Happiness in practice

One of the regular readers and commenters on this blog is Eric Deniau, who’s VP of Engineering at Enensys in France. The really cool thing about Eric is that he doesn’t just stop at reading about happiness at work – he does something about it, and has tried a lot of things to make himself and his employees happy.

Eric recently told me about some of the things he’s been up to:

Some news about what is going on in my company.

Let me first say that I do have your book on my desk, and I refer to it quite often in my day to day activities. I must confess that while I adhere 150% to its content and look permanently for ways to make people happier in their jobs, I still feel some difficulty to implement concretely a happy plan. Putting in place concrete actions to make the workplace more fun is not that easy: work can be a fun place, it is still work and too far-fetched ideas could be seen out of place given our culture, in my opinion. But I may be too shy and can be wrong on that point…

That said, I have some interesting things to mention that happened recently, without a « real » happy plan in place:
– most employees bring eating or drinking stuff (we are in France, after all) for their anniversary and employment birthday: croissant, home made cakes, crepes, etc… I personaly offered a drink and buffet before lunch for my first year in the company; this creates regular occasions to gather everybody in a friendly way;

– small and soft rugby balls have been introduced in the lab following the world cup; when I see one around, I throw it to the next office as everyone else would do;

– a lot of people have a lunch break onsite, and some like to play to a network game after. Instead of looking with a black eye at the screens I see when walking around, I smile and asks who wins (I do not personally enjoy network game player).

– when coming back from a business trip to Switzerland before easter, I brought back easter eggs;

– Our IT manager is the last one to present during company meetings: as he is a fun guy (unusual for an IT manager, I know, but it happens !), it is now the tradition that he displays a joke at the end of his slides and hence the monthly company meeting, ranging from funny YouTube videos to an automatic tool generating weirdo product names.

Also, it has become a joke to say « happy plan ! » when a fun or simply nice idea comes to the mind of my close collaborators, as a kind of motto.

Now, when the situation is more tense due to unhappy events occuring (it happens!), this kind of things have to be handled with more care: it’s not easy and sometimes not fair to have fun in that occasions. Recent exemples I have include stopping a contract of an under-performing employee, or the announcement of poor financial results. The good point I noticed is that this kind of “happy plan” behaviours comes back quite rapidly after several days, when re-initiating the thing a little bit.

I will soon poll people again to know if they are happy at work. Personnaly, I am definitely Yeah++.

More to come…

As I wrote in my book (and constantly harp on in the blog) happiness at work comes mostly from doing a lot of small, easy and fun things regularly, preferably daily and Eric is definitely on the right track with easter eggs and foam rugby balls.

But notice that he doesn’t stop there – he’s also not afraid to tackle difficult situations, like terminating an underperforming employee.

That is a fine balance for a leader to walk – and a great way to create a happy workplace. Kudos, Eric!

5 thoughts on “Happiness in practice”

  1. Alex, how do your relate to Martin Seligman’s three levels:
    a) pleasant life
    b) engaged life
    c) meaningful life?

  2. Very encouraging! I worked in France (loved it) and tried a number of initiatives to increase happines at work. I can relate to Eric’s issues with trying to be too happy in a more conservative culture.
    The cultural sort of ‘hegemony’ can be quite powerful and make even the most brilliant initiative look ridiculous.

  3. Happiness is more than just cheerfulness. It’s knowing that your employer and colleagues care about you, so when you experience a death in the family they’re there for you…. as you would be for them. They also rally around the manager who gets rid of the staff member who drags them down, or at least slap each other on the back and say “good riddance!”

  4. Happiness IS a practice and can become a habit. Every hear of the quote, “Neurons that fire together, wire together” ? On the scientific side of this discussion, whenever we’re in a particular state of mind, or feeling, the neural pathways of our brain are activated and chemicals are discharged throughout the whole body and affect every cell. Out side our body is an electromagnetic force field created by the vibrations of our thoughts and emotions. The brain does not differentiate between the real activity or a “real” emotion and one that is mentally rehearsed.

    We can meditate on a “happy plan” to create and strengthen the neural pathways of happiness until we physically create gangs of neurons that have strong connections. When this happens we can easily and readily go into the “happiness” state of mind.

    When we’re in the happiness state of mind and all those clusters of neurons are happily firing away – we create a high vibratory signal around us that attracts other happy people and opportunities that most would call “luck”.

    Create the “happiness” habit by intentionally devoting time to happy thoughts daily.

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