are stuck in the cult of overwork and totally committed to the idea that working more hours always means getting more work done, even though the research shows that permanent overwork leads to poor health and low performance.

It seems counter-intuitive that you could work fewer hours and get more done, but here’s another example:

One executive, Doug Strain, the vice chairman of ESI, a computer company in Portland Oregon, saw the link between reduced hours for some and more jobs for others. At a 1990 focus group for CEOs and managers, he volunteered the following story:

When demand for a product is down, normally a company fires some people and makes the rest work twice as hard. So we put it to a vote of everyone in the plant. We asked them what they wanted to do: layoffs for some workers or thirty-two-hour workweeks for everyone. They thought about it and decided they’d rather hold the team together. So we went down to a thirty-two-hour-a-week schedule for everyone furing a down time. We took everybody’s hours and salary down – executives too.

But Strain discovered two surprises.

First, productivity did not decline. I swear to God we get as much out of them at thirty-two hours as we did at forty. So it’s not a bad business decision. But second, when economic conditions improved, we offered them one hundred percent time again. No one wanted to go back!

Never in our wildest dreams would our managers have designed a four-day week. But it’s endured at the insistence of our employees.

We need to fundamentally change how we think about time in the workplace and Toyota Gothenburg is a great example to learn from.

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Why EVERY workplace needs a culture of positive feedback – and 5 great ways to do it

No. 1Positive feedback not only feels great – it also makes us more effective.

Yet another study (this one from Harvard Business School) confirms what we all know: Receiving positive feedback makes us happier at work, less stressed and more productive. From the study:

In the study, participants… were asked to solve problems. Just before that, approximately half of the participants received an email from a coworker or friend 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.

(source).

That’s significantly better performance from the group that had just received positive feedback. Why would that be?

Side note: We use praise as a common term for all positive interpersonal communication at work.

Why praise makes us happier and more productive

My best bet for what is going on is this: Praise causes positive emotions and as we know from research in positive psychology, positive emotions have what’s called a broaden-and-build effect:

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that positive emotions broaden one’s awareness and encourage novel, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions. Over time, this broadened behavioral repertoire builds skills and resources.

Essentially we now know that when you experience positive emotions, your mind functions in a broader and more open way. This is also confirmed by the research performed by Teresa Amabile who found that:

If people are in a good mood on a given day, they’re more likely to have creative ideas that day, as well as the next day, even if we take into account their mood that next day.

There seems to be a cognitive process that gets set up when people are feeling good that leads to more flexible, fluent, and original thinking, and there’s actually a carryover, an incubation effect, to the next day.

This is crucial. It shows that being happy is not just about feeling good – it has a large measurable effect on our work performance in many different way. Creative thinking is just one – happy people are also more productive, more resilient, more empathetic and make better decisions - just to mention a few effects.

Praise is rare in the workplace

Giving positive feedback is an interesting way to create more happiness at work for two reasons: It’s incredibly effective (as the Harvard study showed) but it’s also sorely lacking from most workplaces.

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.

The top 3 single factors that cause bad days at work according to our study:

  1. A lack of help and support from my boss (40%)
  2. Negative coworkers (39%)
  3. Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do (37%)

Not only is a lack of praise and recognition a major cause of unhappiness at work, the top two might even be lessened if people felt more appreciated

Why praise matters: Results AND Relationships

Thumbs upOur model of what makes us happy at work says that it comes from two main factors: Results and Relationships. Or to put it another way doing great work together with great people. Here’s a video on that.

We’ve always said that praise at work is important because it shows people that they do good work, make a difference and get results. This gives us a feeling of pride that makes us very happy at work. Praise also motivates us for future tasks.

But lately we’ve realized that there is more to positive feedback: It’s also about strengthening relationships in the workplace. When you praise someone else, it shows that you actually pay attention to them and are able to see their good work and positive qualities.

One of our most fundamental psychological needs is the need for others to see and recognize the good in us. Some sociologists argue that how others see us is in fact one of the major factors that shape our identity. And we know that people who are never seen, or only seen for the bad they do, have a much higher risk of developing mental problems over time.

Resistance to praise

We’re not saying it’s easy – far from it. In many workplaces there is no tradition of positive feedback. Many managers in particular have developed a notion that praise is trivial or ineffective – they’re completely wrong, of course. I’ve even heard managers argue that “we shouldn’t praise employees – they’re just doing their jobs.” How incredibly narrow-minded.

Some workplaces even have a strong culture of negative feedback, so that good performance is met with silence but even the slightest mistakes are punished harshly.

Not only does the current absence of praise in the workplace make it harder, it might even mean that praise is initially met with scorn or suspicion.  Over time, people will come to realize that the praise is genuine and not just an attempt to butter them up for something else :)

Some people are so out of practice with positive feedback that they even find it hard to receive praise. Here’s our best tip on how to receive praise.

Fortunately, there are many companies and leaders who do get it. One example is Richard Branson who has a tremendous focus on celebrating and praising his people. He wrote that:

I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers, and that people flourish if they’re praised.

What is good praise

Good praise is:

  • Genuine – only praise people if you mean it
  • Meaningful – praise people for something worth praising
  • Specific – tell them what was good

It’s also worth remembering that we can praise others for what they do (their work or their results) but we can also praise others for who they are, i.e. the personal qualities we see in them.

Here are some general tips on good praise:

How to praise others at work

So get praisin’. Positive feedback takes no time and costs no money and is one of the most effective ways to make a workplace happier and, apparently, more productive.

And anyone can praise anyone else. Of course bosses should praise employees, but employees can also praise each other, praise the boss or even praise customers. Why not?

We can all start with ourselves. Could you become the kind of person who is really good at seeing the good in others and telling them about it? This is a great thing to do, not just at work but also in your family, with your friends or even with random strangers on the street.

When you praise others, you don’t have to make a big production out of it. You can simply go up to someone and quietly and give them positive feedback. You can send the praise in an email, you can write it on a post-it note and stick it on their desk, you can praise people in meetings in front of their coworkers or in a million other ways.

Here are 5 specific suggestions for how to praise others at work:

  1. Our best exercise ever for positive feedback: The poncho
  2. Start an appreciation-email-chain or do it on paper
  3. Use an elephant or a similar token
  4. Celebrate those coworkers who help others
  5. #H5YR - Give praise on twitter

Could one of them work for you?

We would suggest making it a daily challenge to give at least one other person at work positive feedback of some kind. This can help develop a habit around it and get to the point where it’s something you do naturally.

And if all else fails, there’s always the self-praise machine :)

Your take

Does your workplace have a culture of positive feedback? Are you good at praising others? What’s a time that you praised someone else at work, where you could see it meant something to them? What does it do to you, when others appreciate you at work? Write a comment, we’d love to hear your take.

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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.