Category Archives: Happy At Work

How to be happy at work

Welcome. Coffee?

2015-08-06 11.00.05

This is not a coffee shop – this is the reception at one of our clients in Denmark.

They can greet you, get you a visitor’s badge and notify the employee your meeting with. And while you wait for them to come meet you, they can also whip up an excellent cappuccino or a flat white.

Employees can also have informal meetings in the café and buy coffee cheaply using their ID cards or an app on their phones.

I saw something similar at the Coca-Cola HQ in Atlanta.

I like this kind of thing because it breaks down the formality of the reception area and makes it more welcoming and interesting. It gives visitors a better first impression and provides employees with a more relaxed setting.

Does your workplace have something similar?

I am going to happy you :)

It just struck me that the Danish word for happiness (glæde) is both a noun and a verb.

So in Danish you can experience happiness (føle glæde) but you can also “happy someone else” (glæde en anden).

As in: “I think this will happy my spouse” (det vil glæde min partner) or “small acts can happy others” (små ting kan glæde andre).

I don’t want to read too much into that linguistic quirk, but it is interesting because it goes to the heart of what happiness is – i.e. very much something we do for each other.

Can you think of another language that has this feature?

Also, the same word is also used to say that you are looking forward to something. “Jeg glæder mig til jul” literally translates “I happy myself about Christmas” and means “I’m looking forward to Christmas.”

To create results, leaders must put relationships first



Should a manager focus primarily on results or people? Should the manager be the one who sets KPIs and drives employees towards their goals, or should the manager rather be the one who understands and likes employees and is able to build good relationships with them?

In 2009 James Zenger published a study that examined exactly that question. He found that if a manager is seen as being particularly focused on results alone, he/she will be seen as a good manager by only 14 % of the employees. If a manager has only strong social skills, the manager is regarded as being a good manager by a mere 12 % of the employees.

However, for those managers who are both focused on results and have strong social skills, the likelihood of being evaluated as a good manager rockets to 72 %. But here is the bad news: Less than 1 % of the managers in Zenger’s study were evaluated as being strong on results and having strong social skills. Ouch!

But how can it be that so few managers master both? An article from Harvard Business Review by Matthew Lieberman provides the answer: It is the brain’s fault. Our brains simply have a hard time being both socially and analytically focused at the same time. In the article and in his outstanding book “Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect”, Lieberman writes:

Even though thinking social and analytically don’t feel radically different, evolution built our brain with different networks for handling these two ways of thinking.

In the frontal lobe, regions on the outer surface, closer to the skull, are responsible for analytical thinking and are highly related to IQ. In contrast, regions in the middle of the brain, where the two hemispheres touch, support social thinking.

Here’s the really surprising thing about the brain: These two networks function like a neural seesaw. In countless neuroimaging studies, the more one of these networks got active, the more the other one got quieter. […] in general, engaging in one of these kinds of thinking makes it harder to engage in the other kind.

We know from extensive research that happiness at work is primarily affected by two factors, namely results and relationships.

Employees love their jobs when they make a difference at work, and when they feel cared for as human beings. These two factors determine – far more than gyms, massages and other perks – whether employees are happy, motivated and productive, or not. That is why it is essential to have managers who are able to help employees experience both.

Yet, in the business community, it is depressingly common to primarily acknowledge results-oriented managers, instead of those with strong social skills. Usually, the most professionally competent employees are promoted to managerial positions, even if they lack the social skills it takes to be a manager. If these new managers do not get the training/further education they need, it has a directly negative impact on happiness at work and consequently on productivity.

Here is a radical idea: I believe that you will have more success if you select managers with excellent social skills, and train them to become more focused on results. I believe that it is much easier for a person with good social skills to learn to focus on results, than it is for a hard-core results-driven person to develop social skills and empathy.

