Category Archives: Happy At Work

How to be happy at work

Webinar + slides: Leading With Happiness

I just completed our latest webinar – this one is called Leading With Happiness – and  the video is live and available right here:

It’s 30 minutes long. If you want my slides, get’em right here.

We believe that there is a new style of leadership emerging – one that focuses more on doing what’s good for employees and customers than on short-term profits. A form of leadership, in short, that has happiness at its core.


  • What does happy leadership look like? How do you do it in practice?
  • How can managers themselves stay happy in their careers?
  • What are great examples of happy leaders?
  • Could it be that happy leaders ultimately create better results than traditional leaders?

I mentioned Southwest Airlines as a great example of a workplace that practices this. Here’s a video where their former President Colleen Barrett explains their thinking:

Our previous webinar was called “What REALLY makes us happy at work.” You can see it right here.

How to be a workplace rebel

My speech from this year’s Meaning Conference in Brighton just went live. It’s 11 minutes long and you can watch it right here:

I personally feel this speech was pretty rough – it is the very first time I’ve spoken about this particular topic and it shows. But I’m very passionate about inspiring more people to say “NO” at work and will be refining this message further.

The web site I mention in the speech is live and you can go on there now and get a ton of tips on quitting your job.


March 31 2015 is International Quit Your Crappy Job Day

Too many people stay for too long in jobs they hate. An estimated 20-25% of employees hate their jobs and wish they could quit tomorrow.

This is bad for you. Being unhappy at work can destroy your career, your health, your family and your private life.

Quitting is an option and often it’s the best option. That’s why we’re declaring March 31 to be International Quit Your Crappy Job Day.

We’ve created a web site for it, where you can test yourself to see if it’s time to quit and get knowledge and inspiration to actually do it.


Know someone who’s miserable at work? Share the site with them and maybe that can inspire them to move on to something better.


Some thoughts on why “empty labor” makes us miserable

The Atlantic has an absolutely fascinating article that reveals how little work actually goes on at work.

From the article:

…the proportion of people who say they never work hard has long been far greater than those who say they always do. The articles and books about the stressed-out fraction of humanity can be counted in the thousands, but why has so little been written about this opposite extreme?

And this:

I talked with over 40 people who spent half of their working hours on private activities—a phenomenon I call “empty labor.” I wanted to know how they did it, and I wanted to know why. “Why” turned out to be the easy part: For most people, work simply sucks. We hate Mondays and we long for Fridays—it’s not a coincidence that evidence points towards a peak in cardiac mortality on Monday mornings.

Read the whole thing – it’s great!

Similarly, two Swiss consultants have defined the term boreout. They posit that you get burnout from having too much to do and boreout from a lack of meaningful tasks at work.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Office Space, this is one of the things they get exactly right in this dialog between lay-off consultant Bob and IT employee Peter:

Bob Slydell: You see, what we’re actually trying to do here is, we’re trying to get a feel for how people spend their day at work… so, if you would, would you walk us through a typical day, for you?
Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way Lumbergh can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.
Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

My sense is that this goes on in a lot of big workplaces, where there can be any number of tasks that don’t serve any meaningful purpose. Much effort instead goes into things like:

  • endless meetings
  • enforcing bureaucracy and red tape
  • writing and reading memos
  • internal politicking and backstabbing
  • activities intended only to CYA (Cover Your Ass).

For me, this is a tragedy because above all else, what we crave at work is meaningful results, i.e. knowing that we make a difference at something that matters. Having to pretend that you’re contributing while knowing that your job is essentially meaningless is a recipe for stress.

What we need to do instead is eliminate all work that is not meaningful and then work hard to make sure that each and every person in the organization:

  1. Are good at their jobs (i.e. what they do)
  2. Know that what they do is important (i.e. why they do it)

This is a recipe for not only greater happiness at work but also for more energy, motivation and engagement.

Top 5 awesome corporate email policies

If you feel like email is stressing you out, there might be something to it. A study conducted at the University of California found that giving people uninterrupted time where they weren’t dealing with email generally made them less stressed and better able to focus:

Without email, people multitasked less and had a longer task focus, as measured by a lower frequency of shifting between windows and a longer duration of time spent working in each computer window.

