Happiness at work comes from the things you and I do here and now. Not from whitepapers, committees or corporate mission statements.
There are so many things you can do – the important thing is that you do something.
This chapter has plenty of things you can start with, and focuses especially on things that are:
- Basic – so they work for most people in almost any job
- Important – so they make a difference
- Easy – so they don’t stress you out
- Effective – so they give you quick results
- Contagious – so they spread once a few people start doing it
- Fun – so you’ll actively enjoy doing them
Imagine the opposite: A book that tells you, that the road to happiness at work is long, difficult and unpleasant. It would be best to drop such a book very quickly indeed.
With that in mind here are some great, easy, effective and above all fun places to start.
Make others happy
Patricia was leaving work after a long day. She was one of the last to leave, and she had to admit that she hadn’t enjoyed her day much. People seemed so intent on their jobs and nobody seemed to care about the people around them.
When Patricia went into the break room to wash her coffee mug, she noticed Lisa’s, a co-worker, mug by the sink, unwashed. She quickly washed both mugs, and then, on a whim, wrote a post-it note saying “Have a great day”, drew a smiley on it and stuck it on her Lisa’s mug. Then she went home.
The next morning Lisa walked through the entire department with a huge smile on her face saying “Who did this? What a great thing to do? Who was it? This totally made my morning!” Once Patricia admitted it was her, Lisa thanked her profusely, and could be found smiling broadly for a long time after.
Patricia’s one-minute gesture made a colleague happy at work not just that morning but that entire day.
It can’t be said too often: The very best way to make yourself happy at work is to make others happy. It works because:
- Making others happy at work is a pleasure in itself.
- Happiness is contagious, so more happy people around you means more happiness for you
- If you make others happy at work, there’s a good chance they’ll get back at you and make you happy
It’s easy too. You could:
- Bring someone a cup of coffee without them asking.
- Write a nice message on a post-it and stick it on their desk or computer
- Offer to help with their work
Or just about a million other things. Try it, it works wonders!
In chapter X we saw how important it is to be positive at work. But how do you do that? You can’t really walk around all day mumbling “gotta be positive, gotta be positive” under your breath. That might make your co-workers slightly anxious.
But there are some simple, specific things you can do, that make you and the people around you more positive. Here are some ideas.
Open meetings with a positive round
Psychological experiments can be very devious and this one was certainly no exception. The focus was meetings and the format was simple: Groups of people were asked to discuss and reach consensus on a contentious topic.
Here’s the devious bit: Unbeknownst to the other participants one member of the group was an actor hired by the researchers. The actor was told to speak first in the discussions. In half the experiments he would say something positive while in the other half he would start by saying something critical. After that he simply participated in the discussion like the other group members.
The experiment showed that when the first thing said in the meeting was positive, the discussion turned out more constructive, people listened more and were more likely to reach consensus. When the first statement was critical the mood became more hostile, people were more argumentative and consensus became less likely.
The researchers concluded that the way a meeting starts has a large impact on the tone of the discusion and on whether or not the group will eventually reach consensus.
Ah – meetings. The most energizing, creative and fun activity in the workplace. What’s that you say? They’re not? Well they can be. In fact they should be. Here’s a monday tip that can help your group take a step in that direction.
Many groups, projects or departments open their meetings with a round where each participant can say what he or she is working on, and quite often this ends up as a litany of complaints and problems. But as the experiment cited above shows, this is likely to affect the whole meeting.
So do this instead: Open staff meetings with a round where each person answers one of these questions:
- What have I done since the last meeting that I’ve been proud of?
- Name a person who has helped you since the last meeting.
- What are you looking forward to the most in the coming week/month?
- What’s the funniest thing someone has told you in the last week?
Pick a new question for each meeting and make some up yourself as long as they focus on something positive.
Don’t spend a lot of time on this, just give each participant 30-60 seconds to share something positive. It can change the entire mood of a meeting when you start with something positive instead of with a round of collective and individual moans.
Keep a happy at work log
At the end of every work day, just before you go home, write down five things that made you happy at work that day. Do it in a text document or just on a piece of paper, that’s not important, but what matters is that you take a few minutes at the end of every work day to remember what was good about that day. Big or small, doesnít matter, as long as it made your day a little better. Meat loaf day at the cafeteria. Making a deadline. Talking to a nice co-worker. Anything.
If you canít come up with five items for the list, thatís fine, write down as many as you can. If you canít think of a single one, then either itís been a bad day, or itís time to look for a new job.
