Category Archives: Motivation

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.

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Watch the 5 best speeches ever from our conferences on happiness at work

For the last 8 years we have arranged an annual conference on happiness at work in Copenhagen. The next one is on May 18+19 2017 and for the first time ever we’re making the conference international, so the whole event will be in English.

We want to show you just how energetic, fun and valuable this conference is, so here are five of our favorite speeches from previous years.

David Marquet (2013): Happiness at work on a nuclear submarine

When David Marquet took command of the nuclear submarine the USS Santa Fe, he knew he needed to change a lot of things. It was the worst performing submarine, was never ready for its missions on time and was basically the laughing stock of the US navy.

David came in with a plan to improve the results on the submarine and thereby make its crew happier. By accident, he found that he had to do it the other way around: Make the submarine a happy workplace and results would follow.

The new plan worked, and the USS Santa Fe became the best performing submarine.

In this speech from our 2013 conference, David Marquet explains how he did it and how you can create a happier workplace too.

Srikumar Rao (2009): The two traps that keep us from being happy

One of the highlights of our 2009 conference on happiness at work in Copenhagen was Dr. Srikumar S. Rao’s wonderfully inspiring and funny presentation.

His presentation focused specifically on two traps you must avoid, that keep us from becoming happy.

Dr. Rao is the man behind the pioneering course Creativity and Personal Mastery, the only business school course that has its own alumni association and it has been extensively covered in the media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, the Independent, Time, the Financial Times, Fortune, the Guardian, Business Week and dozens of other publications.

The Free Help Guy (2015): Happiness is… helping others.

The Free Help Guy has devoted a large part of his life to helping others – free and anonymously.

He believes in doing what you can for others, that value doesn’t look like coins and notes and that for every problem there is at least one solution.

He also believes in anonymity rather than self promotion and in living by your beliefs, which is why you can’t see his face in the video.

In this inspiring speech, he shares his story. Read more at www.thefreehelpguy.com.

 Steve Shapiro (2011): Personality Poker

Does your organization help every single employee know their strong sides AND apply them more at work? Do people know and respect their coworkers’ personalities and preferences? Do you know what makes your coworkers happy or unhappy at work?

Steve Shapiro, the author of 24/7 Innovation and Best Practices Are Stupid takes participants at our 2011 conference through a game of Personality Poker, showing the 4 main personalities at work and what makes each of them happy or unhappy.

Henry Stewart (2016): 3 advanced tips for creating a happy workplace

Henry Stewart is the founder of Happy, a company in London that does computer and happiness trainings. They are also (naturally) a very happy workplace.

In this speech, Henry shares 3 advanced tips for creating a happy workplace:

  • Let employees choose their boss
  • Give pre-approval on big projects
  • Let employees set their own goals

Bonus video: The world’s happiest DJ (2015)

This isn’t a speech as such but it is one of our favorite moments from the conferences.

This is a German DJ who became famous on youtube a few years ago for being incredibly happy while playing. He used that as a springboard to quit the day job that he hated and become a full-time DJ.

In this video from our 2015 conference he plays a very short set and then shares his story.

Meet a man who had the courage to go his own way and became world famous for being happy at work.

Does all of that look interesting? Then join us in Copenhagen on May18+19 for our first ever INTERNATIONAL conference on happiness at work.

3 reasons why leaders should recognize effort instead of results

Here’s a thought experiment for you: Imagine two sales people working for the same company but in different regions.

Johnson slaves away in her area. She does a great job, she’s a professional and accomplished sales rep and she’s always ready to help her clients and colleagues. However, due to circumstances beyond her control she doesn’t reach her sales target this quarter. Maybe her biggest account goes bankrupt or maybe there’s just less economic activity in her region.

Smith, on the other hand, is lazy. He is not very competent and he never bothers to go the extra mile to help his colleagues or his clients. But due to circumstances beyond his control he achieves his sales target nonetheless that quarter. Maybe a big order drops in completely by chance, or maybe the growth in his region is increasing, or maybe his sales target just wasn’t ambitious enough from the start.

Which of the two deserves praise and recognition? Johnson, who does a great job, but performs below target or lazy Smith, who just got lucky this budget year?

To me it’s pretty obvious that it’s both better, more fair and more helpful to the future results of the company to acknowledge and reward the employees who have delivered the bigger effort.

And of course most companies do the opposite and reward only results, partly because results are easier to measure, but also because of we have a systematic bias for underestimating the ‘luck’-factor.

Daniel Kahneman is the only psychologist who’s been awarded a Nobel Prize. However he won it in economics, since there is no Nobel Prize in psychology. He got the prize for his work with identifying how humans make decisions and founding the field of behavioral economics.

One of the intriguing results of his research is that we highly underestimate the impact that luck has in many situations, and we massively overestimate the effects of our own actions. Good results are often due to luck (at least in part), but we choose to take credit for them anyway.

It’s extremely demotivating to those employees who have made an extra effort but don’t get recognition for it, to stand by and see their less competent (but luckier) colleagues receive both accolades and financial rewards.

Some companies try to solve the problem by creating more complicated bonus structures, but that’s rarely a good solution. Experience shows that bonus schemes are either so simple that they’re almost sure to be unfair to somebody, or so complicated that no one can make heads or tails of them. The study also shows that bonus schemes and rewards on the whole lead to poorer results, less motivation and inferior efforts. I’ve blogged about this before in this column.