Southwest Airlines have long done this. The excellent book “The Southwest Airlines Way” by Jody Hoffer-Gittell reveals the secret to Southwest’s remarkable success: high performance relationships that create enormous competitive advantage in motivation, teamwork, and coordination among Southwest employees. For instance, when Southwest looks for new managers, the most important skill is the ability to connect with others and create good relationships.

Personally, I am convinced that the most important leadership skill is to actually like other people.

We also have to consider how we reward managers. Most workplaces reward managers for creating good results, but how many have bonus arrangements considering those who build good relations? Why not split the managers’ bonuses 50/50 between results and relations? If we only reward one of the two, it only encourages one type of behaviour, and the one-sided focus on results will eventually harm results and the bottom line.

Your take

Think about the best manager you’ve ever had or met. What made that manager effective? What about examples of bad management you’ve seen – what made those managers bad?

Do you agree that relationship skills are the most important for managers?

Write a comment – I’d love to hear your take.

Related posts

This workplace is NOT afraid of colors (and yours shouldn’t be either)

2015-08-19 12.12.31

I took this picture at one of our clients in Denmark. Their offices are in a building that used to be a paint factory and they have fully embraced that history and esthetic in their workplace design and layout.

Walking around their building I felt inspired and energized. Then I see a traditional beige-and-grey cubicle landscape and I despair for all humanity :)

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 09.14.48

I don’t want to overstate the role of office design – it is definitely not what makes or breaks a workplace. But I can’t help wonder why companies are so afraid to display some identity, variation, playfulness and (not least) bright colors in their buildings.

It’s not that hard – here are some great examples:

And please don’t confuse well-designed with fancy and expensive. Some companies spend tons of money on really exclusive furniture and still end up with an office that is boring and lifeless.

Six ways Jack Welch is wrong about what makes a great company

So Jack Welch is becoming semi-enlightened in his later years. The man who previously promoted firing 10% of your employees every year is getting all soft and cuddly and wants companies to be good workplaces.

He even published an article called 6 ways to tell if you work for a great workplace. And he really is starting to get it. Unfortunately, he’s not quite there yet. Let’s look at where he gets it right and wrong.

His first point is that “1: Great companies demonstrate a real commitment to continuous learning.” Spot on. Well done, Jack.

But then he says that “2: Great companies are meritocracies. Pay and promotions are tightly linked to performance, and rigorous appraisal systems consistently make people aware of where they stand.

No. Just, no. Many great workplaces don’t have rigorous appraisal systems. In fact, some great workplaces have been ruined when they start measuring everything. Just look at why Microsoft abandoned stack ranking:

Microsoft has been known as the ur-example of pitting employees against one another in an attempt to reward the excellent and weed out the weak, which gained widespread popularity in the 1980s after then-Chief Executive Jack Welch brought the ranking system to General Electric.

The problem is workers generally aren’t thrilled about having to play Game of Thrones at the office. David Auerbach, a former Microsoft employee, recently told Bloomberg Businessweek that the practice had employees feeling helpless and “encouraged people to backstab their co-workers.”

Yes, Jack Welch inspired it. No, it doesn’t work.

Under point 2 he also writes that “People with brains, self-confidence, and competitive spirit are always attracted to such environments.

There are a few fundamental mistakes here. First of all, hiring for brains and self-confidence may land you with a lot of jerks. New York based company Next Jump tried it and found that:

…we followed a common practice used by the biggest tech companies in the world: to hire brilliant and driven people. But, after two years of heavily investing in this hiring process, concentrating our efforts at the top engineering schools on the east coast, we found ourselves with a small army of brilliant jerks.

The culture was toxic. Racial tension, blaming others, total disregard for other people’s opinions and total protection of one’s own ideas and work products. We did a rapid evaluation of all the people we would want to work with vs those we didn’t, and, in one day, we fired half our engineers.

[after that] humility became an important trait to screen for in our hiring process. We now interview for 45 minutes on humility. No matter how brilliant and driven a candidate is, if they get a humbs down on humility, we do not hire them. No exceptions.

And as for hiring competitive people, there is actually evidence that competing lowers performance.

