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The 20 most common objections to happiness at work and why they’re wrong

It seems weird, but some people are against happiness at work.

Very serious pundits and cynics are coming out of the woodwork to declare that happiness at work is stupid, impossible, naïve, silly, manipulative and/or bad for you.

They’re wrong and their criticisms often reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of the happiness research.

I was getting tired of slapping these curmudgeons down one by one, so here is our combined definitive smack-down of the 20 most common anti-workplace-happiness objections.

If you like the video, please share it – we need your help to stand up for happiness at work against the cynics :)

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.

Related posts

10 simple questions to ask yourself at the start of a new work year

The beginning of a new year is a great time to take stock of your work life. Were you happy or unhappy at work? What would you like to change?

It’s important to evaluate because how you feel at work has such a large influence on you at work AND at home. When you’re happy at work, you have better job performance and more career success. You also have better health and a happier private life.

Unfortunately most people look back and think exclusively in terms of what went wrong. The things they should have done. They goals they ought to have achieved. The progress that didn’t come.

We gain much of our happiness at work (and in life) by appreciating the good things we have and do. Sure, you should also make sure to improve your circumstances and address any problems but it is just as important to be able to appreciate the things that do work.

This is hard. Negativity bias is one of the most well-established psychological phenomena and it means quite simply that our minds devote more mental focus and cognition to the bad than the good. Our thoughts automatically go to problems, annoyances, threats and fears but remembering and appreciating the good in our lives takes effort and focus.

We think you can achieve much more by turning that around 180 degrees, so here’s our suggestion for a little new year’s exercise in happiness at work.

Think back at your work life in 2016 and answer the following 10 questions. It works best, if you take some time to do it and if you write down your answers:

  1. What went really well for you at work in 2016?
  2. What did you do that you were proud of?
  3. Who did you make a difference for at work?
  4. What new skills have you learned professionally?
  5. How have you grown and developed personally at work?
  6. Who has helped you out at work in 2016?
  7. Who have you admired professionally?
  8. Which 5 things from your work life in 2016 would you like more of in 2017?
  9. Which 5 things from your work life in 2016 would you like less of in 2017?
  10. What will you specifically do to become happier at work in 2017?

Most people think that they must work hard to become successful – and that success will make them happy. They’re most likely wrong.

So this year, make happiness at work your #1 career goal – because being happy at work will make you more successful in your career.

I wish you a very happy new year at work!

How time scarcity kills productivity – and 5 ways to avoid it

“Your car is having trouble and will need repairs at a cost of around $1,500. How would you handle that situation?”

Scientists from the University of Warwick led by professor Anandi Mani stopped customers at a New Jersey mall and asked them that question. Next the subjects took an IQ test and the results was stunning: For financially well-off participants, this question did not affect their IQ scores in any way. But people who were struggling financially underperformed by 13 IQ-points simply because their money worries had been brought to their attention.

This experiment is described in the excellent book ”Scarcity – Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by professor of economics Sendhil Mullainathan and professor of psychology Eldar Shafir, in which the two scientists clearly lay out the negative cognitive effects of scarcity.

When we have too little of something that is important to us we become a little dumber, less disciplined and we make poor choices. This helps explain - among many other things – why poor people keep taking out pay-day loans, even when they should know better and even though those incredibly expensive  loans just put them deeper in the hole.

And this is not only about lack of money; the book gives plenty of examples of how time scarcity has the same kind of effects, making us dumber and worse at managing what little time we do have effectively.

So, knowing this, why is it that so many workplaces mercilessly keep putting their employees under massive time pressure? Why do leaders consistently create time scarcity?

This happens when:

  • Employees are routinely expected to increase their productivity year after year with little or no additional support, training or resources.
  • A manager commits to their team doing more work with the same staff.
  • A company is growing and taking on new clients/projects without a commensurate increase in staff and resources.
  • An organization lays off staff but expects the reduced staff to the same amount of work.
  • Schedules are filled to capacity with meetings and tasks before the work week even starts, leaving no time for ad-hoc or unexpected tasks.

