Happy Work Hours Mean Better Health

February 23, 2014 Updated: February 24, 2014

As adults, we spend most of our waking lives at work, and the amount of stress we feel at the workplace greatly impacts our health. One study of over 21,000 nurses found that stressful jobs posed health risks comparable to smoking.

Alexander Kjerulf is a speaker and consultant on the topic of workplace happiness and recently wrote the book “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” about how companies and individuals can create happier (and therefore less stressful) workplaces that are efficient and productive. The Epoch Times asked Kjerulf to explain what workplace happiness is and how we experience it. 

Epoch Times: How did you get into the happiness field? 

Alexander Kjerulf: I was a software developer and consultant for a number of years before co-founding an IT consulting company in Copenhagen in 1997. Our main goal for this company was to make it a happy workplace, and we succeeded to a very large degree.

In 2002, we sold the company, and at that point, I took a leave of absence and asked myself what my true passion in life is. I realized that while developing software is awesome, my true passion in life is happiness at work, mostly because I’ve seen what happens to people who love their work and how bad things can go for people who hate their jobs.

So I founded Woohoo Inc. in 2003 and have traveled the world speaking about happiness at work in over 30 countries since.

Epoch Times: What kind of happiness should people aim to have at work? 

Mr. Kjerulf: There really is only one kind of happiness, and it’s the same kind you can experience at home, at work, or anywhere else.

Happiness is a state of positive emotions (joy, gratitude, serenity, and pride are some examples), and what you want at work (and at home) is to experience those more often than negative emotions (anger, sadness, frustration, and the like).

Now, the important thing to remember is that no one is happy all the time—that would be unnatural. Negative emotions are a part of life as well, but we do want to feel good as often as possible and feel bad as rarely as possible. Not exactly rocket science.

Epoch Times: How can we become happier at work?

Mr. Kjerulf: The important thing here is to focus on the right things. Most people get it wrong and think that happiness at work comes from raises, bonuses, promotions, and perks, but research shows that this is not the case.

What really makes us happy at work are results and relationships, that is, doing a great job and feeling personally valued at work.

Top management can start by actually caring about their people—which makes a lot of [business] sense because happy companies make more money. Executives need to make employee happiness their No. 1 strategic priority. Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Virgin, and Google are some companies who have done just that.

Here are some things you can do as an employee to create better results and relationships at work: Praise people. If someone does a great job, why not tell them. Unfortunately, in many workplaces, you only get feedback when you screw up.

Say good morning. It’s ridiculously simple, but saying a warm, cheerful good morning to the people you work with helps create better relationships in the workplace. 

Random acts of workplace kindness: Do something nice for someone else at work, out of the blue. Neuroscience studies have shown that gives people a large happiness boost.

Epoch Times: Can you share a success story about people who made their workplace happier?

Mr. Kjerulf: One of my favorite stories is this one: Helle Schier, a soft-spoken, engaging woman in her mid-20s was excited. She’d just graduated from nursing school and had already gotten her first job as a nurse at Odense University Hospital.

But when she told a friend that she was going to work at H4, a children’s ward, her friend’s reaction was, “Well, I’m not sure if I should congratulate you.” 

It turned out that H4 had quite a reputation. The nurses rarely helped each other out. The doctors disliked the nurses, and that was very much mutual. The nurses disliked the administrative staff, who in turn didn’t feel their work was being appreciated. It was not a happy place to work.

Helle still started working there with a positive attitude but was soon forced to agree: It was a horrible place, and working there was getting her down. She didn’t like her job at all, didn’t feel productive, and started to question whether being a nurse was right for her at all.

But Helle wouldn’t put up with it, and she wouldn’t quit. She decided she would do something about it.

Helle got together with three other nurses from H4, all fresh out of nursing school, and they decided to do something about it and make H4 a happy workplace. They first talked to the head nurse and got her to give them a day off in which to come up with some ideas. 

What they came up with was simple. First a summer party for the staff at H4— nothing fancy, just a garden barbecue and some silly hats. This let people meet each other outside of work and established some positive personal relations.

Next they focused on praise and established the order of the elephant. It’s a small elephant plush toy that they can pin to their uniforms. It works like this: Whenever they think a co-worker has done something special, they give that person the elephant. 

They also write in a journal why that person received the elephant. The journal contains entries like these: “It makes a great difference whether Vibeke is at work or not. She makes sure everything is tidy in the office, which is a huge help for us nurses.”

“It’s difficult to pick one person to give the elephant to, but I’m giving it to Nina because she is always calm, even in stressful situations and because she is so competent.”

“I think everybody at H4 deserves an elephant, but today I’m giving it to Joan because she’s so great at playing with the children, big and small.”

This worked especially well, and soon people started noticing a difference at H4. The doctors, the nurses, the head nurse, and perhaps especially the children in the ward and their families. 

As a result of the simple things Helle and her co-workers did, H4 is now a happy place to work, and the four nurses who got the ball rolling are teaching other departments at the hospital how to do the same. They’re known inside and outside of H4 as The Happy Girls.

The nurses are feeling a difference. The doctors have noticed it. And the children admitted to ward and their parents have noticed a huge difference in the mood and the quality of the care given.

In 2005, The Happy Girls won the “Happy at Work Award,” an award given to a person or a group who have done something extraordinary to make people happy at work.

Epoch Times: Are the components of workplace happiness different in different cultures?

Mr. Kjerulf: Results and relationships are the same among every company and every culture, because they represent our two most fundamental psychological needs: The need to make a difference and the need to be liked or loved.

The way they are expressed can differ massively across countries or companies, however. I once gave a number of speeches at a very conservative Islamic company in Kuwait, and there are certainly things you can not do there, that you could easily get away with in, say, an IT company in San Francisco.

But interestingly, people still want to be happy at work, regardless of geography or culture.

Epoch Times: Anything else we should know?

Mr. Kjerulf: Mostly that happiness at work is possible. A lot of people have not realized this—they hate their jobs and accept it because they think that’s normal and that it’s the same everywhere else.

Well, it’s not. There are great workplaces out there that treat their people very well. There’s no reason to waste your life and energy in a job that’s slowly killing you.

To learn more about Kjerulf’s work visit http://pinetribe.com/alexander/