Since meeting Alexander Kjerulf at euroGel 2006 last year, I’ve been following his work as the self-appointed Chief Happiness Officer with interest. He’s just released his first book, Happy Hour is 9 to 5. Alex is also one of the most energetic and inspiring people I’ve met. He’s kindly consented to be the first interviewee on this blog. I hope you enjoy it.
AF: What first interested you about happiness at work? Were you unhappy at your workplace?
AK: I’ve tried being really, really happy at work. And I’ve tried being desperately unhappy. And I think it’s the contrast between the two experiences, the huge differences that draw me to the topic. When I’m happy at work I’m positive, upbeat, creative, supportive, giving, energetic. But during the one year I spent being unhappy at work I found myself becoming despondent, cynical, tired, depressed and negative. I hated the experience - but wasn’t able to change it. Until I quit!
Have you discovered which companies make people happy at work? In particular, is there an international bias: are some countries better at this than others?
The biggest bias is this: Smaller companies are usually better at happiness. If you look at the top-10 list for happy companies here in Denmark, 7 out of 10 have less than 500 people. This is one reason why WL Gore (they make GoreTex) limit plant sizes to 150 people. There’s also a national bias: International studies show that the happiest workers are found in the Scandinavian countries. This is because Scandinavian organizations have a decades long tradition for focusing on happiness at work. We even have a word for it: Arbejdsglæde, a word that exists only in the Nordic languages.
Do you think there’s a conflict between businesses making profits and keeping employees happy?
Quite the contrary. Study after study has shown that happy companies make more money. Why? Because happy employees:
Are more creative
Take fewer sickdays
Are more productive
Make the customers happy
Focus more on quality and make fewer mistakes
You’ve just published your first book: Happy Hour is 9 to 5. Was there any part of the writing process that made you unhappy?
Only one part: Stopping. I could have gone on writing and re-writing but at one point you have to stop and say “It’s finished. Or it’s a finished as it needs to be!” That was difficult. Other than that, writing was a lot of fun. As it should be. Imagine saying “I wrote this book about happiness at work - it was a horrible experience every step of the way” :o)
You’re now self-employed as a happiness consultant. Do you think self-employment is a good way to be happy with your work?
It is for me!! I’ve been self-employed since 1996 and have probably been spoiled for life. I’m not sure I could ever go back and work in a job. But it depends on your personality. If you like a little more excitement, uncertainty, challenge and self-direction then it’s the way to go. You probably also need to be addicted to low levels of fear :o)
** Should large corporates have vice-presidents of happiness?**
Yes! Why have an HR manager, when you can have a Chief Happiness Officer. That would be a great way for a company to show, that they’re committed to their employees’ happiness.
What does the future hold? Are you seeing an improvement in happiness levels among employees? Is there a market for more people like yourself?
The world of work is definitely getting better on the whole. Ask yourself: Would you rather have a job today or in a company in the 1950’s? 1920’s? 1980’s even? Work is becoming more interesting, creative, challenging and the mood at work is (in general) becoming more open, free and flexible. On the negative side, we see more and more workplace stress - probably as a direct consequence of the increased freedom.
But there is no doubt that the future of work is happy. That is my ultimate goal: To change the world of work to the point where happiness is not an exception, but the norm. Where most of us refuse to take jobs that don’t make us happy. Where no one is forced to treat a job as “just a job”. And yes, there is a huge market for this - just look at all the people working in innovation, motivation, communication, teambuilding etc… At the core of this lies one thing: Making people happy at work!
Thanks to Alex for the interview.