If you have been reading this blog for a little while now, you would probably remember how concepts like Employee Engagement make me cringe a little bit. Specially, when it’s abused left and right by HR departments and corporations alike, in general, as that magic bullet that will help address and fix the number #1 business problem of today’s corporate world: employee disengagement. Or put together in simpler terms: people no longer owning or caring for their work. Don’t take me wrong, I do believe rather strongly in Employee Engagement. Seriously. I do. What I don’t believe much in is the current form of how businesses are thinking about engaging employees implying that they know better than them, that they can just throw it out there, put together some social technologies around it all and people would come and be re-engaged at work. Well, no, sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Employee engagement is a two-way street and unless both employees and employers are not willing to walk through both we won’t have it. Well, hello and welcome to the wonderful world of Arbejdsglaede!
The first time that I ever heard about Arbejdsglaede was at the rather wonderful and delightful Meaning Conference in Brighton that took place late last year and which, the conference itself, still keeps bringing up lots of very fond memories, every time that I think about how much I learned during the couple of days I stayed there and also how much I savoured the wonderful conversations I had throughout the whole time. But, like I was saying, I learned about Arbejdsglaede from Alex Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer (Yes, I know, gotta love job titles like that one! I do!!), while he delivered perhaps one of the most inspiring presentations I had the privilege of attending live during the course of 2012 (And perhaps in a long while, too!).
Arbejdsglaede basically means a feeling of happiness you get at work, which, as he clearly indicates, is not the same as job satisfaction. It’s way deeper than that. It’s all about reflecting on what makes you happy at work, and, apparently, it’s just too basic things:
And bang! That’s when it really hit me. That’s when I realised that true employee engagement is all about that! Focusing and repurposing your efforts as a (knowledge) worker towards striking new meaning in providing exceedingly good and top performing results, while building meaningful, empathic and caring personal business relationships. Talking about striking for that rather strong sense of ownership and co-responsibility, of belonging, really. That’s what, to me, employee engagement is all about. It’s about finding that happiness at work that clearly gives you that little bit of extra energy to get up every day and look forward to a new exciting day where you are going to, hopefully, learn, collaborate, share openly more of your knowledge (Without asking for much in return) by interacting with your (social) network(s) understanding that “happy people do better work”: “more productive, creative, helpful, better at service, focused on quality, better team-players, more open, more flexible, showing more empathy, selling more, more optimistic, motivated, engaged, energetic, with an ability to learn faster and eventually become better leaders“.
Whoaaahhh! See what I meant with employee engagement? Now, imagine this, how many businesses out there have got those kinds of aspirations for their own employees by engaging them from the very beginning to help drive a new purpose, a new meaning for what they do at work? Something tells me that perhaps not too many. Or, at least, not enough! Why? Well, because we still have got that huge, problematic issue of 70% of our employee workforce being totally disengaged. Simple. I know, it even hurts deeply. Sad. Rather sad, really.
Back in 2007, Alex put together a rather interesting and very much thought provoking blog post that I saw re-surfacing through my networks a few days back and that triggered me to eventually put together this blog entry. In Top 10 Signs You’re Unhappy at Work he listed what, back then, appeared to be some of the most profound signs as to why employees are not happy at work. Fast forward to 2013 and it looks like we are still seeing pretty much of the same… Allow me please to quote and list those 10 signs, while I would encourage you all to go and read the entire article. It’s just brilliant as well in how it entices you to do a little bit of a mental exercise and a test to question for yourself how happy you are at work after all… So, to quote them:
- You procrastinate
- You spend Sunday night worrying about Monday morning
- You’re really competitive about salary and titles
- You don’t feel like helping co-workers
- Work days feel looooong
- You have no friends at work
- You don’t care. About anything
- Small things bug you
- You’re suspicious of other people’s motives
- Physical symptoms
Fascinating read that blog post, don’t you think? I bet that vast majority of us have experienced any of those signs at some point in our so-called careers, perhaps some of us are even suffering from any, or several of those, right now, in 2013, at the time where plenty of people keep claiming that in the Social Era employee engagement through social networking tools is going to rule the world and is going to help reenergise employees again. Well, not really. It won’t. It won’t until we get our mojo back and start embracing that culture of Arbejdsglaede. Because that’s what it is all about. It’s that two-way street I talked about earlier on and that I feel is going to be incredibly important over the course of time, if not already.