Some leaders think that these situations create a burning platform that pressures employees to work effectively and creatively towards the company’s goals, but the truth is the opposite: Time scarcity reduces employees’ cognitive resources and makes it much harder for them to do their jobs well.

And what’s worse, this can become self-reinforcing. Here’s an example: An organizations reduces headcount leading to increased time pressure and scarcity among those left. This weakens their cognitive capacity and productivity drops, leading to even more busyness and scarcity.

Is this something you see happening in your workplace? Here are 5 things we can do about it.

1: Take time pressure off employees

Instead of giving employees hard-to-reach productivity goals and filling their work week to the brim (and beyond) we need to give them more realistic goals and leave some slack in their schedules so any ad-hoc task that comes along (as it inevitably will) does not topple the whole load.

Most employees actually get more work done when they have productivity goals that are reasonable and within their capacity.

Here’s a great example: The IT company Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor only lets employees work 40 hours a week and then only schedules 32 hours of work per employee per week. That way there is no time scarcity and always time for unexpected tasks. This is described in the excellent book “Joy Inc” by Menlo’s CEO Rich Sheridan.

2: Celebrate good performance

We also need to constantly praise and appreciate people and teams for the good work they do. This give employees a sense of accomplishment and purpose that goes a long way towards combatting time scarcity.

Some workplaces do the opposite though: First giving people unrealistic goals and then hitting them over the head for not reaching those goals.

3: Leave time for learning and development

Every single employee must have time to get better. To learn new professional and personal skills. To reflect on what is working well and what can be improved in the workplace.

This becomes near-impossible under time scarcity, preventing employees from getting better at their jobs.

The IT company Next Jump in New York give each employee significant time every week to develop their skills with a mentor, in weekly meetings or on their own. That way employees always have time for growth and development, which they deem essential to their success. Here’s a great article on how they do it.

4: Maintain good workplace relationships

One of the first things to go in a workplace facing time scarcity is the workplace relationships.

When we are very busy it becomes exponentially harder to care about other people, to help and support co-workers and to maintain a habit of helping each other.  Needless to say, this just makes the effects of busyness that much worse.

Instead we need to make sure that there is always time to create and maintain relationships between employees. There should always be time for a coffee break and a chat with a co-worker. No one should eat lunch alone at their desk. Even something as simple as saying a cheerful “good morning” to your team mates in the morning can make a positive difference – and can be neglected and forgotten under time scarcity.

 

5: Avoid permanent overwork

Some companies try to solve this by making people work more hours. Don’t!

First of all – 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.

The upshot

Simply put, many workplaces put employees in a situation of near-permanent time scarcity, thinking this will pressure them to work harder. The truth is the opposite: It makes them more stressed, more sick, less happy and less productive.

Instead, we should do our very best to reduce time pressures because that way, the organization will be more successful.

Your take

Do you see any of this happening in your workplace? Is time a scarce resource and how does it affect you?

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

Related posts

 

 

5 ways to create some happiness in the office this Christmas

December can be a cold, dark, busy and stressful month at work.

Or we can use the Christmas season to actively create some cheer in the office. Here are 5 great ways to do it.

1: Random acts of Christmas cheer

nissebanden

Here’s a great example from a Danish company called Solar, where two department managers Carsten and Karsten toured the entire office and ris a la mande (a traditional Danish Christmas dessert) for all their employees.

Here’s a video of them doing it:

The holiday season is a great opportunity to make other people happy. What could you do? Hand out candy? Sing carols together?

2: Decorate like crazy

christmas-office-decorating

A few years ago I was flying out of Copenhagen and at the airport I saw this office that had been decorated with with insane amounts of Christmas decorations. Just looking at it put me in a happier Christmas mood.

Why not decorate your workplace in a fun, over-the-top way? You could even sit down together and make your own handcrafted seasonal decorations.

3: Stealthy acts of kindness

Many Danish workplaces have a Christmas tradition for pranking each other in december. The way it works is this: each person draws the name of a team member and has to lightly prank that person throughout the month without getting caught.

