Category Archives: Motivation

Leading with happiness: How Thyra Frank created Denmark’s happiest nursing home

Thyra Frank is a leadership legend in Denmark.

In 1988 she became the leader of a troubled nursing home in Copenhagen called Lotte.

She had no budget to change things but with lots of heart, a deep commitment to helping others and a healthy dose of common sense, she turned it into one of the happiest workplaces in Denmark.

In this funny and moving speech, she shares how she created a nursing home where the staff loved to work and where the residents were healthier, happier and lived twice as long as in other nursing homes in Denmark.

Why EVERY workplace needs a culture of positive feedback – and 5 great ways to do it

No. 1Positive feedback not only feels great – it also makes us more effective.

Yet another study (this one from Harvard Business School) confirms what we all know: Receiving positive feedback makes us happier at work, less stressed and more productive. From the study:

In the study, participants… were asked to solve problems. Just before that, approximately half of the participants received an email from a coworker or friend that described a time when the participant was at his or her best.

Overwhelmingly, those who read positive statements about their past actions were more creative in their approach, more successful at problem-solving and less stressed out than their counterparts.

For instance, participants had three minutes to complete Duncker’s candle problem. Fifty-one percent who had read emails prior to the task were able to successfully complete it; only 19% of those who did not receive “best-self activation” emails were able to solve it.

Those who received praise were also significantly less stressed than the control group.

(source).

That’s significantly better performance from the group that had just received positive feedback. Why would that be?

Side note: We use praise as a common term for all positive interpersonal communication at work.

Why praise makes us happier and more productive

My best bet for what is going on is this: Praise causes positive emotions and as we know from research in positive psychology, positive emotions have what’s called a broaden-and-build effect:

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that positive emotions broaden one’s awareness and encourage novel, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions. Over time, this broadened behavioral repertoire builds skills and resources.

Essentially we now know that when you experience positive emotions, your mind functions in a broader and more open way. This is also confirmed by the research performed by Teresa Amabile who found that:

If people are in a good mood on a given day, they’re more likely to have creative ideas that day, as well as the next day, even if we take into account their mood that next day.

There seems to be a cognitive process that gets set up when people are feeling good that leads to more flexible, fluent, and original thinking, and there’s actually a carryover, an incubation effect, to the next day.

This is crucial. It shows that being happy is not just about feeling good – it has a large measurable effect on our work performance in many different way. Creative thinking is just one – happy people are also more productive, more resilient, more empathetic and make better decisions - just to mention a few effects.

Praise is rare in the workplace

Giving positive feedback is an interesting way to create more happiness at work for two reasons: It’s incredibly effective (as the Harvard study showed) but it’s also sorely lacking from most workplaces.

In our recent study of what makes people unhappy at work, a lack of praise and recognition was one of the major causes. 37% of participants in our survey mentioned it as something that made them unhappy at work.

The top 3 single factors that cause bad days at work according to our study:

  1. A lack of help and support from my boss (40%)
  2. Negative coworkers (39%)
  3. Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do (37%)

Not only is a lack of praise and recognition a major cause of unhappiness at work, the top two might even be lessened if people felt more appreciated

Why praise matters: Results AND Relationships

Thumbs upOur model of what makes us happy at work says that it comes from two main factors: Results and Relationships. Or to put it another way doing great work together with great people. Here’s a video on that.

We’ve always said that praise at work is important because it shows people that they do good work, make a difference and get results. This gives us a feeling of pride that makes us very happy at work. Praise also motivates us for future tasks.

But lately we’ve realized that there is more to positive feedback: It’s also about strengthening relationships in the workplace. When you praise someone else, it shows that you actually pay attention to them and are able to see their good work and positive qualities.

One of our most fundamental psychological needs is the need for others to see and recognize the good in us. Some sociologists argue that how others see us is in fact one of the major factors that shape our identity. And we know that people who are never seen, or only seen for the bad they do, have a much higher risk of developing mental problems over time.

Resistance to praise

We’re not saying it’s easy – far from it. In many workplaces there is no tradition of positive feedback. Many managers in particular have developed a notion that praise is trivial or ineffective – they’re completely wrong, of course. I’ve even heard managers argue that “we shouldn’t praise employees – they’re just doing their jobs.” How incredibly narrow-minded.

