Category Archives: Happy At Work

How to be happy at work

5 reasons you should close your inbox completely this summer holiday

The summer holidays are rapidly approaching, 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 this summer.

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’m taking most of July off and I’ll be doing exactly this and closing my inbox. 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 summer vacation? Could you close your inbox?

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Our 7th. annual conference about happiness at work was a hit

aglive collage

Last week we had our 7th annual conference about happiness at work in Copenhagen and this one may just have been the best one yet.

We had 14 inspiring speakers and 350 engaged participants to help make it a great day and as always, we filmed all the speeches and will be releasing them over the next few weeks. Here’s the first video – David Marquet’s excellent closing speech on how leaders can improve results by giving up control:

A very happy dancing teacher

This is fantastic. From the video description:

RCA students and founder Ron Clark decided to accept the dance challenge over the weekend. What was meant to be a quick and fun video turned into an international sensation, receiving over 60 million social media “likes.” The video is an example of RCA’s efforts to show that by meeting students where they are you set them up for success.

 I love it.

 

When the organization is facing tough times, focus on relationships

How do you keep employees happy during a crisis, when outside circumstances create uncertainty and fear for the workplace?

Douglas Robar, one of our awesome Woohoo Partners, has some excellent reflections on this:

Sounds like for many employees the anxiety from the fear of change, the unknown, and of people they don’t know pulling the strings of their futures will be very real. Personally, I would treat this more as a pastoral counselling situation. How can you care for your people through this unsettled time?

In happiness terms, this is a time to focus on relationships. The employees (especially those on the lower levels) will want to talk. Perhaps organize meetings in small groups to talk openly about anything they wish to talk about. Speak honesty about the situation (the good, the bad, what you know, what you don’t know, etc.) and as you can, be fully transparent about your and the boss’ motives and feelings and hopes.

The idea is to build relationships with and among the employees, which is often much easier to do in the tough times when people will be more eager to share their lives and not just our jobs. Speak of fear and doubt, offer support and encouragement and strength to one another. The poncho exercise might work well to conclude such a meeting, to cement the reality that each has real worth and are bound together.

Relationships form in crises. Foster that. The results and the foundations for an even happier workplace are being laid even now my friend.

This is not only great advice, but it also fits perfectly with the science that shows that social support is especially important for us when we face uncertainty or external threats.

Unfortunately we are working against our natural tendencies here. When people face some sort of threat or crisis, we often react by becoming more selfish and by closing ourselves off to others – the exact opposite of what we need.

How to be a startup rebel

Last year I spoke at the Happy Startup Summer Camp – an awesome event for startups who want to do things differently.

I also did a workshop on happiness at work at the camp (happiness being the foundation of success for any startup) but in my main speech I focused on how to be a startup rebel.

Because let’s face it: Starting your own company requires you to take risks, ignore any-sayers and not be afraid to be yourself. You can see the whole speech above.

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: Encourage critical questions

The former CEO of a big global logistics company had annual road shows where he went around the world to present their annual strategy to the company’s locations.

He wanted to show the attendees that they could ask him anything, so he introduced an award for “most critical question.” The award was a little cow statue to show that the company had no “holy cows” – any question was fair, no matter how critical.

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?

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