Category Archives: Leadership

Leadership is an insanely important discipline. Here you’ll find the thought, tools and tricks of the trade of great leaders.

Announcing “Leading With Happiness” – our next open training for managers

Normally, all our work is for corporate clients around the world that book us to do keynotes and workshops to teach their managers and employees all about happiness at work. But now we are doing an open training in English for managers called Leading With Happiness in December and January in Copenhagen.

Studies clearly show that a manager’s behavior has a huge influence on happiness at work. Good leaders motivate and energize their employees and create a level of happiness that make employees go the extra mile for the workplace and the customers. Bad managers on the other hand spread frustration and stress all around them.

It’s important for leaders themselves to be happy at work. Unhappy managers make their employees miserable, have a harder time reaching their goals and are more prone to stress and burnout.

The seminar is based on the newest research and knowledge about Happiness at Work. It will be inspiring and with useful tools. There is a constant shift between presentation, videos, reflection, dialog and exercises.

This seminar also gives you as a leader both the knowledge and tools you need to make your people happy at work. And it doesn’t take much. Happiness at work is not about raises, bonuses, perks and promotions – it comes from simple, effective actions that any leader ought to know and do.

See the full agenda for the training and get your tickets here.

Our 4 best tips for a happy vacation

The Summer holidays are right around the corner here in the northern hemisphere and I am really excited for it. No matter how much you love your job, you should still look forward to some time off, where you can do something completely different.

But it’s important to do your vacation right. If not, you risk ruining the whole thing by doing emails at the pool or by feeling bad about the work you didn’t do before going on vacation. That’s not doing anyone any favors – not even the workplace – because time off from work is a prerequisite for happiness and productivity.

So here are our 4 best tips for having a happy vacation.

1: Actually take a vacation

I can’t believe I even have to say this, but in many countries people don’t take the vacation time they’re entitled to. One person wrote this comment on my blog:

I’m 34 and haven’t had a real vacation since my childhood vacations with my parents. The only way I manage to take an entire week off at a time (I work in IT) is when I’m able to schedule a week or two of “unemployment” between jobs, and in those periods, spending money on a trip is not wise.

I’m tied to my email/pager even on weekends and holidays and on the scattered “vacation” days I can take. Most Americans only get 2-3 weeks of combined sick and vacation time in any case, and professionals are expected to read email and be available, even on their days “off”.

I wonder how many people are able to have a real vacation these days!

US workers typically get very little vacation time, and often don’t even take all the vacation they do get. The Japanese have a similar problem where many workers don’t take the vacation days they’re entitled because they feel they’re letting down their coworkers.

Take your vacations. And if you work for a company that refuses to understand that human beings need time off from work, quit and go work for a company that actually cares about its people.

2: Get organized before you go

Clear out any outstanding work and your email inbox. This will give you clarity and control of any tasks. This sounds boring but it’s quite satisfying to get your work organized and go on vacation with an empty inbox.

And if you know there are important tasks that you can’t get done before you leave, hand them over to a coworker in plenty of time. Make sure to hand over the task with all necessary information so it’s easy for your coworkers to take over. That also keeps them from having to disturb you on your vacation, so you’re helping both them and yourself.

3: Don’t work on your vacation

Don’t bring the company mobile and don’t read work-related emails. Take a real vacation and let your brain do something completely different.

Instead, spend some time doing new things you’ve wanted to try for a long time but haven’t had time for. Go rollerskating, windsurfing, fishing or whatever strikes your fancy. Can I suggest swing dancing? It’s amazing!

Or maybe just kick off your shoes and go lie in a hammock. Stare out at the water. Have days with no plans and time for reflection.

4: Close your email inbox completely

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.

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. Here’s how you can close your inbox completely on your vacation.

I’m taking all of July off and I will be doing exactly that.

The upshot

For crying out loud: Take your vacation time and make it a good one.

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How to measure happiness at work – and how NOT TO

Most companies conduct regular job satisfaction surveys, but they often don’t work very well and fail to deliver tangible improvements to employees’ perception of their workplace. This leads to increased unhappiness among employees and from there to lower productivity and higher employee turnover.

