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What makes us happy at work? The best bits from ‘Happy Hour is 9 to 5’


Excerpts taken from the excellent Happy Hour is 9 to 5 book by Alexander Kjerulf

1. Be positive

At the end of every workday, just before you go home, take a few minutes to note down five things that made you happy at work that day. Type the log on your computer before you shut it down, or just write it on a piece of paper. Big or small doesn’t matter—note it down if it made your day a little better. Making a deadline. Talking to a nice co-worker. Meat loaf day at the cafeteria. Anything!

2. Learn

Learning organisations are those where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.

Pixar, the company known and loved for movies like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, has created something they call Pixar University, that lets employees take classes in moviemaking, sure, but also in pottery, improvisational theatre, sculpture, drawing and much more.

“We’ve made the leap from an idea-centered business to a people-centered business. Instead of developing ideas, we develop people. Instead of investing in ideas, we invest in people. We’re trying to create a culture of learning, filled with lifelong learners. It’s no trick for talented people to be interesting, but it’s a gift to be interested. We want an organization filled with interested people.” Randy S. Nelson, the dean of Pixar University.

Randy also has another great saying:

“You have to honor failure, because failure is just the negative space around success.”

3. Be open

Most companies tend more towards secrecy, which is a mistake as far as happiness at work is concerned. Sharing important information with people makes them feel trusted and valued. If employees really know what’s going on, it makes them more efficient and better able to make good decisions.

4. Participate

Psychological studies show again and again that a fundamental basis for our happiness is the ability to control our own environment. When we are involved in the decisions that matter to us, when we can participate actively in creating our future, when we feel active rather than passive, we are much happier. Contrast this with a work environment where big decisions that directly affect you are made without your knowledge and without your input.

Follow your passion

“When you are passionate, you always have your destination in sight and you are not distracted by obstacles. Because you love what you are pursuing, things like rejection and setbacks will not hinder you in your pursuit. You believe that nothing can stop you!” Coach K

5. Find meaning

There are three levels of meaning you can find at work:

  1. No meaning. Work makes no sense to you.
  2. Work has meaning because it supports you and your family.
  3. Work has meaning in itself because you’re contributing to something great or making the world a better place.

This is not to say that every job has meaning, or even that your job has meaning. Some jobs do, some jobs don’t. What matters is that some people understand the meaning of their work, whereas other don’t.

It’s much easier to be happy if your job has meaning to you, and you keep that meaning in mind. Knowing how your work contributes to the company’s success, to your local community, or even to making a better world makes you proud of what you do.

Make your results visible

Achieving results makes us proud and gives work meaning. Imagine going to work every day and never really having anything to show for it.

It’s important to make results visible so that you can see what you’ve achieved. Here are some ways to do it.

Contribute outside the company

Great Harvest is a US bakery franchise whose goals are:

“Be loose and have fun, Bake phenomenal bread, Run fast to help customers, Create strong, exciting bakeries, and Give generously to others.” 

One of the best ways to find meaning is to contribute to something other than yourself. You can use work as a springboard to help the community, a charity, the environment, society, developing nations—anything that makes sense to you.

Knowing that you have helped others through your work is a tremendous source of meaning. It is direct evidence that you are making the world a better place and helping people out. It’s also immensely satisfying, and a great way to get happy at work.

6. Love

Random acts of workplace kindness

It’s easy to:

  • Bring someone a cup of coffee without them asking.
  • Write a nice message on a post-it and stick it on their desk or computer.
  • Offer to help with their work.
  • Pass out candy.
  • Leave a flower on someone’s desk.
  • Write someone a card.
  • Take time to chat.
  • Ask someone about their weekend.

There are many random acts of workplace kindness to try—and they work wonders!

It’s not about symbols or rewards

Alfie Kohn, author of the excellent and provocative book Punished by Rewards, has this to say about status symbols:

The idea that dangling money and other goodies in front of people will “motivate” them to work harder is the conventional wisdom in our society, and particularly among compensation specialists.

Rewards are not merely ineffective but actually counterproductive. Subjects offered an incentive for doing a task (or, in some of the studies, for doing it well) actually did lower quality work than subjects offered no reward at all. As University of Texas psychologist Janet Spence put it after discovering this surprising effect in an early study of her own, rewards “have effects that interfere with performance in ways that we are only beginning to understand.”

Kohn’s research found that rewarding people reduces motivation. This seems counter-intuitive at first, but Kohn’s explanation is simple: Every time you reward people for doing something, you motivate them externally, an act which inevitably reduces people’s inner motivation. Inner motivation is the only guarantee of quality and performance in the long term.

Businesses and leaders struggle so hard to motivate their people using the promise of rewards like titles, promotions, larger offices and other corporate status symbols—but this actively lowers people’s motivation.

If rewards don’t work, what is the alternative? Kohn’s advice is to pay people fairly and then do everything possible to not focus on rewards. Incentives, bonuses, pay-for-performance plans, and other reward systems violate that last principle by their very nature. Businesses need to stop focusing so much on offering rewards, and employees need to stop chasing them.

What managers can do

In order of importance your priority should be:




Make time for your people

Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Products & User Experience, knows how important it is for employees to have a place to go with their questions, ideas, doubts and suggestions. That’s why she sits in her office every day from 4 to 5:30 ready to answer any question or listen to any idea from employees. There’s a sign-up sheet on the door and couches and laptop-power outside the office for the people waiting to see her.

Put happiness first

Google recognizes that the key to their success is to consistently attract and hold onto the best people, and their philosophy for how to do it includes these wonderful points:

  • Life is beautiful. Being a part of something that matters and working on products in which you can believe is remarkably fulfilling.
  • Appreciation is the best motivation.
  • Work and play are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to code and pass the puck at the same time.
  • Boldly go where no one has gone before. There are hundreds of challenges yet to solve. Your creative ideas matter here and are worth exploring. You’ll have the opportunity to develop innovative new products that millions of people will find useful.

When Google announced their IPO in 2004, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page announced that they would keep treating their employees exceptionally well. Investors who did not like this approach were kindly requested to take their money elsewhere. In other words, Google put their people first.

Make a happy plan

1.Make a plan that’s fun rather than ambitious.

2.Do one small thing every day.

3.Follow up without pressure.

4.Celebrate your results.

5.Share what you do.

In short, aim to shift some rocks, not entire mountains. Get some quick, easy wins—then move on from there.

In summary

If you’re not happy at work then there’s no excuses. It’s time to take action!

Learn how you can build a happy, successful business from your passion. Download our FREE e-book & startup toolkit ››

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