When Employees Feel Valued, Businesses Thrive: Q&A with Alexander Kjerulf (Part 2)

December 14, 2017 Emily Payne

Alexander Kjerulf

In the first part of our interview with Alexander, we talked about the three most common blockers to employee happiness, how managers can help, and the power of positive feedback.

Below, we discuss how to weave company values into everyday work and what it means to build a more human workplace. You can also listen to the interview on WorkHuman Radio here.

How do you convince the skeptics that happiness at work is important? Especially those people that really believe in the constructive criticism?

First of all, the research clearly shows that happy workplaces make more money. It really is that simple. Happy companies have lower absenteeism rates, lower employee turnover, higher productivity, higher customer satisfaction, higher sales, higher growth, and a better bottom line, just to mention a few advantages.

The other way that we address the skeptics is to point out that unhappy workplaces cause real harm to employees. The research very clearly shows that people who are unhappy and stressed at work are more likely to become sick, more likely to have heart attacks, more likely to have strokes, and more likely to have some forms of cancer. People who are unhappy at work have worse relationships, worse marriages – they are more likely to suffer psychological harm in their private lives. They tend to gain more weight, as well. Basically, what we point out is that if you’re running an unhappy workplace, you’re essentially hurting your employees, you may even be killing some of them, and is that what you want? Is that the kind of manager and leader you want to be? Is that the kind of effect you want to have on the people who give you their time, passion, skills, and energy?

For a lot of people, that is a wake-up call. A lot of people realize that is not the kind of leader that they want to be. Together with the purely monetary argument, that serves to convince a lot of people.

It’s a risk if you let that culture fester.

Yes. It will perpetuate itself and become worse and worse. All of your best and most skilled employees will leave, and you will be left with only the employees who don’t have the will or the skill to find work elsewhere, right? And what is that going to do to your competitive edge?

At Globoforce, we’re all about value-based recognition. How can employers weave those values into an organization’s everyday work?

In a word, stories. You have to keep telling those stories of people living up to the values. You can try to intellectualize and rationalize values and say, ‘One of our values is excellence, and excellence means always doing the best, etc.,’ but that will never impact people.

The main way that we as people make sense of the world is through stories. So what you have to do is tell those stories.

I’ll give you an example. I worked with a company in Denmark called Service Global, an IT service provider for global clients. One of their values was respect. That’s a value you’ll see in a lot of companies. Now, you can talk a lot about respect and what respect is, but they actually published a book of stories of people living up to these values.

In one of the stories in this book, one of their service technicians went to a client site to fix a problem and was treated incredibly rudely by the client’s staff. They were just horrible to him. So, the support technician fixes the problem, comes back to the office, and tells his manager – this makes its way to the CEO. The CEO then calls the client and cancels their contract.

These stories show that they are serious about respect. They are so serious about it that they would even cancel a customer contract if the customer is not able to live up to the value and treat the employees with respect.

We’ve got to find those stories; we’ve got to tell them again and again.

Another good example is employee recognition programs. Instead of having employee of the month, which I think is kind of meaningless, why not have for each of your values, every month, you can nominate and select co-workers who have lived up to that specific value and then they can be celebrated inside the organization. And those stories can then get told and re-told. And that is how we get people to understand and to live up to those values.

That story speaks to the cultural artifacts that exist within an organization, and how important it is to make those visible to people.

One of my favorite examples of this is the company in London called ?What If! Innovation. They have five different values, and every quarter you can nominate co-workers who have lived up to one of those values. You can tell the story, and then every quarter, management selects a winner for each of those values.

Here’s the cool thing: Those stories get painted in big letters on the wall of the reception area. So every single person who comes into the reception, whether it’s an employee coming in for work or a client coming in for a meeting, sees the stories of people living the values painted all over the walls and the ceiling of the reception area.

What does a human workplace mean to you?

To me, a human workplace is a happy workplace. More than anything else, it’s a workplace where we recognize the value of every single person who works there. Every single person who works there matters, makes a difference, and deserves a job where they can be happy.

It’s about realizing that there is no inherent contradiction between a happy workplace and a profitable workplace – actually, those two go hand in hand. If we can create a workplace where people are happy, they will do much better work, the customers will be happy, the customers will come back, and we will make more money. In my opinion, we’re in this universe to be happy and to make each other happy. That is what life is really all about. And that is what work should really be all about.

This idea that we create workplaces where people love to work – they do excellent work that makes the customers happy, helps create a better world, and also helps create a more profitable organization – in my opinion, that is the ultimate expression of what WorkHuman means.

I’ll be perfectly ruthless. If a workplace cannot figure out how to do that, if they cannot figure out how to create business success without hurting their employees, without stress and frustration for their people, then they should not be in business. It’s just not OK to create your business success based on the pain of your employees.

The point of my book “Leading with Happiness” is how to find that kind of leadership where the happiness of the leader herself or himself and the happiness of the employees, the customers, and the wider world, all go together. I have to say that positive feedback and recognition are an essential part of that. I’m so excited to be going to Austin to share how to do that.


“There is no inherent contradiction between a happy workplace and a profitable workplace,”…
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