Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fun at work: Making people happy all over the world is my dream job

ET Bureau Dec 30, 2011, 07.10am IST

Alexander Kjerulf has been making a living out of happiness as a speaker, consultant and author. Living in Copenhagen, Kjerulf presents, consults and conducts workshops on happiness at work and conferences with clients including DaimlerChrysler, Tata, IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers andLego. He has authored Happy Hour is 9 to 5 – How to Love Your Job, Love Your Life and Kick Butt at Work. He is also avidly followed on his blog, Positive Sharing. In an interview with Manoj Nair, Kjerulf speaks about his job, happiness and the relationship between the two. Edited excerpts:

Who or what is a Chief Happiness Officer (CHO)?

The CHO title is modeled on all the other CXO titles. The CTO is in charge of technology, the CFO is responsible for the financials, the COO is head of operations. And when you realise that employee happiness is the most important success factor for any business today, it becomes essential to have a chief happiness officer, someone who is the main driver in making and keeping the workplace happy.

Do you think companies should begin appointing CHOs or hire happiness consultants?

Yes, any company needs a CHO. And many can benefit from outside help to become happier. That's certainly what our clients tell us.

How did you make the leap from a geek to a happiness freak?

After I'd been in the IT business for about 10 years I sold my IT consulting company in 2002. After that, I took a break to ask myself, "What is my vision? What am I really passionate about?" And I realised that it was no longer IT, it was this idea of spreading happiness at work.

You have come to India and worked with managements here. What advice would you give to employers to turn the workplace into a honeycomb of bliss?

Well, bliss may be a strong word. But there are two things I've noticed about Indian workplaces that I think you need to change before they can become really happy. One is that there seems to be a very authoritarian culture — the boss' word is law and the structure is very hierarchical. Also, in some places, at least, low-level employees are treated quite rudely or badly. This is bad for employee happiness. It is important to treat every employee, regardless of status or position, with respect.

Also, I've noticed that Indian workplaces look to the US for clues on management. Well, let me tell you something: The American management style doesn't even work that well in America. And considering how rich Indian culture is, I would much rather see Indian workplaces look there for inspiration than to the US.

Finally, I think the huge advantage you have in India is that there is already in Indian culture and society a desire to be happy, at least in private life. I would love to see more Indians take that desire into the workplace.

What is your idea of fun at the workplace? Is it no work at all? Or you pretend to enjoy what you do?

I love what Noel Coward said once: "Work is much more fun than fun." Happiness at work really comes from two things: results and relationships. Results is when you're good at what you do. You make a difference and you can be proud of your work. Relationships is when you like and respect the people you work with and they like you. If you have that, you will be happy at work.

Do you really 'need' to have happiness in your workplace to be effective?

Yes! Studies show that employee happiness is the main factor that drives business success. Happy workplaces are more innovative, have happier customers, sell more products, have lower absenteeism and employee turnover and make more money.

What is the critical thing one can do to make a difference to happiness at the workplace and those of co-workers?

It's to focus on the right things. Happiness at work is not about salary, bonuses, workplace fitness or titles. As long as we focus only on those, we can never create a happy workplace. It's about results and relationships.

Happiness at work always remains a theoretical concept. How can one turn that theory into praxis?

That is a great question — and it's really about focusing on results and relationships. It means creating a workplace where every single employee goes home from work knowing that they've done great, important work together with great people. On a very practical level, here are some simple things any workplace can do.

1. Praise people . Praising other people's good work is one of the simplest and most effective ways to make them happy. Don't make a big production out of it, just make it a habit to appreciate a job well done whenever and wherever you see it.

2. Say, "Good morning". In too many workplaces, people have gotten into the habit of not saying good morning to their coworkers. Make sure to greet each person in your department in a happy, cheerful way. A tip: Make eye contact, use the person's name and sound happy!

3. Perform a random act of workplace kindness. Do something nice and surprising for a co-worker. Bring him a cup of coffee. Leave some candy on her desk anonymously. Flowers work too and so does a hand-written note saying what you appreciate about that person.

4. As a manager, every workday , make sure to take five minutes with one of your employees. Find out how that person is doing. Ask if they have any problems you can help with. Find out how they're doing at home. This is a simple way for managers to create a better relationship with employees.

5. Get to know a co-worker . Go talk to one of your co-workers and learn three new facts about that person. Like their favorite movie, best vacation ever, where they grew up... anything really.

All of this may sound trivial — and believe me, it is. That's why it works. Happiness at work is not rocket science – anyone can do it and simple methods like these work the best.

Why did you call your interesting blog Positive Sharing... What has that got to do with happiness at work? What exactly is positive sharing?

I called the blog that as a response to all the negative content on the internet. It seems that people in general are much more likely to write about or share things that annoy them, anger them or sadden them. Which is fine, but there is just so much of it on the internet.

So, I only write about the positive – for instance, if I read a business book I like I'll review it on my blog. If I don't like the book I just don't write about it. And yes, there are things that anger, annoy and sadden me but I honestly don't feel like sharing that with the millions of people who read my blog. I'd much rather share the positive.

Did coming from Denmark, one of the happiest countries, have anything to do with giving yourself that title?

Absolutely — employee happiness is a basic foundation of Danish working culture and most Danish workers are on average the happiest in the world. This gives me a great foundation for our work.

Do you follow all the advice that you give to others?

Of course I do. At least most of the time.

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