Further, we directly measured stress using wearable heart rate monitors and found that stress, as measured by heart rate variability, was lower without email.

This Fast Company article has a great overview of the findings. It’s a rather small study, so take it with a grain of salt, but it does support the sense that emails are a source of stress and distraction at work.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against email. It’s an awesome communication tool, but in many workplaces it is used poorly, and mostly the burden has been put on employees to figure out strategies for dealing with the resulting email onslaught.

I think it’s time for workplaces to take responsibility for this issue at a corporate level and fortunately, some workplaces have done just that and are trying new and better email policies.

Here are the 5 best we’ve found.

5: In France you can check out at 6pm

French trade unions recently negotiated a deal for some of their members, which:

…allows staff to shut down their phones and computers after 6 p.m. and not have to worry about checking in.

Part of the deal is that companies can’t pressure or make their employees feel bad about not checking or responding to their email either.

This is a good first approach to reduce the pressure to handle emails outside of working hours. While it can definitely help, it has the limitation that it puts full responsibility on employees to not check emails. Which is why I like the next one even better.

4: Email not delivered after hours at Volkswagen

VW made an agreement with the company’s work council to limit employees’ access to email on their Blackberry devices outside of working hours:

Under the arrangement servers stop routing emails 30 minutes after the end of employees’ shifts, and then start again 30 minutes before they return to work.

The staff can still use their devices to make calls and the rule does not apply to senior management.

I really like this idea. Now it’s not up to employees to not check emails in their free time, email is just not delivered.

3: Quiet Tuesdays at Intel

Intel tried an experiment where 300 engineers and managers went “offline” every Tuesday morning.

During these periods they had all set their email and IM clients to “offline”, forwarded their phones to voice mail, avoided setting up meetings, and isolated themselves from “visitors” by putting up a “Do not disturb” sign at their doorway.

The purpose was to see the effect of 4 hours of contiguous “thinking time”.

The experiment was a hit:

It has been successful in improving employee effectiveness, efficiency and quality of life for numerous employees in diverse job roles. 45% of post-pilot survey respondents had found it effective as is, and 71% recommended we consider extending it to other groups, possibly after applying some modifications.

However it’s telling that this experiment was conducted in 2008 and nothing’s changed inside Intel. It shows just how ingrained corporate attitudes to email are.

2: Email not delivered during vacation time at Daimler

One of the most insidious effects of email overload is that any 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 vacations or at the very least increase stress around any time off.

And that’s why this policy from Daimler is so awesome:

The car and truck maker 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.

So you can go on vacation knowing that when you come back your inbox will contain the same number of emails as when you left.

1: No internal emails at Menlo Innovations (and many others)

US software company Menlo Innovations have ditched internal emails in favor of what they call “High-speed voice-activated technology.” Yes, if you want some information from a coworker, you’ll have to actually talk to that person.

Several other companies have done something similar. Typically, employees can still receive emails from external sources like clients and vendors but there is no way to email colleagues.

This makes a lot of sense considering all the great tools that can replace emails in many cases. We use Podio internally and it has seriously cut down on the number of internal emails we need to send. Others use Yammer or chat or even facebook.

 The upshot

Email can be awesome. It can suck. It’s time for workplaces to create policies that address some of the problems and reduce the stress.

Your take

What’s your take on this? How is email affecting you? Which of the policies above would you like to see implemented in your workplaces? Know of any other great corporate email policies?

Related posts

Can you nudge people towards workplace happiness?

This article was written by Woohoo inc’s newest employee Thomas Christensen.

Have you ever wondered why you have to walk all the way to the back end of the supermarket to get milk? Or why there are mountains of candy close to the checkout, where you always have to stand in line and wait? It is a carefully planned ploy to ensure you walk through the entire store to get to your everyday groceries, thus increasing your exposure to other items, which makes you more likely to buy something more than milk. Similarly, candy is placed where it is most likely that you will stand around bored for the slow eternity that is queuing in the supermarket. This increases the chance of you given in to your urges and purchase some candy.

You are probably familiar with the term “Nudging”; it has been thrown around a lot in relation to health initiatives and government legislation. Nudging is the latest branch on the tree of buzzwords, thus nudging has plunged behavioural science into the mainstream. Numerous articles and books has been written on what nudging is, so we will not go deeply into that. However, we will discuss just how useful nudging is when it comes to workplace happiness.