Why is this a good thing? Well, letís say youíve had ten good experiences at work today and one bad one. If you go home, thinking only of the bad one, you will remember this as a bad day. It will even feel as a bad day. And most people do have a tendency to remember negative experiences better than positive ones. This makes it a good idea to take extra care to remember good experiences, in this case by writing them down.
The “good stuff first” rule
At Enterprise Systems, the IT company I co-founded, we suddenly discovered that we’d become extremely critical of everything. This is no wonder, as IT developers a large part of our job was debugging and finding errors. Furthermore, we were mostly engineering types, a profession trained to think of everything that can go wrong.
The problem was that our discussions and meeeting got unpleasant, and in a few cases even nasty. Nobody could agree on much and people were constantly nitpicking on each others ideas.
So Martin, another co-founder, came up with a simple rule: The good stuff first. When someone makes a suggestion, you don’t have to agree. But you have to first say what you agree with in the idea, and then the stuff you disagree with. This made discussions much more constructive and fun. It also opened our eyes to the fact that where we’d previously thought that we were completely disagreeing, we were often 80-90% in agreement, and only disagreed on a few details.
Consider making this a rule in the workplace: First say what you agree with. Then say what you disagree on. And even if you can’t make it a rule, you can always practice it yourself.
Kjaer Group, a company that sells cars in developing nations, instituted the order of the elephant a few years back. It’s a huge plush toy that any employee can award to any other, along with an explanation of why that employee deserves the order. The praisee gets the elephant for a couple of day, and the thing being two feet tall it’s kind hard to overlook standing on that persons desk.
Other employees stopping by immediately notice the elephant and go “Hey, you got the elephant. What’d you do?” which of course means that the good stories and best practices get told and re-told many times. This is an excellent, simple and cheap way of enhancing learning and happiness at work.
Praise may be the single most effective method to make people happy at work and the great thing is that it takes no money and almost no time. Remember that good praise is:
- Relevant – Dont’ praise just to praise, but make sure to praise whenever there’s a reason
- Timely – Praise as soon as there’s a reason
- Personal – Tailor it to that particular praisee
For extra bonus points:
- Praise someone you don’t talk to often. It’s a great way to establish contact.
- Praise your manager. Managers often hear very little praise from their employees. But: Don’t kiss butt – only genuine praise counts.
- If you really want a challenge, praise someone you don’t like much or someone you’re currently having a conflict with. It can be a great way to get un-stuck. Can’t think of anything positive about that person? Try again – there’s always something.
Some companies practice a philosophy of “Catch people making mistakes and punish them quickly”, but “Catch people doing things right and praise them quickly” is much more likely to make people happy at work.
This does not mean that you can’t criticize people and correct them when they make a mistake. In fact, if you routinely praise people when they get it right, they’re more open and positive towards criticism.
Some great ways to praise include:
Don’t make a big production out of it, just go up to a colleague, deliver your praise and then get back to work. Do not hang around waiting to be praised back :o) Also do not add a “…but you really need to improve your…” after the praise – that kinda ruins the whole point :o)
Use a token
Like the elephant that Kjaer Group uses. If you can find something with relevance for your company even better.
Pass around a piece of paper with “Things we appreciate about Linda” at the top around your department or team. Let everyone write down all the things they appreciate about Linda. Then give it to her.
This is an exercise we developed for our Happy At Work Workshops, and it never fails. It takes about 15 minutes and works in groups of up to about 40 people. All you need is a flipover chart and a marker pen for each person.
Ask each person to tear a whole in the middle of the sheet of paper and then put it on like a poncho. Give each person a marker pen. Once everyone is wearing their poncho, give people the following instructions: “Go around and write on the back of other people. Write the stuff you like and appreciate about the person. The stuff they excell at and do well. Write on as many people as possible.”
Then give people timeto write on each other.
Groups of 10-20 people will need about 5 minutes, larger groups may need 10. Once people have finished writing on each other, give them these instructions: “I bet you’re all wondering what people have been writing on you. Please keep your ponchos on and sit down. Now for the next minute, you’re not allowed to speak. You’re only allowed to read what it says on your poncho and to enjoy it. Please, take them off and read them now”. Give them a minute or so to read their ponchos then end the exercise and thank them for participating.
We’ve done this exercise with leaders, employees, government workers, school teachers, social workers, secretaries, lab workers, prison guards, kitchen staff and many, many other groups and it works every single time.
Participants especially enjoy that:
- It’s easy to give praise
- It’s easy to receive praise – you don’t have to respond to it, only to enjoy it
- They learn what people appreciate about you
- They can save their ponchos and take them out and read them when the need a boost
My favorite part of the poncho exercise is when you get chains of 5-10 people, each writing on the back of the next one.