To me the solution is simple: Leaders must focus just more on the effort of employees than on just their results. We must recognize not only those who reach their goals, but especially those who do an amazing job and even more so those who help others to become better at their job.

One great example if this is the New York-based company Next Jump. Their most important and prestigious employee award is not given based on performance but based on who helps others the most. In this video you can see their 2014 awards ceremony:

It’s not so straightforward, as results tend to be more measurable and visible. Encouraging a great effort will require that we as leaders have more insight and show more interest in our employees’ daily work. However there are three good reasons why we should do it anyway, even if it’s more demanding on us.

Effort is not reliant on luck
While good results may be due to luck, great effort is always due to the employee’s talents and attitude – and those employees who consistently demonstrate and improve skills, should clearly be recognized and celebrated.

A strong effort will – in the long run – always lead to better results
It’s no good if we only optimize for this quarterly result. We are optimizing for the next 20 or 30 quarterly results.

We avoid suboptimization
If we only recognize the employee’s results, we’re creating a culture in which we’ll do anything to obtain results – instead of doing what’s right for the clients and for the long term targets of the company. If I only get rewards for achieving my own sales targets, why on earth should I spend time and effort helping my colleagues?

The upshot

So leaders must encourage and acknowledge effort rather than results. In the long run it will create more fairness, more motivation and – ironically – better results.

Your take

What is valued most in your workplace – results or efforts? What does that approach do for your motivation and engagement? How has it affected you and your coworkers?

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

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Book review: Payoff by Dan Ariely

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-10-08-45

Payoff, The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, is a short book with an important message: “We suck at motivation.”

Based on fascinating research from workplaces and psychology labs  all over the world, the book documents how we consistently fail to understand what really motivates ourselves and others and consequently end up  killing motivation off, when we try to strengthen it, much of the time.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the workplace, where a blind belief in the power of bonuses, raises, promotions and perks has kept managers doing the wrong things for (or to) their employees for decades.

Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, is the perfect person to convey this message. As a researcher he has conducted fascinating and very elegant experiments to uncover what motivates and demotivates us. He shared two of these in this TED talk:

In Payoff he uses his own research and that of others to get to the truth of motivation. And while he clearly shows that performance bonuses can actually reduce performance, he also shares the factors that motivate us to do better. These include things like praise, meaningful work and a real connection to the people you work with.

This is a short book (120 pages) but that just counts in its favor, in my opinion. It is a captivating read, incredibly useful and highly entertaining – in fact I laughed our loud several times while reading it.

In short, I hope I have motivated you to read this book :)

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Podcast with Søren Lockwood – a (very happy) financial CEO

Michal Srajer, one of our Partners in Prague, is currently travelling the world and interviewing many different people for his podcast about happiness at work. His first interview was with me and you can hear it here.

His second podcast features Søren Lockwood, the CEO of SEB Pension in Denmark, who took his company of 300 serious financial professionals in dark suits through a transformation that has resulted in happier employees, lower absenteeism, happier customers and better results.

You can hear the podcast here:

Søren Lockwood also spoke at our conference this year in Copenhagen, where examined the classic question of whether  you can prove that happiness at work is good for the bottom line. He gave the best answer EVER:

 

IKEA UK voluntarily raises wages for lowest-paid workers

This announcement from Pernille Hagild, Ikea’s HR Manager in the UK and Ireland, is beyond awesome:

We will adopt the Living Wage (as defined by the Living Wage Foundation) from the 1 April 2016. This means all our co-workers across the UK will receive a minimum of £7.85 per hour and £9.15 per hour within London. The Living Wage is a hot topic in the press at the moment so we feel it’s important to explain why we have made this decision.

Ikea has seen that the UK minimum wage of GBP 6.75 is too low to allow many of their employees to live well and have therefore decided to voluntarily raise salaries to follow the recommendations of the Living Wage Foundation.

Why? Because Ikea’s values are not only about doing good for the customer but also extend to the employees. Pernille puts it like this:

Ikea is a values-driven company. We are guided by a vision “to create a better everyday life for the many people” and this vision includes our co-workers as much as our customers and the communities touched by our business. Providing a meaningful wage to all of our co-workers, that supports their cost of living, is an important part of our values which are fundamental to who we are.

Of course this is not cheap:

The initial £7.5million investment is a big one for us and will benefit over half of our co-workers here in the UK. We have been discussing this for the past year and the thought behind our decision is pretty simple: it is the core of our values to treat people equally and decently. We believe in paying a fair wage for all co-workers regardless of how old they are and that also takes into account where they live.

Will it make employees happier?

It does however raise the question of whether this will make employees happier. Do salaries matter?

Here’s what we think: Wages have the power to make us unhappy if we perceive them to be unfair or if they are so low that we spend a lot of time and energy worrying about our finances.

Once salaries reach the point where they are fair and allow us to live comfortably, further raises do not increase happiness.

This move specifically addresses those issues and can take away much potential unhappiness for many of Ikea’s employees.

That being said, it’s also noteworthy that Ikea UK does this voluntarily and out of a genuine desire to improve their employees’ lives. This means that the move might have an actual positive effect beyond just reducing financial unhappiness because it strengthens the relationship between employees and employer, by showing that the company cares about them.

It’ll be really interesting to see how this plays out.

I love everything about this. I strongly believe that if your business can’t afford to pay the employees a living wage, then you don’t deserve to be in business.

The fact that Ikea is a long-term client of ours and that Pernille Hagild is a friend of mine who helped introduce a similar move in Ikea Denmark years ago only makes it MORE awesome :)

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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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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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