The main thing to be aware off with nudging is that it is not a magical solution, obviously. At its most basic level, nudging is about choice management. The idea is that you present the choices available to your customers, clients or people in general, in such a way that a particular choice or set of choices seems more desirable. This sounds easier than it is. The nudge should be almost invisible, and non-invasive. Plastering large brightly coloured signs around the office with quotes on how to be happy, is not close to being nudging – nor is it likely to work.

Because nudging revolves around choices, you will have to break down complex behavioural patterns, into smaller more manageable chunks. Looking at workplace happiness, it is quite complex. Being happy at work requires a large number of things to go right, as happiness is an inherently complex behavioural pattern. Luckily, you can break down workplace happiness into two categories of effect: results and relationships. Watch the video below for more information.

This makes nudging for workplace happiness much easier.

However, one of the most severe limitations of implementing nudging, and other behavioural sciences, is their symbiotic nature. What we mean is that nudging can only enhance an existing process. It cannot create a new. Let us image that you want to create an environment where there is an added focus on results. You want to encourage employees or co-workers to share their results, but in order to nudge them towards your goal, there has to be a process in place that you can nudge them towards using. Which means that in order to use nudging you need to have a very good idea of how people interpret the processes in your organisation. This symbiotic nature also means that it is incredibly difficult to give advice on how to nudge people towards more workplace happiness within the confines of a specific organisation.

Nevertheless, we do have some tips.

  • Start by determine whether to focus on results or relationships. Workplace happiness can be complex, so it can help to focus on one of the two. Establish a specific goal you want to solve within one of the two areas. Such as “how do we make people celebrate their victories?”
  • List the processes your organisation have in the chosen subject. If your organisation is lacking in processes that can facilitate either results or relationships – you have bigger problems than nudging can fix.
  • Once you have both chosen an area of focus and have a list of the existing processes, you can begin to examine them both. You need to focus your attention on how people interpret these processes. Their original or intended purpose is less relevant compared to the interpretation.
  • Then you can rate your internal process based on which one is most beneficial to your goal.
  • Using your customers or employees sense of purpose and expectations, you can begin to shape how you want them to perceive the choices you present to them.

Now comes the fun part

As you have defined your goal such as “people should spend more time in my store” and a list of processes such as “people mainly walk around in my store”. You can start combining them to find nudging solutions. However, nudging has to be almost invisible and non-invasive. Therefore, you cannot remodel your store into a labyrinth and expect it to be anything less than totally awesome.

Unfortunately, you will probably not sell more. The key is that your costumers or employees have a sense of purpose and a set of expectations. You do not mind walking 20 meters more in a supermarket, because you expect there to be walking and browsing when entering a supermarket.

Let us look at the example presented above, how we nudge employees to “celebrate their results”. A key component of the results-oriented part of workplace happiness. For the sake of argument, let us assume that you have several processes that highlights the results of your employees, but no one uses them. In order find out which one is more likely to yield the results you want, you examine how your employees interpret the processes already in place, so you can rank them. Sometimes the process does not have the desired effect, for example, having a “scoreboard of achievements” where your employees can list their achievements could be interpreted as being a place to brag. Instead, your employees might celebrate their successes with small post-its on their keyboards, because they interpret this process so be more personal and sincere. The point is then to either reframe the “scoreboard of achievement” to make it less about bragging, or to try and bring to light all the praise left on post-its stuck to peoples keyboards.

The main take away is that is nudging for increased workplace happiness requires awareness of 3 things.

  1. Processes available to your employees/customers
  2. Knowledge of what your employees/customers expect
  3. Knowledge of how your employees/customers interpret your processes

Top 5 great quitters

If you gotta quit your job, why not go out in style. Here are 5 of my all-time favorite quitters:

#5: With a brass band

#4: With cake


#3: Live on the air

#2: With interpretive dance

#1: With a beer in hand

Steven Slater, a flight attendant, announced over the plane’s public address system that he had been abused by a passenger and that he quit his job. He then grabbed two beers and exited the plane by deploying the evacuation slide and sliding down it.