A traveller is walking down a hot, dusty road when he passes three men chopping up stones. The first one looks unhappy, and clearly has the look of a man wishing he was anyhwere else. No wonder, it’s hot, hard, unpleasant labor after all. The traveller asks him “What are you doing?”. “Cutting stones” the man replies.
The second man looks fairly happy with what he’s doing despite the hot air and hard work. “What are you doing?” the traveller asks him? “I’m cutting stones to make money to support my family.”
The third stone-chopper looks happy verging on blissful. He’s giving the stones his full attention, attently and carefully cutting them into smaller rocks. When he stops for a sip of water, the traveller asks him “What are you doing?”. In a proud voice he replies “I’m building a cathedral.”
This story is old and corny and you’ve probably heard it a thousand times but it aptly illustrates the three levels of meaning you can find at work:
- No meaning. Work makes no sense to you.
- Work makes sense because it supports yourself and your family
- Work makes sense in itself – you’re making something great or making the world better
I’m not telling you that every job has meaning or even that your job has it. Some jobs do, some jobs don’t. Some people see that meaning, some don’t.
What I am saying is that meaning is important to making us happy at work, and it’s much easier to be happy when your job has meaning and you keep that meaning in mind. Knowing how your work contributes to the company’s success, to your local community or even to a better world makes you proud of what you do.
To uncover meaning in your job, if it’s not already clear to you ask yourself
- Who am I making happy in the company?
- Who am I making happy outside the company through my work?
- Who is the company making happy? How am I contributing to this?
George Bernard Shaw had the right idea when he said that:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
Finding your purpose at work, one you recognize as mighty, is a great way to become happier at work. To paraphrase Shaw, “This is the true joy in work”.
Relationships at work
Get to know the people around you at work. You don’t need to make friends with everybody, but positive relationships are one of the most important factors for happiness at work. And remember: Positive relationships can be with co-workers, employees, customers, suppliers or even competitors.
It doesn’t take much to build and maintain good efforts, but it does take a consious effort for most people. It’s something you do need to focus on or relationships can atrophy so co-workers end up as mere strangers sharing the same office building.
Say good morning and goodbye
I was once a consultant at a company that had a strange practice: All employees greeted each other with handshakes in the morning. Every time you ran into a co-worker in the morning, up till around 10 AM, you greeted that person not just with a “Good morning” but with a handshake as well.
As an outsider and newcomer I felt weird about it at first but soon it became perfectly natural and even something I looked forward to. Greeting people became not just a mumbled “mornin'” from behind the computer screen, you had to get up and give that person your full attention.
It was also interesting to see how it worked to break down barriers between people and to re-establish good relations every day. It’s a little harder to be mad at a person whom you’ve greeted with a firm handshake that same morning.
When you get in in the morning, make a round of your department and greet everyone there. When other people arrive after you, take a moment to greet them with your full attention. Do the same thing when you leave. It’s such a simple thing to do but it makes a big difference to relations at the office. People feel more connected to each other and establish better communications throughout the day.
Learn one new thing about a co-worker every day
What do you know about your co-workers? Do you know who has children and how many? Who has what hobby? Where was their last vacation?
Take an interest and absorb at least one new fact every day.
Work-free lunch hours
Outlaw all talk about work during lunch breaks and other breaks. They are, after all, breaks so treat them as such.
Or go to a pub, a cafť, a dinner at someones home, to the park, have an office party. Anything that gives people a chance to see each other outside of work and to get to know each other as people rather than only as co-workers. Whichever type of event you choose don’t make it too traditional and don’t make it fancy or expensive – make it personal and memorable instead.
Kirsten Gehl, the HR manager at Accenture Denmark, and her party team were forced to get creative. Accenture in Denmark had had a rough year in 2003 and were forced to rethink their usual annual company summer party. Normally this was a huge affair at some fancy hotel or restaurant – we’re talking traditional and above all expensive. That was out of the question this year, so what would work? How could she give the people at Accenture a much needed positive collective experience on a much more limited budget?
First the party team decided to have the party at a smaller, cheaper and much more cozy venue. And then they had a brilliant idea: They would get the partners to staff the bar. At first some partners were apprehensive. These guys (and they’re almost all guys) are known more for their dedication to work, dark suits and businesslike manner than for their ability to get down and party.