Like maybe gift wrapping their office:

We suggest turning that on its head and make the game about doing nice things for the other person without getting caught. Maybe hide some candy in their desk, write them a note with positive feedback or send them a slice of cake anonymously. Or maybe even gift wrapping their desk, if you think it would make that person smile.

Then on the last working day before the Christmas break you can get the team together and let them try to guess who’s been nice to them all month.

4: The Christmas Dice Gift Grab Game (only opposite)

At many Christmas workplace events, teams play the Dice Grab Game. The rules are simple: Everyone brings a wrapped (cheap) present and places it on the table. People take turn to roll a die and if you roll a 6 you get to take a present from the table. Once all the presents are taken, a 6 let’s you take a present from another player.

It can get pretty intense :)

So change the game like this:When you roll a 6, you get to take a present from one player and give it to someone else.

It changes the dynamics of the game completely and makes it a lot more fun and a lot less competitive.

Try this version with your family – it works really well when there are children present too.

5: Give each other Christmas presents

Some workplaces give all employees a Christmas present, which is nice, sure, but not really something that tends to make people terribly happy. This is mostly because the gifts are not personal, so they’re not an indication of you contributions or how you’re seen as a person.

But we’ve convinced some of your clients to do this differently, and get team member to buy presents for each other. Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of december, each employee draws the name of one of their team member and get to buy a present for that person. They will of course be reimbursed by the company and there’s a maximum amount they can spend.

They are not allowed to just ask that person what they should buy them. They have to figure out what that person wants for Christmas and what gift would make them happy.

Throughout December people buy their gifts, wrap them and out them under the office Christmas tree.

At the end of December, the team has a holiday party where the gifts are given and unwrapped. Only the do you find out who’s bought you something.

The advantages of this method are:

  1. The gifts are personal and specifically chosen for each person.
  2. Co-workers get a chance to get to know each other better.
  3. People think investigating each other and picking the present is a lot of fun in itself.

Your take

What do you think? Would any of this work in your workplace?

What is December otherwise like where you work? Fun or busy or both? What have you done to create some Christmas cheer at work?

Write a comment, we’d love to her your take,

Related posts

Happiness all around the world

I am back after a 17-day trip to 4 different countries.

The trip started in Surinam, a small country just north of Brazil. Together with one of our Dutch partners, Gea Peper of The Happiness Bureau, I did a workshop for an HR network.

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Surinam is currently facing an economic crisis, so we focused especially on how to create happiness at work in tough times. We were also guests on a Surinamese TV show called Panorama.

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After that Gea and I flew on to Curacao in the Caribbean where we did another workshop for HR leaders.2016-10-14-16-48-40

The workshop ended with balloons :) We also did an interview with Dolfijn FM who have their studio right on the beach. Awesome! And of course there was time for a little bit of sightseeing. Curaco used to be a Dutch colony, so the capital Willemstad basically looks like Amsterdam in the Caribbeans.

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From curacao I flew to New York City, where I met up with my awesome coworker Arlette to lead our 4th international Woohoo Inc Academy.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

9 wonderful people from different US companies had signed up for the 3-day Academy and as far as we can tell from their feedback, everyone had a blast and learned a lot. The Academy included a visit to Next Jump, one of the happiest workplaces we know, and some sightseeing, including a guided tour of Grand Central Terminal and a cruise on the East River.

SONY DSC

And following that I flew to Dubai to speak at the 18th Global Women in Leadership Forum, where I did the opening keynote on day 2 and particularly made the point that if we want to create happier workplaces, we need more women in leadership positions.

Here are some reactions from twitter:

And then I flew home. My internal clock is so fried, I’m not even sure I have jetlag at all.

But I’m also incredibly encouraged to once again have had the chance to spread the gospel of happiness at work in some new countries and to find so many like-minded people all over the world who agree that this is an incredibly important topic that businesses need to act on.