In this video we cover:

  • Why you absolutely should measure happiness at work
  • Why traditional job satisfaction surveys often fail
  • Better ways to measure happiness at work – ie. more often, more relevant and more valuable
  • Share specific experiences from a company that tried it
  • A very brief introduction to Heartcount – a unique new tool for measuring happiness at work

Wall of win at IKEA

Last week I did a workshop on “Leading With Happiness” for all the managers at an IKEA warehouse in Copenhagen and I have to say that it was an absolute pleasure. Like any other company, IKEA is facing many challenges and changes but this international group of 40 managers were clearly completely on board with the whole idea of happiness at work.

And while I was there, I stumbled on their wall of win – an entire wall of positive customer feedback, naming specific IKEA employees who’ve gone above and beyond.

What a simple but great way to celebrate your employees’ good work.

The 3 most important things bosses should learn from swing dancers

In dancing – just as in business – there are leaders and followers. But if you think this means that “The leader always leads and the follower does what they’re told” then you’re very wrong.

Miranda van Wonterghem is an international swing dance teacher and in this amazing talk from our International Conference On Happiness at Work,  she revealed the three main things business leaders should learn from dancers to create happier and more effective leadership – AND demonstrated it with dancing.

20 ways to measure happiness at work beyond the usual useless satisfaction surveys

Measuring employee happiness is a great idea.

Sure, it has its problems. Any time you measure anything, you run the risk of getting bad data, the wrong data or making bad decisions based on the data.

But it still makes sense for two main reasons.

First and most obviously, if you measure employee happiness right, it can actually guide efforts to improve the workplace by identifying organizational problems and strengths.

Also, most business leaders are highly results oriented and data driven and find it hard to value things they can’t put a number on. Tracking employee happiness with hard numbers in some way can bolster organizational commitment to happiness initiatives.

So what can you measure? This can go way beyond just an annual job satisfaction survey. It’s essential to find the metrics that are relevant to your employees, your customers and your organization.

Here are all the potential ways we’ve come up with to measure employee happiness. Did we forget any? Write a comment if you have one we didn’t include.

Measure employee mood

If you want to know how happy your employees are, you can quite simply ask them. The traditional way is of course to run annual satisfaction surveys but I’m very skeptical about that approach.

You can measure things like:

  • Happiness
  • Satisfaction
  • Engagement
  • Well-being
  • Psychological capital

You can conduct the measurement using surveys, apps, mood boards or even just tennis balls.

Other employee metrics

Two other obvious employee-related metrics are:

  • Absenteeism
  • Employee turnover

Each of these have a direct bottom line impact and are directly correlated with employee happiness.

Hiring

Happy organizations also attract more and better new hires. That means that you could also measure on metrics like:

  • Applications received per opening posted
  • Time to fill positions
  • Rate of acceptance of job offers
  • Rate of successful hires (how many new employees stay at least x months)

This will be especially relevant in fast-growing workplaces or in industries where there is strong competition for the best talent.

Customer metrics

We know that happy employees make the customers happy. Some potential metrics are:

  • Customer happiness / satisfaction
  • Customer loyalty / repeat business
  • Brand perception

Employee performance

We also know that happy employees do a better job, so measuring happiness could also mean tracking metrics like:

  • Productivity
  • Quality / errors
  • Workplace safety / accidents
  • Success rate of innovation / change projects

Negative behavior

Given that happy employees are less likely to engage in bad behavior at work, we could also track metrics like:

  • HR complaints
  • Fraud / stealing

Physiological measures

This area is a little more speculative but some people have suggested measuring things like:

  • Cortisol in saliva samples
  • Blood pressure
  • Sleep time and quality

These do raise some ethical issues around privacy and bodily autonomy.

The upshot

Measuring employee happiness can help efforts to improve a workplace and strengthen leadership’s focus and commitment to these efforts.

While traditional satisfaction surveys have a long list of problems, there are many other metrics you can look at.

No workplace should measure all of these metrics. Depending on the industry, situation and type of employees only a small subset of these will be relevant. It’s up to each workplace to define which are the most relevant and to find a good way to track and act on these metrics.