Kirsten and her party team cornered a few senior partners and got their support and that convinced the others to give it a try. The result: this became Accenture’s best party ever. Not only was it more fun than the traditional parties, but suddenly the partners were approachable to all employees who could simply step up to the bar and order a gin and tonic from them. The employees loved it and, maybe most surprisingly, the partners loved it. Each of them had to be forced to leave the bar when their shifts were over.
Even after the party the effect was felt through better relations and communication between Accenture’s partners and employees.
Watch your working hours
Watch your working hours. As we saw in chapter X, there is a clear connection between working too much and stress, depression, heart disease and a number of other conditions guaranteed to maek you unhappy at work.
Don’t work too much. It’s that simple. What is too much? Experiment and find out. You may find that you get more work and higher quality work done in 40 hours a week than you do in 60.
Reduce your expenses
This may appear totally unrelated to work at first, but one of the biggest threats to happiness at work is having too many fixed expenses at home. When you’re completely dependent on bringing home a pay check (or two!) every single month, you’re vulnerable. If work turns out to be unbearable you can’t simply up and leave and take three months without income or on unemployment benefits until you find a better job.
This means you’re trapped and ironically that makes things much worse. A bad situation is unpleasant. A bad situation you can’t escape from is excruciating.
If you reduce your personal spending to a level where you can quickly decide to not work for a while or to work at a lower pay, you’re much more free and will have a much easier time becoming happy at work. This may of course mean a smaller house or appartment than you would prefer, no 40-inch flatscreen TV, no second car, etc… The question you must ask yourself is this: Are owning all these things worth it? It may well be worth it to you, in which case staying in a job that does not make you happy is the right choice.
Or you may decide that since your work makes you unhappy you’re not really enjoying all the things your salary buys much anywyay. In which case it makes sense to reduce your expenses to a level that affords you more freedom at work.
Remember that you have a body
Physician Claus Hyldahl, an expert in work-related stress and diseases, rarely pulls any punches. In fact his style involves provoking working professionals to direct their attention to the fact that their lifestyle is bad for them. Says Hyldahl: “Many of the people who think that they’re suffering from stress are just out of shape. That’s why they’re sweating, breathing heavily, their heart is pounding and they’re feeling weak. Not stress, simply bad physical shape. They don’t need to reduce their workload they need to increase their physical load”.
He goes on to talk about the fact that the human body is designed to be used. “Human beings evolved from nomads and consequently evolution has optimized our bodies to a nomadic lifestyle ie. one that involves a lot of walking. Walking 10 km a day is what we’re built for and sitting still is bad for us. In fact, walking less than 10 km a day is as bad for your health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
More and more work today is knowledge-based and goes on mainly inside people’s heads. In many workplaces the body has been reduced to to “that thing that carries the head from meeting to meeting.” That’s not good. Your physical well-being has a huge influence on your mental state, including your happiness at work.
I can tell you nothing new about how to tend to your body at work, you already know what it takes:
- Exercise – even mild exercise a few times a week makes a difference
- Stop smoking – or cut down
- Eat right – Watch what you eat and how much
As for eating right, the most important tip may be this: Eat between meals. It’s a well-known fact that when people’s blood sugar drops they get grumpy. I have noticed this in myself often – I start getting cranky, even the smallest things annoy me and I snap at people. An apple later, I’m fine.
(blood sugar graph)
The book “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz advices us to eat five to six low-calorie, highly nutritious meals a day to ensure a steady level of blood glucose. Sustained performance depends not just on eating at regular intervals but also eating only as much as you need to drive your energy for the next two to three hours. Snacks between meals should typically be between 100 and 150 calories and should focus on low-glycemic foods such as nuts and sunflower seeds, fruits, or half of a typical-size 200 calorie energy bar.
Fun matters. And any job can be a platform for fun. Even in the most serious situation, fun can be the tool that makes it bearable. Patch Adams is a doctor with a very different view of how to treat patients. You may remember the movie where Robin Williams plays him. In his excellent book Gesundheit! Patch tells this moving story:
I remember an eleven-year old girl who had a huge bony tumor of the face with one eye floating out in the mass. Most people found it difficult to be with her because of her appearance. Her pain was not in the dying but in the loneliness of being a person others could not bear to see. She and I played and joked and enjoyed her life away.
Make room for fun at work. Give up the idea that fun is somehow unprofessional and frivolous. Even if you’re not in the mood for fun that day, let others have theirs – never ruin it for them. Just as importantly: Don’t force people to participate. Some are up for it that day, som aren’t.
Don’t worry too much about what is appropriate or proper. Fun is about being spontaneous and open. Try some things out – here are a few ideas:
Ideas needed!!! Send me some!