Some workplaces even have a strong culture of negative feedback, so that good performance is met with silence but even the slightest mistakes are punished harshly.

Not only does the current absence of praise in the workplace make it harder, it might even mean that praise is initially met with scorn or suspicion.  Over time, people will come to realize that the praise is genuine and not just an attempt to butter them up for something else :)

Some people are so out of practice with positive feedback that they even find it hard to receive praise. Here’s our best tip on how to receive praise.

Fortunately, there are many companies and leaders who do get it. One example is Richard Branson who has a tremendous focus on celebrating and praising his people. He wrote that:

I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers, and that people flourish if they’re praised.

What is good praise

Good praise is:

  • Genuine – only praise people if you mean it
  • Meaningful – praise people for something worth praising
  • Specific – tell them what was good

It’s also worth remembering that we can praise others for what they do (their work or their results) but we can also praise others for who they are, i.e. the personal qualities we see in them.

Here are some general tips on good praise:

How to praise others at work

So get praisin’. Positive feedback takes no time and costs no money and is one of the most effective ways to make a workplace happier and, apparently, more productive.

And anyone can praise anyone else. Of course bosses should praise employees, but employees can also praise each other, praise the boss or even praise customers. Why not?

We can all start with ourselves. Could you become the kind of person who is really good at seeing the good in others and telling them about it? This is a great thing to do, not just at work but also in your family, with your friends or even with random strangers on the street.

When you praise others, you don’t have to make a big production out of it. You can simply go up to someone and quietly and give them positive feedback. You can send the praise in an email, you can write it on a post-it note and stick it on their desk, you can praise people in meetings in front of their coworkers or in a million other ways.

Here are 5 specific suggestions for how to praise others at work:

  1. Our best exercise ever for positive feedback: The poncho
  2. Start an appreciation-email-chain or do it on paper
  3. Use an elephant or a similar token
  4. Celebrate those coworkers who help others
  5. #H5YR - Give praise on twitter

Could one of them work for you?

We would suggest making it a daily challenge to give at least one other person at work positive feedback of some kind. This can help develop a habit around it and get to the point where it’s something you do naturally.

And if all else fails, there’s always the self-praise machine :)

Your take

Does your workplace have a culture of positive feedback? Are you good at praising others? What’s a time that you praised someone else at work, where you could see it meant something to them? What does it do to you, when others appreciate you at work? Write a comment, we’d love to hear your take.

Related posts

New study confirms that positive feedback increases performance

Thumbs upYet another study confirms what we all know: Giving employees positive feedback leads to more happiness at work, less stress and better performance:

In the study, participants… were asked to solve problems. Approximately half of the participants were told to ask friends and family members to send them an email just prior to their participation that described a time when the participant was at his or her best.

Overwhelmingly, those who read positive statements about their past actions were more creative in their approach, more successful at problem-solving and less stressed out than their counterparts.

For instance, participants had three minutes to complete Duncker’s candle problem. Fifty-one percent who had read emails prior to the task were able to successfully complete it; only 19% of those who did not receive “best-self activation” emails were able to solve it.

Those who received praise were also significantly less stressed than the control group.

(source).

Which is kinda sad, when we know how many employees feel under-appreciated.

In our recent study of what makes people unhappy at work, a lack of praise and recognition was one of the major causes. 37% of participants in our survey mentioned it as something that made them unhappy at work.

So get praisin’. Positive feedback takes no time and costs no money. It does require you to actually pay attention to other people and be able to see their good work and positive qualities. But if we can’t even do that, there is something more fundamentally wrong.

Our new study shows bad work days are too common and what causes them

Almost 2 out of 3

Everyone has bad days at work – those really frustrating and stressful days that we just want to be over. But how how often do we have bad work days and what causes them?

Our brand new survey of over 700 employees worldwide shows that bad work days are disturbingly common and reveals some of the main causes.

See the main findings here - it’s pretty fascinating stuff.

 

5 things businesses should NEVER copy from sports – and 3 they should

Many companies look to sports for cues on motivations and performance and star athletes and coaches and make big bucks as corporate speakers. There is this unquestioned assumption that if you’re successful in sports, you can teach workplaces something that will make them more effective.