And how do we get to Arbejdsglaede, you may be wondering, right?, as the golden panacea of Employee Engagement? I have got my very own ideas on the topic, but, instead, I am going to leave it down to the master on the topic. Here’s the blog post that Alex put together where he talked a little bit about his keynote session. Then here is the link where you can download his presentation materials and, finally, here’s the link where you can spend 30 minutes (well worth it, by the way!!) watching the recording of the session where he gets to talk about some pretty compelling conclusions that I thought I would quote over here as well to see them in the wider context of re-engaging back the workforce:
- Make arbejdsglaede your #1 career goal
- Be happy at work – not just satisfied
- Do something about it!
And, finally, my favourite quote on what that two-way street concept for Employee Engagement would be all about not only in the Social Era, but also on the Open Business Era: Do or do not. There is no try!
Who would have thought that Arbejdsglaede would be such a beautiful word and such a magical concept after all, in terms of re-engaging knowledge workers, doing things just right through social technologies, around openness, transparency, meritocracy, caring, empathy, trust and, above all, purpose and meaning.
Well, try now to pronounce it and be ready to chuckle! 😀
32 thoughts on “The Arbejdsglaede of Employee Engagement”
I love this post Luis!!! #ArbejdsglaedeFTW!
Hi Susan! Wonderful! Glad you enjoyed the blog post and the insights shared! Yes, indeed, Alex did a fabulous piece of work in describing how Arbejdsglaede works and how to thrive for it! Like I said, one of my favourite presentations that I have attended live and something to live AND fight for in a working environment! A few months later, it’s still in my mind, stronger than ever!
#ArbejdsglaedeFTW! Indeed!! 😀
Good one Luis!
A slightly different way to approach it perhaps, but this is what I was missing from Alexander’s analysis:
Meaningful results are depending on
1) Purpose and context (if you’re a cog you need to understand the whole picture/wheel).
2) Ownership (otherwise you won’t get the recognition, and it’s about autonomy – bosses usually “keep” the ownership to a task just doing a temporary delegation leaving you with much blame and little recognition). Never underestimate the power of autonomy when it comes to happiness!
3) Transparency, real time (without that no recognition can be had nor will the others get the full context – understanding is after all dependent on “seeing”).
Beyond the “good mornings” and doing random acts of kindness – recognition and respect are again dependent on the above points.
Thing is though that the classic method of making work happen and flows flow is still manual and command and control so very hard to get to the above as things are set up today… unless you’re the bus driver far away from boss control 🙂
Hi Sig, WOW!! Fantastic comments and many many thanks for dropping by and for sharing them along! Yes, I can see how Alex’s point of view on that keynote may have been a bit too oversimplified, but I am loving your additions above to complement such discourse. I am 100% with you about Purpose and Context. In fact, I have always said that both of them are key to not just cooperation per se, but collaboration all the way through. Not the typical delegation work we seem to be very good at, by the way!
In terms of ownership and transparency, I think there is one other element I would like to add to your wonderful suggestions: Responsibility & Accountability of our own actions and what not. Part of the reasons why managers have taken that autonomy away from us, knowledge workers, and govern with such command and control mentality is because we have given up on owning the work we do and being accountable for it. I think that both ownership and accountability will be huge, if we would want to break free from those management practices and excel at becoming more autonomous and therefore happier at work.
Thanks much, once again, for the wonderful comments and for the rather insightful feedback! Good stuff, as always!
Thanks Luis! 🙂
I totally agree with your addendum, in fact the word “owner” should be upped to the top of those terms – that’s the source of accountability and responsibility, it’s also a main component of context at the end of the day.
I dunno if you remember from our chat way back, but when I “model reality” (what else is IT about?) I work with objects, tangible or intangible, and the first “relation” I add to any object is “owner”. Everything has an owner, and the owner might change underway. And by it’s simplicity it fixes a lot down the flows as long as it’s singular! 🙂
Not only does “owner” clearly define who shall presently add value to the object (case, medical condition, whatever) and who is responsible but also it can decide who shall see what and do what when, in short the practical aspect of context.