Jack says that “3: Great companies not only allow people to take risks but also celebrate those who do.

Excellent, Jack. I agree.

The next one is “4: Great companies understand that what is good for society is also good for business.

Which is awesome, but then he has to add that “They offer flexibility in work schedules to those who earn it with performance.

No. Great workplaces offer flexibility to everyone.

He also writes that “5: Great companies keep their hiring standards tight. They make candidates work hard to join the ranks by meeting strict criteria that center around intelligence and previous experience.

But actually, some of the greatest workplaces I know hire based less on skill and much more on personality and attitude. Look at Southwest Airlines who famously “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” Or Pret a Manger in the UK, who hire happy people and the teach them what they need to know in the job.

And finally he writes that “6: Great companies are profitable and growing.

Nope. They can be growing, but they absolutely don’t have to be. Ricardo Semler, the CEO of Semco in Brazil put it like this:

There is no correlation between growth and ultimate success. For a while growth seems very glamorous, but the sustainability of growth is so delicate that many of the mid-sized companies which just stayed where they were doing the same thing are much better off today than the ones that went crazy and came back to nothing. There are too many automobile plants, too many airplanes. Who is viable in the airline business?

If someone asks me, ‘where will you be in 10 years’ time?’, I haven’t got the slightest idea. I don’t find it perturbing either if we said, ‘look, in 10 years’ time Semco could have 500 people instead of 3,000 people’; that sounds just as interesting as 21,000 people. I’d hate to see Semco not exist in 10, 20, 50 years’ time, but what form it exists in, what business it’s in and what size it is are not particularly relevant.

A company certainly has to be profitable in the long run or it won’t be around but I would bet that there is no correlation between the growth rate of a company and how good a workplace it is.

Your take

What do you think? Is Jack Welch right or wrong? What makes a great workplace in your opinion?




New research: Overwork kills productivity AND employees

Yikes – overwork can kill you:

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

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

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

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

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

Leading with happiness


I believe we’re seeing a new kind of leadership emerging.

It’s been a truism that leadership is about maximizing business results, whatever it takes. As the economist Milton Friedman depressingly put it:

The business of business is business.

He argued that a CEO who spent resources on anything that did not enhance shareholder value was failing his duties and could be fired or sued.

This kind of thinking is still incredibly prevalent in the business world and it leads to attitudes and actions that are incredibly damaging.

This is the kind of thinking that lets a corporation:

  • Fire 1,000s of employees to raise stock prices temporarily.
  • Engage in environmentally damaging production.
  • Introduce a culture of overwork that works employees to the bone while damaging their careers, their health and their private lives.
  • Confuse and cheat customers into buying as much as possible at the highest price possible, rather than helping customers buy what they need.
  • Exploit workers, always paying them as little as they can get away with to make more money for their investors.
  • Create toxic cultures where employees live in near-constant fear and frustration.

You may think me dystopian but these things go on daily in corporations all over the world. And ultimately executives think they are right to do these kinds of things because their only responsibility is shareholder value. They take no responsibilities to do good in the world – or even avoid doing bad.

In fact, they have been so immersed in this kind of thinking that they can do incredible harm and feel no remorse. I have seen way too many press releases where a CEO explains why she/he fired 1,000s of employees to “enhance stakeholder value” without showing even a shred of regret or emotional investment in the fact that their leadership is now harming 1000s of families.

And that is why I think we need a new kind of executive – one that is motivated primarily by doing good. Or, in other words, by increasing happiness.

And I do see a lot of these leaders. They are not perfect people but they have a clear vision of what they want in the world and rather than just maximizing shareholder value, they want to create more happiness in 4 domains:

  1. For themselves
  2. For their employees
  3. For their customers
  4. For the world

These leaders create organizations that are a force for good in the world. They lead in a way that is sustainable – not just environmentally but also economically and psychologically.

Their employees’ lives are better and happier for working there. Customers’ lives are improved by the company’s services or products. And the world is in some way a better place because this company exists.