In fact, this trip brings the total number of countries we’ve spoken in to 41. Here’s the complete list:

  1. Antigua
  2. Bahamas
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Chile
  5. Croatia
  6. Curaçao
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Denmark
  9. Dominican Republic
  10. Estonia
  11. France
  12. Germany
  13. Greenland
  14. Guatemala
  15. Iceland
  16. India
  17. Ireland
  18. Italy
  19. Japan
  20. Israel
  21. Kuwait
  22. Luxembourg
  23. Netherlands
  24. Norway
  25. Poland
  26. Portugal
  27. Romania
  28. Russia
  29. Serbia
  30. Slovakia
  31. Slovenia
  32. South Africa
  33. Spain
  34. Sri Lanka
  35. Suriname
  36. Sweden
  37. ?Switzerland
  38. Turkey
  39. United Arab Emirates
  40. United Kingdom
  41. USA

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

Check out the amazing work our partners are doing around the world

woohoo partners logo

We currently have partners in 15 different countries and following the amazing work these companies do fills me with pride. It is beyond amazing to see so many people all around the world committed to promoting happiness at work. Here are just a few recent examples – all of these took place within the last month or so.

If you are looking for someone to help your workplace become happier and more successful, you should absolutely talk to one of our partners. And if you’re thinking that you might like to do the same kind of work, we are looking for more partners.

Argentina

Our partner in Argentina spoke at an international conference on happiness at work. Here’s an excerpt of his speech:

Germany

Workplace To Be in Germany  is tweeting 100 tips for more happiness at work:
100tips

Follow Annika here or see her excellent TEDx talk here.

Holland

One of our Dutch Partners, Happy People Better Business, arranged an entire conference about happiness at work in The Hague. Here’s an overview of the day:

Mexico

Avive in Mexico spoke and exhibited at an event in Mexico City. Here are some pics from their booth:

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Australia

Brett Leadbetter, our man in Australia, introduced these cards at a client:

random act cards

Here’s his explanation:

I have just used this with a school where we presented a ‘Happiness at Work’ Day earlier in the year. I placed a pile of these cards anonymously, with a few gifts (fun stickers, pencils, erasers) for a teacher at the school, encouraging them to continue the ‘crime-spree’ – about to find out the results. We have used them in the past as a ‘unofficial gauge’ of the culture of a school – sometimes this tells us more than the official opinion surveys!

Staff don’t need to spend money, just come up with a way to make someone’s day – we’ve had cars washed, playground duties covered (a big one with teachers!), sometimes bringing someone a coffee or cup of tea on a busy day works well.

Holland (again)

Another one of our Dutch partners, Toptimism at Work, made this beautiful video:

Denmark

Bloch&Østergaard just revolutionized performance reviews for one client by changing them to a network-based model. Here’s how they did it:

Yesterday we killed the annual boss/employee appraisal-and-development-plan meeting for on of our clients, and replaced it with a network-based mentor-board approach for development and well-being for employees.

We wanted to remove the hub-and-spoke approach to development planning, and replace it with sincere care and advice from people in the organization, that knows what you’re working with, how you approach it, and how well the interaction with colleagues is handled.

We started two months ago by mapping the organisational network structure, (who do you work with, who do you get sparring from, who do you get energy from, and who do you talk to about private matters), from which we have established mentor boards for each employee, consisting of two people from the network, that you yourself have pointed towards in the net work analysis. The mentor board will then help/coach you and support you in your development, gather feedback from the network, and strive to nurture well-being. Results and relations must be discussed on each “board meeting”, and happiness at work is explicitly part of the templates and material.

Will it work? I think so. It was received by one of the most experienced male specialists in the group with the words “this is brilliant!”

How incredibly awesome!

Serbia

Vega IT arranged a relay race for charity not just for their own employees but for all IT companies in Novi Sad. 184 runners organized in 46 teams participated.

vega relay race

Turkey

Power of Happiness in Turkey just had their second annual international conference about happiness at work. I spoke at the first one but it looks like this one was even more awesome:

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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?

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