Category Archives: Happy at work book

What doesn’t make people happy at work (but many people think it does)


There are two things that organizations traditionally use to make their people happy, but which simply do not work, and which may even be harmful:

  1. Salary, raises, bonuses
  2. Corporate status symbols and rewards

As long as companies look to these two things to make people happy at work, we will get nowhere. And make no mistake: Businesses use enormous amounts of money, time and effort trying to fairly apportion money and rewards.

There’s one more thing that just doesn’t make people happy at work, but which employees and trade unions oftgen cling to it: Job security.

Let’s look at why money, rewards and job security don’t make people happy.
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What makes people happy at work

Maria’s new job had it all: An organization with loads of money, interesting tasks, great salary, impressive offices, a french chef, a gym, free fruit, massages and a view out of her office windows that took your breath away.

Maria is an easy-going, attractive woman in her forties with a broad business background, but even in her first month at the new job she noticed that things were very wrong. As wealthy as the organization was, it still completely lacked human and social values. The workplace was plagued by distrust, infighting, slander, backstabbing, sexual harassment, lack of respect, repression and veiled threats.

She spent the second month pondering how she could change things. By the third month Maria realized that she probably wouldn’t be able to change much and that she might get crushed trying. She quit without having found a new job.

Maria is now a publishing editor, and is also responsible for HR and the work environment at her new workplace. Her salary may be lower, but her quality of life is much higher, and she told me: “I’m now a believer when it comes to happiness at work, and want to help spread the happy message.???

While all the traditional trappings of a good job don’t hurt, they’re just not enough. It doesn’t matter how nice your office, how large your salary or how good the food is, if the mood at the company is bad.

I think that some of the things we strive for at work (the title, salary, perks, etc.) aren’t the things that make us happy. I’m not saying that a high salary will make you unhappy, at least that never happened to me :o), but it won’t make you particularly happy either.

So what will? Let’s look at that.
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What is happiness at work


Happy at work cupWe Scandinavians have an advantage over the rest of the world: We have a word for happiness at work. In Danish (my native language) the word is arbejdsglæde, and while that quite rightly looks utterly unpronounceable to the rest of the world, it’s a concept that is deeply ingrained in Scandinavian work culture and one that most Nordic businesses focus on to some degree. Its also one reason why Scandinavian companies do so well and contributes to the success of companies like NOKIA, IKEA, Oticon (the world’s leading producer of hearing aids), Carlsberg, Ericsson etc…

“Arbejdsglæde” translates into English simply as work-happiness, and it’s that feeling you get when you:

  • Enjoy what you do
  • Do good work and feel proud of it
  • Work with nice people
  • Know that what you do is important
  • Are appreciated for your work
  • Take responsibility
  • Have fun at work
  • Are motivated and energized
  • Feel that you kick butt

Most of us already know that feeling. We’ve been there some of the time or even most of the time in our work lives. The question is: How do we get there some more.

And in case you’re wondering, arbejdsglæde is pronounced something like ah-bites-gleh-the.

So what is it, then?

What exactly is happiness at work? This question seems like a good place to start, and I’ve been working long and hard to come up with a definition of happiness at work, precisely because so many people ask me just that.

Working with clients, big and small, private and public, got me closer and closer to the answer, and after long deliberations I came up with what I believe is a concise, spot-on definition.

This will amaze you. Are you ready? Here it is:
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Why being happy at work matters for businesses

A grand old lady falls ill

Irma is the grand old lady of Danish retail. The company was founded in 1870 and is the second oldest grocery chain in the world. It’s a multi-million-dollar business with 70 locations in and around Copenhagen.

But during the 1990’s the lady was ailing – the joke was that the only people who shopped there were little old ladies who did so mostly out of habit, because Irma was where they’d always shopped. Danes are very cost-conscious when it comes to food, (a less charitable description would be to call call us downright cheap), and most of Irma’s customers had switched to the low-cost supermarkets that had spread all over the country. For a decade, Irma had been losing it’s owner a lot of money.

Switching to cheaper products to compete with the discount stores didn’t work. An attempt to expand from Copenhagen to the rest of Denmark proved downright disastrous and had to be abandoned. Advertising campaigns didn’t work. The owner was on the verge of either selling of Irma, closing all the stores or converting them to their discount alternatives.

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Why being happy at work matters for people

Why happiness at work matters for people

When I got my first consulting job I worked very hard. I was the picture-perfect, traditional IT consultant working many overtime hours in the name of success. I’d moved to a new city for that job, far away from my friends and family, but that was fine: I didn’t really have time for anything outside of work. Basically, my main goal was success at work!

But after a year of this I suddenly realized something: I was successful, certainly, and I made good money. But I was not happy. I was in fact feeling lonely and unhappy, because all I ever did was work. I thought about that for a while, and I decided to change my life and to always work in a way that would make me happy. I cut back on work and started spending time exercising and making friends in my new hometown. Over the course of a year, my life transformed completely. Before my evenings consisted of the drive home from work, some fast food and lots of TV. Now I had new friends, interesting hobbies and I was in the best shape of my life from all that exercise. I also lost that extra 20 pound consultant-belly I’d been slowly amassing :o)

Think about it: You will spend more of your adult life on your job than on anything else, except possibly sleep. Your work will take up more of your time than your family, friends and hobbies combined. Won’t it be nicer if that time is spent at a job that actually makes you happy?
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Why being happy at work matters

Patricia, an outgoing, engaging, perpetually smiling woman in her early 30’s with a shock of unruly, prematurely grey hair, was really happy to get her first management job. She’d been a secretary, back-office worker and all-round administrative worker previously, but as purchasing manager for a major producer of food additives. she looked forward to really streamlining their purchasing procedures.

The hiring had gone smoothly. The company needed the position filled quickly and a former colleague of Patricia who now worked there had recommended her. Everything looked great: Nice offices in a wood-land setting: Check! Interesting responsibilities: Check! Nice colleagues: Check! A good salary: Absolutely!

But as Patricia started on her new job, things turned out to be less idyllic. The mood at the company was very much one of competition rather than collaboration. Her immediate manager was rarely there and never appreciated or even commented on the work she or her colleagues did. In fact nobody seemed to care what anybody else did, it was “You do your job, I’ll do mine.”

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