I’d like to challenge that assumption :)

In fact, I believe there are so many fundamental differences between running a business and (say) coaching a football team that it becomes almost impossible to transfer any principles or practices.

Here are 5 things businesses should definitely not copy from sports:

5: Abrasive coaches

It seems like sports team coaches are given license to be complete jerks. They can throw tantrums, yell at referees, badmouth opposing players (or even their own players) in public – and be celebrated for all of this because it shows “passion”.

Nobody wants that kind of behavior from their manager at work. Steve Ballmer tried this sort of thing as CEO of Microsoft and has been deservedly ridiculed for it.

4: Adulation for star players
Sports teams have a few stars and many supporting players. In a workplace you need everyone to perform at their best.

3: Intense competition
It’s a common belief that competition makes people perform better, but research shows that it’s actually the other way around – competition makes people achieve worse results.

2: Rewards for results
Athletes are almost always rewarded for results – win that tournament and there’s prize money. Again, research shows that bonuses in the workplace make people less productive on any task that requires creativity and independent thinking.

1: Focus only on the next game
In sports, the focus is often only on the next game. In business, you need to be able to think long-term and create success not just for this week but for years in the future.

Each of those 5 practices are very common in sports but just don’t work in business.  That being said, there are a few practices in sports that businesses should absolutely emulate. Here are three:

3: Make time for training
Athletes spend many more hours training for matches than actually in matches. This gives them a chance to improve their skills and a risk-free environment where they can try out new approaches and plays and see how they work.

In the workplace however, there is rarely a chance to try out new ideas without risking failure. Employees are always playing for points and never playing to learn.

2: Celebrate success
Athletes are very good at celebrating wins. They even celebrate partial progress towards a win when they score a goal or similar.

In many workplaces, success is met with a shrug and wins are rarely celebrated.

1: Include restitution
Every successful athlete know that you get stronger by training and THEN RESTING. Without restitution, you’re actually just continually weakening yourself.

Workplaces on the other hand consistently underestimate the need for restitution. Employees are worked hard constantly and breaks and time off work are seen as a necessary evil. In fact, employees are implicitly told that they can show “commitment” by giving up weekends and vacations and working more hours.

There is no reason why we should try to follow the lead of athletes and coaches in our efforts to create better and more successful workplaces. Many of the practices from sports just won’t work in a workplace – you could even argue that many of them don’t even work that well in sports.

And don’t even get me started on copying practices from the military :)

Your take

Has your company ever had a star coach or an athlete come in and speak? What did they say, that you found useful? What do you think workplaces should or shouldn’t copy from sports? Write a comment and let me know your take.

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7 steps to handle criticism at work well

This is how some people handle criticism
This is how some people handle criticism at work

A senior leader in a meeting told me that feedback is a gift. How can you ever improve if you don’t know where you need to shore up your skills or work habits?

That’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten and it has changed the way I think about negative feedback.

Now I use that line on my teenage daughters. I’m not so sure they think feedback is a gift… just yet :)

Julie P.

Many people get defensive or sad when they’re criticized at work. In many cases, the workplace has no feedback culture in place and people are not trained to give or receive criticism in a constructive manner. Giving and receiving negative feedback constructively takes a LOT of practice!

The best way to receive negative feedback well is to follow these 7 steps:

1: Listen.
Actually hear what’s being said. If necessary, ask questions to make sure you understand the criticism fully.

Here’s an example:

I reiterate what she said so she knows that I was really listening and since my boss likes to teach and is very detail-oriented, I’ll ask her if she can give me a few tips on how to perform the task better and throw in a few suggestions as well to get her feedback.

I end the conversation by asking where I’m doing well so I can keep up the good work which is my way of helping her to remember where I excel.

This also shows her that out of everything that I do, she’s got few complaints and gives her the confidence to give me more responsibilities.

2: Assume good intentions
Unless proven otherwise, assume good intentions. Don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that the person criticising you is “out to get you.” Of course, sometimes they are. If so, see below.

3: Do not get defensive and start making excuses.
Instead you might say what you’ve learned and what you will do differently from now on.

4: Don’t take it personally
Remember that they’re criticizing your work, not you as a person. Never take negative feedback about your work as a criticism of you as a person.

