How to Be Happy At Work – An Interview

Work occupies an enormous amount of our lives. To be happy, we need to be happy at work. But unless you fall into the job of your dreams, this can be a challenge. It’s hard to make sitting at a cubicle all day seem fulfilling, and for many employers, employee happiness is a low priority compared to the bottom line.

For these reasons, I was surprised to learn that someone has built a career around happiness at work. Alexander Kjerulf has the gumption to stand in front of large groups of corporate employees and tell them how to be happier. He’s also written a book titled Happy Hour is 9 to 5.

When Alex offered to interview with any blogger, I jumped at the chance. Here are the toughest questions I could muster.

1. Have you ever worked in a cubicle farm, or at any large company as a subordinate? If so, what was your experience?

In fact, I have. My very first job out of university was for Bang&Olufsen which make some of the world’s best music systems and TVs. My job was as a software developer, and it was everything you could fear from a big corporation.

The offices were a ugly, gray and uninspiring cubicle farmscape. The job was boring, everything mired in endless layers of bureaucracy. Every good idea had to approved at three different meetings. The mood at the company was unhappy and cynical.

Now don’t get me wrong, B&O make great products, and there are good reasons why they run software development the way they do, one of them being that it ensures a VERY low rate of errors. But I just didn’t fit in.

I lasted six months and then left for a job in a small consulting company where I was employee number 4. That was much more to my liking.

2. What would you say to someone who finds the work they do, of even the entire industry, to be terribly dull?

Well you’re facing a choice, aren’t you? Stay where you are and make it fun or go somewhere else that is more likely to be fun,

As long as you stay and accept dull work, you will never realize your full potential. You will never be as productive, creative, successful, fulfilled or happy as you could be if work was fun, energizing and inspiring.

3. What is the best way to deal with a boss that is just an awful person?

Again, there are two options. You can try to teach your boss a better way. I know many people don’t think you can, but with most bosses it IS possible.

A friend of mine has just done it. Her boss’ boss (the district manager) was constantly unpleasant, tough and never said a kind word to anyone. People always feared their weekly status meetings with him because he was so strict and always only gave people hell for the problems he saw. My friend went on a successful campaign to change him, and over the course of three months has taught him to appreciate good work, to praise people and to talk nicely.

However, with some bosses it just plain can’t be done. As studies have shown, around 2% of the general population have psychopathic tendencies, and in business these people tend to concentrate in management positions. This means that around 5-10% of managers have psychopathic traits.

You can’t work with these people. They have no empathy and don’t care about others. If that is your boss, run, don’t walk, away from him. Find a new job inside the company or at another company.

Oh, and read Bob Sutton’s book “The No Asshole Rule” which describes what companies can do about jerks.

4. What would you recommend to someone who doesn’t like working in an office in front of a computer everyday, but still wants job security and a good salary?

I’d say go for a job that makes you happy. Surprise 😮

Seriously, many people seem to think that there is some built-in contradiction between being happy at work and making good money or having job security. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you love what you do, you’re more likely to be very good at it, meaning you’re more likely to make good money and be secure in your job.

I know many people who were miserable in their jobs – and then lost’em in a downsizing round.

5. How can someone break the monotony of working in an office and going through the same routine day after day?

There are about a million ways. One of my favorites is Random Acts of Workplace Kindness. Do something nice for a co-worker, for your team, for your department or for your employees.

Bring someone a cup of coffee without them asking. Pass out candy at a meeting. Compliment people on their work. Ask people about their weekend.

Anything that creates a fun mood and a real connection between people.

6. What is the hardest part of standing in front of a large group of employees and telling them they should be happy at work?

Hmmm… Tricky question. I love doing it so much that there are no hard parts about it.

The hardest part is probably knowing that if I come in and do a bad job, I risk giving “happiness at work” a bad reputation at this company. Happiness at work will become something silly that people ridicule, rather than something important that people work together to create. I’m very conscious of this responsibility, and try to do my very best every time.