I’m speaking at an HR conference in Istanbul next month, a leading turkish newspaper wanted to do an interview by email about happiness at work. They sent me some great questions, which I answered as best I could. The best part about great questions is that they leave you and the questioner wiser.
Below are the questions and my answers, which contain some of our basic thoughts on happiness at work.
1.How and why did you start an create the Happy at Work Project?
I come from a background in IT, where I’ve been a consultant, leader and business owner. In 1997 i co-founded an IT company called Enterprise Systems, which grew to be both a great financial success and a place where people were very happy to work.
In 2002 we sold our company and I decided to leave the IT business. After some time I realized that what I’m really passionate about is creating happy workplaces.
I took the best experiences from Enterprise Systems and refined them, and this became the Happy at Work Project which I founded formally in October 2003.
2.What is the project?s situation today? How has it grown since its begining?
The project has been a huge success. Among our succeses are:
Lectures, which we have held at many, many danish workplaces
The Happy at Work board game, which we created last year, and which is being used in many organizations to learn about happiness through playing
Our conferences. In May 2004 we held the world’s first conference about happiness at work, and we repeated the event in June 2005.
Financially we’re doing very well and our customers are very happy about the things we do.
3.For what reasons are people unhappy at their work places in general? Is there any way of elimination of this unhappiness? Do those people realize that they are unhappy? Is there a concept of ?acccepting the unhappiness??
The main reason people are unhappy at work is bad leadership. I’m sorry to say it, but many leaders are not good enough at recognizing the needs of their people. A typical situation sees a person taking a job because the content is interesting ? and leaving it because they don’t like the manager.
Other typical causes of unhappiness are:
A lack of praise and appreciation
Not feeling that you make a difference
Stress and working too much
Interpersonal conflicts at work
Some people accept being unhappy at work. To them, work may just be a way to get money, so they can be happy in life, and that is fine too. As long as you truly accept that. However, the tendency today is that people want more out of work. They want to be challenged and enjoy themselves. Fewer and fewer people work “just for the money”.
And of course many people don’t realize that they’re unhappy at work or they don’t realize that things can be different. Just a few decades ago nobody expected happiness at work, we all expected work wo be hard, dangerous and unpleasant ? which is why we got paid for it. Fortunately this is changing rapidly.
Actually an even more interesting question is: “What makes people happy at work?” and some of the most important factors are:
A good manager
Being able to make a difference, so you can feel proud about your job
Notice that salary and benefits are NOT on the list. A salary is what makes people show up at work, but it does NOT make them happy. Trying to make people happy by paying them more does not work.
4.Which companies you work with concerning this project? Could you give us examples of what you have changed in these companies by applying ?Happy at Work Project??
We have worked with companies such as Lego, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, IBM, Novo and many others, big or small, private or public.
Our focus is on making each person take responsibility for their own happiness. We must all ask ourselves: “What can I do to make myself and others happier at work?”
What we do is give people at these organizations:
Knowledge and inspiration
Practical, simple tools that they can use to make themselves and others happy
Energy and motivation to do something about it
We see people themselves take action and start improving their work situation. We do nothing, we only give them the tools.
5.What kind of costs are there when mutually people are unhappy about their company and vice versa, the companies are unhappy about their people?
Unhappy organizations are paying huge costs. These costs take many forms, but some of the most expensive are:
Higher employee turnover and therefore more time and money spent on recruitment
Less ability to attract and retain the best employees
Lower customer satisfaction
Less creativity and innovation
More conflict and complaining
Think about it: Who will leave an unhappy workplace first? The best people, of course. Unhappy workplaces are left with only those people who can’t get a job anywhere else (or with those who LIKE being unhappy :o)
In fact it’s very simple: Many studies have shown that happy companies make more money than unhappy ones. As more and more companies focus on happiness, the happy companies will compete against the unhappy, and they will beat them in the market place simply because they are much more efficient.
6.You are telling that there is no need to complex formulas in order to be happy. Would you please share with us some simple ones?
Happiness at work is not complex. We like to focus on the simple things that all of us can do right here and right now. Here are some examples:
Take an interest in colleagues and employees
Help each other. You may feel you don’t have time, but the truth is that we don’t have time to NOT help
Praise. Whenever you have the chance, praise people. And remember: You don’t have to be the boss to praise. You can praise your colleagues and yes, you can even praise your boss.
And here is one thing that really helps, that all of us can do tomorrow:
Do something nice for a colleague, an employee or for your manager. Just a small thing ? bring them a cup of coffee, write a nice email, anything. It will make them happy AND it will make you happy!
And most of all, we must choose to be happy. If you yourself don’t want to be happy at work, then nobody can force you. Each of us must choose for ourself and say, “Yes, I want to be happy at work and I want to do something about it”.
7.What could have been different in the world if world?s biggest companies practice ?Happy at Work Project??
I think people would overall be happier at work and in life and I these companies would be more efficient.
Furthermore, happy people take more of an interest in the world around them, and this means that happy organizations do more good in the world. They do great business, but they also make a positive contribution to the world in other ways e.g. through charities or volunteer work.
8.Is it possible to practice ?Happy at Work Project? in public offices? In Turkey public workers are paid in the lowest salaries and they always complain about their jobs. Do you think your ?Happy at Work Project? could work in that situation?
Absolutely. We have a similar situation here in Denmark ? public employees are paid less than the private sector, and we have found that these are some of the most receptive workplaces for our ideas.
Public sector employees can be just as happy, provided that:
1.They want to be happy
2.They do something about it
Remember: Happiness is not dependent on salary.
9.What are the topics that make bosses, top executives and leaders of companies unhappy mostly? Since in these positions quitting the job is harder than other positions, what they should do to be happy in their existing jobs?
When leaders are unhappy, it is most often because they:
Work too much
Don’t communicate well with other people in the organization
Feel they can’t achieve their goals
I think the most important skill leaders can practice is empathy. Leaders must be able to listen to and understand people around them, or they won’t be able to create good relations with the rest of the company.
10.Is it possible for someone to be happy at work while he/she is unhappy at home? In what ways professional life and private life affect each other?
Professional and private life are closely connected and one affects the other. If you’re unhappy in one area, it will affect the other.
Many people who are unhappy in their private life find that being happy at work gives them strength, self-confidence and energy to carry on. Also, many of the tools we teach people can also be used outside of work, eg. with your spouse, children or friends.
11.You have travelled around the world. In which countries the happiest and the most unhappy workers are living, in your opinion?
Scandinavia definitely has the happiest employees. This is because Scandinavian companies have a long tradition of focusing on how people feel at work.
It’s also interesting to notice, that there is a word for “happiness at work” in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish ? but not in any other language (as far as I know). So the concept is so ingrained in Scandinavia, that we even have a word for it.
12. At which levels people are more unhappy than their co-workers? (Top level management, middle management, blue collars or others?)
Typically top management is happiest, then middle management, etc… This is interesting because management have more responsibilities and work more hours, so you might expect them to be more stressed and less happy. However, leaders also have more influence ? and that is the key thing: The more influence you have, the happier you are. Therefore it’s important to give employees influence over their own situation. Let them set their own working hours etc.
13.Are men or women more unhappy at their work places? Do you suggest the same happiness formulas to women and men, or are they different?
I see very little difference between men and women when it comes to happiness at work, but there are a few ares that are relevant:
Communication. Women are often better listeners and better at making social relations at work. This can make them happier than men.
Pay. Often women are paid less than men for the same work, which is of course demotivating.