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A Happy Workplace Takes More Than Foosball Tables & Beanbag Chairs

A Happy Workplace Takes More Than Foosball Tables & Beanbag Chairs

Skrevet af Jon Kjær Nielsen

In times of change like these, we are constantly hearing predictions about the future. What will it be like, what will come and what will go. Well, I have a prediction that’s backed up by science: More and more of the jobs that actually exist in the future (automation aside) will be jobs where the employees are actually thriving and happy, as opposed to miserable and just “going through the motions”. The reason is as simple as it gets: It makes for better business.

It also happens to be really good for you, but that’s a side note here.

Case in point: Nearsoft. At this Mexico-based IT company they solve programming jobs for clients and hire out staff to on-site projects. As such, they’re no different from the myriad of IT consultancies making a living in the field of programming and development. And yet, they consistently outperform competitors and have seen annual growth rates at around 30% for years, with well beyond 200 employees at four different locations.

How they’re different is in how they run the company. CEO Roberto Martines can be seen as a sort of “Unboss”, to borrow a phrase from author Lars Kolind in that he’s not the one making all the decisions. Along with co-founder Matt Pérez he’s created a workplace where the welfare and happiness of the employees is key, and so the whole thing is run democratically and with as much employee freedom as possible. The outstanding business results flow from this, and it’s also earned them a Top Ten award in 2016 for Best Place To Work in Mexico and put them on the WorldBlu list of democratic workplaces.

The Nearsoft example might be on the bright and shiny side, but every workplace can actually see massive gains by making by small and powerful changes to their culture. It has very little to do with overall strategy, and everything to do with how it actually feels to come to work on a random Wednesday. The data backing this is massive and undeniable, and I’ll share just a few finding from studies.

The seminal book, The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor of Harvard University shares the finding that happy doctors are 19% faster at making an accurate diagnosis. This indicates that if employees felt that way coming to work we could see such a huge bump in productivity that they could be leaving the office two hours earlier. Or take every Friday off.

Other studies by Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, show that a salesperson that is optimistic and feels assured that the next client will buy from them, they bring in on average 88% more revenue to the business. This makes them almost twice as productive as those among their colleagues who’re saying to themselves “this won’t work out” and then make that their reality.

A third source among hundreds is the studies referenced in the book The Service Profit Chain. Here it’s shown that that biggest driver of customer satisfactions is the happiness of the actual employees delivering the service. This is what they understand at Zappos.com, the online retailer famous for delivering killer service AND being an awesome workplace.


The short and sweet of it: Emotions matter! Happy people are more successful in their jobs, and companies where the employees flourish do better. It’s that simple.


Despite the evidence however, a focus on employee wellbeing and happiness is still seen in many places as fluffy, unprofessional, a luxury, or worse: Irrelevant to the everyday running of the company.

But it is far from irrelevant. Rather, it’s absolutely paramount if you’re a business leader that wants to create great results, or as an employee, for that matter, who wants to be happy and successful in your career and life in general. In my 2012 TEDx talk, I condensed the strategy into the sentence:


“Success lies down the road to happiness — it’s not the other way round”.

And what are the things makes us happy? Primarily, it’s actually not things, but what happens between people.

It’s about the coworker who expresses their gratitude when you help them — not the colorful beanbag chairs.

It’s being appreciated for your efforts — not the foosball table in the hallway.

It’s feeling that you can contribute to something meaningful — not the fancy espresso machine.

It’s belonging to a group with shared values — not having a corner office or a reserved parking space.



How do we make those connections that create a better workplace?

For the past decade I’ve had the privilege to work with and deliver keynotes and workshops at more than 600 workplaces. Along the way I’ve made note of specific initiatives that people have taken to impact their work lives, making for a varied selection of ideas to share. One was a the team leader who showed up to the office early one day to place flowers on each desk, along with small notes of appreciation. There’s another Head of Sales who — to celebrate closing the big deal — bought bags of frozen chickens and organized a game of Curling in the hallway (talk about making something memorable!).

Then there’s the many companies that let their people choses — and go crazy with — their own titles. Why? Because is really doesn’t matter to the client if the programmer is called “Senior Consultant” or not, but it matters a whole lot to said consultant that he can call himself Keeper of Truth, or Jedi Master or perhaps Big Wave Surfer.

These are just a few instances of the now more that 150 real-life examples and tools I share in seminars, articles, podcast episode and books. Yes, circumstances matter, but each of us has more control over our immediate environment that we think, and I work to empower more people to take charge of their work lives and the culture they exist in. Ideally, every CEO would be like Roberto Martinez and set their employees free to flourish. But let’s not wait for that.


Understand that each us can do a great many things to ensure that work is something that actually makes us happy, rather than just daily, 8-hour gaps in living.

So I’ll leave you with this charge: Do one thing tomorrow, big or small, that you think will positively impact your day, or the day of those around you. Then you too are on the road to happiness.




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