How best to measure employee happiness

We have collected all our best insights and experiences on this topic and developed a tool called heartcount which allows any team or workplace to measure happiness at work simply and in a way that generates actionable insights. Read all about it here.

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Jack Ma is very very very wrong about the 996 rule

Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese tech company Alibaba, has come out in favor of the so-called 996 rule, i.e. that you should work from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week if you want to have a successful career. For anyone doing the math that’s 72 hours of work a week. Add a 1 hour commute on top of that and there’s very little time left for your family, kids, hobbies, exercise and life in general.

His belief in this is unshakeable:
“I personally think that 996 is a huge blessing,” he said. “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?”

He also added that you can only achieve business success through suffering and sacrifice.

I realize I may be wasting my time here by going up against a belief that is so prevalent among business leaders, but there’s no way I can let that kind of nonsense pass and not point out exactly why it’s wrong. Here are 5 quick reasons:

1: Pointing to successful people that achieved success by working 72 hours a week proves nothing. What about all the people that worked just as hard but failed?

2: Many of the mental qualities that make a person successful at work are lost when people are overworked, tired, stressed and unhappy, including networking, creativity and effective decision making.

3: Permanent overwork kills people. For instance, those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke.

4: Permanent overwork doesn’t result in increased output.

5: Many people believe that success can only be achieved through suffering, but they’re wrong. In fact, employee happiness leads directly to higher performance and business success.

So permanent overwork does not lead to increased results and success – in fact it hurts people AND profits.

It’s easy to point to Alibaba and say “But they work really long hours and the company is successful. Check mate!” But that’s just correlation; where is the proof that they are profitable BECAUSE OF the long working hours? Maybe they would’ve been even more profitable if their employees were happy, relaxed and had lives outside of work too? The research certainly indicates that.

So why do so many people still believe this nonsense? As the psychologist Daniel Kahneman noted, it’s difficult to change people’s minds. Look at this picture:

Every horizontal line is perfectly straight. Don’t believe me? Hold up a ruler to your screen and check. OK, now that you know the horizontal lines are straight, what does your mind see? Bendy lines.

Kahneman notes that cognitive illusions are even more stubborn than visual illusions and the business leaders he has worked with almost never changed their beliefs no matter how much evidence they were presented with.

Fortunately, there are also many enlightened leaders out there:

biden

And US Vice President Joe Biden wrote an awesome memo to his staff that said in part:

I do not expect, nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work.

The upshot

There is strong evidence that permanent overwork hurts people and performance. Let’s stop promoting such a dumb and dangerous idea.

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Try this easy happiness hack in your next meeting

When is your next meeting? Tomorrow? This afternoon? Or are you already late for your next meeting?

We spend a lot of time in work meetings and they don’t seem to make us very happy.

So here’s a simple tip you can try very easily:  Open your next meeting with a round where each person shares something positive. You can pick one of these questions and let everyone share:

  • Name one thing you’ve accomplished since the last meeting that you’ve been proud of.
  • Name a person who has helped you since the last meeting.
  • Mention one thing you’re looking forward to at work in the coming week.
  • What’s the funniest thing someone has told you in the last week?
  • Mention something interesting you’ve learned in the last week.

Don’t spend a lot of time on this, just give each participant about 30 seconds to share something positive. If the group is bigger than 10-12 people, let people share in pairs and then let 3 or 4 people share with the whole group so it doesn’t take more than a few minutes.

It really works wonders for a meeting. One person told me this after trying it out:

Hi Alexander,

I have been reading your work for a few days now, and I cannot get enough.

We have 4 analysts on our team, who touch many if not all groups in our company. Our role often means our view is black and white in order to deliver results, which is often received in a bad light.

So, I tried starting a meeting with something positive. It was like the Jedi mind trick for convincing others to lobby for our interests!

My Sr Analyst was struggling to keep her jaw from dropping. No more than a simple ask of what is the funniest thing your kids have said to you lately. Everyone had a story, and we all laughed for a quick 2 minutes before getting to the agenda.

Just wanted to say, “Thank you,”

All the best,

-Grant

And it’s not only fun, it will also make your meeting more effective as this experiment shows:

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 negative 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 discussion and on whether or not the group will eventually reach consensus.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

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