5: See criticism as help
Remember that all constructive feedback (including negative feedback) is a sign of interest and a sign that people want to help you do better. It would be far worse for people to notice you doing bad work and not say a word.

6: Don’t be too hard on yourself
Remember that everyone makes mistakes and has things to learn. Yes, that includes you. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, but making the same mistakes over and over because you refuse to listen to criticism and learn is just stupid.

7: Say thank you
Thank the person for their feedback.

Never put up with attacks in the workplace

However, note that these steps only apply to constructive, well-meant criticism. Unfair and overly negative feedback is also used as a tool by bad managers and workplace bullies to demean and control others.

The wrong kind of criticism can be:

  • Overly negative
  • Personal attacks
  • Unfair criticism for something that is not your fault or outside if your control
  • Delivered in an unpleasant way

Do NOT put up with this kind of attack. If you do it will persist.

Feedback can be a gift

All constructive feedback is valuable because it gives you a chance to improve and learn. Positive feedback is easier and more fun (and sadly undervalued in most workplaces) but negative feedback and criticism can be a fantastic thing as long as we do it right.

In fact, many employees I’ve talked to simply wish for more feedback of any kind. They feel like they work in a vacuum where no one ever notices their efforts, good or bad, and this makes it almost impossible to know whether or not they’re doing good work.

We desperately need feedback – both positive and negative. Tell me what I do well AND tell me what I can do better.

Your take

Have you ever received negative feedback in a way that helped you out? How did you receive it? What are some BAD ways to receive criticism? Do you have a coworker who handles criticism particularly well or badly? How do they do it? Write a comment below – I’d love to hear your take.

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5 ways to boost your career with happiness

In this hilarious and insightful speech, Rowan Manahan explains that happiness at work (in Danish: arbejdsglaede) is not a pipe dream but the best way to get your dream job, boost your career and become more successful.

Why don’t people pay a little more attention (and a whole lot more respect!) to their own happiness — and what happens when they do?

Rowan argues that this is the next evolutionary leap that mankind will make and has some simple, practical, and actionable steps that you can take to come out of the Dark Ages in your working life and into the Age of Enlightenment.

The speech is from our Arbejdsglaede Live! 2013 conference, held annually in Copenhagen Denmark in May.

About Rowan Manahan:
Rowan Manahan is the author of the best-seller, Where’s My Oasis? (The Essential Handbook for Everyone Wanting That Perfect Job) and Ultimate CV (Trade Secrets from a Recruitment Insider). He serves as an External Lecturer for Trinity College Dublin, Bochum University, the National College of Ireland, Dublin Institute of Technology, and Froebel College of Education. He is a frequent conference speaker and appears regularly in the media sharing his expertise and advice.

Rowan loves good minds, great music, chop-sockey videos and smelly cheese. He variously describes himself as an author, insultant, storyteller, TEDx curator, husband, father, and dancing bear.

His Mantra is: “We are 98.5% chimpanzee, 1.5% civilized human being.”

Our conference about happiness at work was a massive hit

Conference about happiness at work

On May 30 we held our 5th annual conference about happiness at work in Copenhagen and this one was the best one yet :-)

The event was completely sold out and 360 participants saw 11 different speakers share their ideas and tips about creating happy workplaces. The feedback has been stunningly positive – 80% give the day a top grade and 18% give it 4 out of 5.

As always we filmed all the speakers and will put them online for free. You can see the first speech here – it’s an insanely inspiring talk where David Marquet explains how he made a nuclear submarine a happy workplace.

You can see some pictures from the event below and there are a ton more pics here, courtesy of our fantastic photographer Gareth Garvey.

David Marquet: Happiness at work on a nuclear submarine

When David Marquet took command of the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe, he knew he needed to change a lot of things. It was the worst performing submarine, was never ready for its missions on time and was basically the laughing stock of the US navy.

David came in with a plan to improve the results on the submarine and thereby make its crew happier. By accident, he found that he had to do it the other way around: Make the submarine a happy workplace and results would follow.

The new plan worked, and the USS Santa Fe became the best performing submarine.

In this speech from the Arbejdsglaede Live! 2013 conference, David Marquet explains how he did it and how you can create a happier workplace too.