Indeed, Sig! Superb follow-up commentary, even more when it points right back into one of the other key themes in the era of Open Business: Autonomy. Ownership starts with Autonomy, from the perspective of owning your work, but also your own decision power and decision process making, which is eventually what it is all about, right? That is, lowering down the centre of gravity so that organisations can become a whole lot more nimble and agile and, as a result, accelerate innovation and sharing of ideas. Openly.
Thanks again for the lovely conversation!
Ahh, of course, excellent point, forgot to connect to the base:
The three core intrinsic rewards – the only kind of rewards that actually works: Autonomy, Purpose and Mastery!
Hi Luis I have been particularly enjoying your last few posts. The one with your colleagues responding to answers from the conference audience was fantastic.
This one however is a real hum-dinger! Results and relationships. Yep, that’s it.
I have just had a whole book published that concludes as much (if you accept that results, high-performance work systems and learning are inseparable). Two words? Inspired.
Looking forward to seeing you in Paris at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in a few weeks.
Hi Anne-Marie, thanks a lot for dropping by as well and for the excellent follow-up feedback as well! Goodness! You would have to tell me about that book! I would love to get my hands on it and read along! I am sure we will be seeing each other in Paris for the Enterprise 2.0 Summit, but I would definitely want to learn more about the book where I could explore these topics some more… High performance and learning, indeed, do walk hand in hand! In fact, work & learning have always been inseparable, it’s just that we didn’t want to admit it, because of how much we have been neglecting Learning on the whole, specially, embedded learning, i.e. while on the job! Glad it’s finally coming up together, once again!!
Looking forward to seeing you, indeed, in a couple of weeks! 🙂
Nice post on looking on employee engagement from a different perspective!
Hi Emile! Thanks for the kind comments! Appreciated the heads up and glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Ach, is expensive, research-based book I wrote to work out what I think. Also to remind those who would declare smart working a ‘new paradigm’ that deep roots already exist. Will bring a copy for you to Paris.
I conclude one of the chapters by saying: “We see that the meaning of work was and continues to lie in the relationships we have with each other, the relationships we have with the organisations we work for, and in the service we give to others. Creating the initial conditions for relationships to develop that enhance our desire for recognition, social status and learning will continue to be associated with high-performance and engaging work.”
Hi Anne-Marie, no, no way! Knowing it’s coming from you and with such a fascinating topic at hand Smart Working I am pretty sure it’s a worth while investment on its own! You are too kind offering to bring a copy when we meet up in Paris. I would only accept it, if it’s an autographed copy, please ;-))
And what a *superb* quote to start off the weekend!! Fantabulous!. Thanks ever so much for your generosity and for the wonderful conversations throughout the years! Really looking forward to Paris!!
This is why I love IBM! This sharing and collaboration is blowing my mind and making a huge difference in my life! Thank you Luis!
Hi Robert! Awww, you are too kind, my friend! Glad you enjoyed the link to the posts and video recording! Words to live by, for sure! Keep having fun! 🙂
@Sig, absolutely!! Nice end of that conversation! Alas, not sure why I can’t respond to it as a follow-up comment anymore, will need to check into it and see what’s going on, but to your “Autonomy, Purpose and Mastery!” I would also add Recognition and Reputation, the two powerful Rs and we have got the circle complete!
Yay!! Thanks again for the inspiring exchange! Enjoyed it quite a bit, too!
This is a fantastic post. Thank you!
I love the distinction Alex Kjerulf draws between work happiness and job satisfaction. That’s worth thinking about further, especially as I shift the focus and locus of my work. I also appreciate the reminder that work happiness is something we do. That puts the onus directly on us to create the work happiness we want.
Thanks for sharing this vital information about Arbejdsglaede.
Hi Mary! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the insightful comments as well! Appreciated, as usual! Me, too, I think there is a huge difference between work happiness and job satisfaction. In fact, I keep saying to folks the former is the one that allows you to move on when the tough gets going, and the latter is the one that even when the tough gets going you still can’t progress much further along!
And what an excellent point from the perspective of us, knowledge workers and practitioners, being the ones who can create that work happiness as something we have got a direct influence on!