And don’t ignore the first one: These leaders are happy themselves, because they know that their leadership is making things better, not worse.

There are many examples of these leaders in all industries and all over the world. I’ll be writing a book about them next. The ones I know of include Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson, Ben Zander, Ricardo Semler, Lars Kolind, Vineet Nayar, Thyra Frank, Rich Sheridan, Herb Kelleher, Colleen Barrett, Charlie Kim, Patch Adams, Odd Reitan, Ingvar Kamprad, Yvon Chouinard and many, many others.

Your take

Do you see more happy leadership or more if the old kind out there? What does either of them do to you?

And if you know any other happy leaders, I’d love to hear about them.

Related posts

I don’t know of a single nurse who isn’t afraid of being fired.

Here is a really scary email I got from a nurse in a US hospital. She was kind enough to give me permission to reprint the email here and you can see my reply below.

I would love to hear your ideas on the healthcare industry.  As you may know, hospitals reimbursement for Medicare are in part determined by patient satisfaction.  Management, in turn, has adopted the “customer is always right” in order to secure positive feedback. As you can imagine, this has not worked.

At the same time, nurses are quitting by the truckloads.  Employee morale is at a ridiculously low point and it has been so ongoing that the phrases you hear from nurses are, “Well, its better here than anywhere else”.  This is particularly concerning since it is seemingly so bad here.  Let me say that the nurses I work with absolutely love taking care of people.  It is the hurdles that are placed in front of us that make the job frustrating.

We work at critical staffing levels routinely, are floated to areas we have not been adequately trained, and are given unreasonable patient loads. It is unsafe.

A patient died recently and was not on the monitor at the time.  The organizations answer was to have staff sign a book at during the shift stating that the monitor was checked and all patients were on them… the reason the patient was off the monitor was because the nurse didn’t have time to do it.

We were critically staffed and even the charge nurse had a full team with 2/3 other nurses floated from a lower level of care and not trained to take care of this type of patient.  When the house charge nurse informed management that the reason was related to staffing, she was written up.

I don’t know of a single nurse who isn’t afraid of being fired.  Nurses routinely lie about this because to voice it would cost them their job.

It would be nice to be able to quit and move to another facility, however, it isn’t any different at other facilities.  This problem is prevalent, endemic, and critical.

Here is an example of the culture…
The hospital policy is for every nurse to take a 30 minute lunch break (its actually the law)
If you don’t take a lunch you can be written up
There is nobody here to relieve you for your lunch
Not enough staff on the floor to safely leave for lunch so we all eat at the desk while we work

We are not supposed to lift patients. There are 3 lifts in the entire hospital so we have to lift patients
When I informed the wound nurse that the increase in pressure ulcers were from staff being given too many patients to take care of properly and no lifts, I was told that we had plenty of lifts and to use proper body mechanics.

I don’t know if you have any ideas….but I’m hoping that you do.

And here’s my reply:

Thank you so much for your email. I have worked with some Danish hospitals and I see many of the same issues you point to, primarily that budget cuts lead to permanent understaffing.
It’s terrible. If there’s one industry where jobs should be fulfilling and meaningful it’s healthcare, because there you get to work directly on making patients’ lives better. But of course, this is impossible when you’re not given the resources to do the job well.
What happens in that case is that jobs become incredibly stressful and frustrating because employees see that the system is hurting patients instead.
Here’s what I think hospitals need: A rebellion. Nurses, doctors and other employees need to stand up and protest conditions in some way that management can not overlook.
I gave a talk about being a workplace rebel – you can see it here:
This will not be easy – but neither is the current situation.
The obvious question is: What can a group of employees possibly do against a huge entrenched and uncaring system? And the answer is We don’t know. Nobody knows what we can do until we do it.
I wish I had something more specific to offer but I don’t think there are any easy solutions to this situation.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you see this going on? What are some ways to solve it? Have you ever encountered a really happy hospital? What did they do differently?