Back again into the wonderful comments that Sig mentioned above around ownership, purpose and context, amongst several others 🙂
Loved reading your blog. Very nicely expressed and explained. In defence of my HR community, I would just say that, they don’t abuse the concept left and right, but probably don’t know what to do and hence end up doing or overdoing stuff, which they believe will help them engage employees. In my opinion the three critical elements to understand and get right are leadership, culture and mindset and attitude of self. They are strongly corelated and affect each other – and they help in engaging people in a workplace. You have nicely explained how to get them right (especially mindset and attitude of self) and I loved that. Thanks and regards. Best wishes. Yash.
Hi Yash, thanks a lot for dropping by and for taking the time to leave those great comments! Good stuff! I am not saying that HR is abusing the whole concept behind Employee Engagement, as I don’t feel that’s the case at this point. Perhaps even we are not having enough of it, being how critical it is altogether!!
What I am not that comfortable with is the current trend where when talking about Employee Engagement it looks like it’s only a one-way street, *their* street, i.e. HR’s, vs. us or that two-way street I mentioned above. I think it’s more down to how HR still thinks it’s all about managing Human Resources vs. facilitating human relationships, which I think is what it is all about and what employee engagement is supposed to be about.
Interestingly enough, when you mention Leadership, Culture & Mindset, it’s just right there. I think we are just getting distracted by that notion of Resources, vs. Relationships. Once we get pass that I think things will start moving in the right direction 🙂
Thanks Luis – very insightful post and great video from the conference.
Chief Happiness Officer? Yes, we could all do with one of those :-)!
I find it interesting that the word arbejdsglaede meaning “Happiness at work” – only exists in the Scandinavian language (as Alexander says) and I wonder how old the word is in their history (he quotes philosophers of 5th century BC Greece) and what correlation there might be to Scandanavia’s economic development?
In economies where jobs are scarce, populations are large and economic development at zero growth, finding any job to support yourself, a family, dependents would make you “happy” – even if you may not be “happy” doing the actual job. So, as a previous respondent mentioned above “context” and the “bigger picture” is essential here both in and out of work.
All that said his talk was very inspiring and making the kind of behavioural changes he suggests at work must surely make a big difference to how people relate to those around them – putting “relationships” at the heart of what one does and how you do it on a daily basis. Ironically many of those who do not respond to greetings, focussed entirely on their computers, are probably forming meaningful relationships in their online environments with someone across the globe – but have forgotten how important those small social interactions are face to face!
But it shouldn’t stop there – real happiness at work has to be far more meaningful and operate on multiple levels – some of which have already been touched upon in the great discussion thread– responsibililty, autonomy, accountability etc etc
As for our friend Plato – the father of modern western philosophy , – our illustrious “knowledge worker” – who said he/free Greek citizens associated “work” just with slaves? True, he wasn’t a “slave” (labourer) – but the legacy of his “written works” still lives on two and half thousand years later.
I expect he had arbejdsglaede…!
Great post Luis!
Ahh, Plato! Then I cannot resist making a logical stunt on a Saturday morning:
Plato’s (roughly interpreted) definition of “knowledge” was “how objects relates to other objects” – which is exactly what “context” is.
Hence, if no “context” no “knowledge” and the “knowledge worker” becomes a “slave”!
Hehe, just had to 😀
Hi Marie-Louise, many thanks for that, once again, wonderfully provocative feedback! Much appreciated! The first part of the comments reminded me of Nilofer Merchant’s insights when she talks about how we have operated over the last few decades based on scarcity, and hoarding and protection of ideas and how in the Social Era we are living through this massive abundance of information, ideas, resources, to the point where that scarcity is now an abundance that’s certainly helping redefine the corporate world as we speak to try to understand all this new reality of working your way through the knowledge you share and not the one you possess. Fascinating!!
Brilliant insights as well on the need to balance both offline and online interactions, specially, where the right context gets into the mix. I think in the case you elaborate above knowledge workers need to learn and adjust when people folks are interacting online and when they would be offline, i.e. face to face. I think it’d be critical to reach that balance and for everyone to become rather understanding of how face to face is now affected by online, mobile, specially, social technologies. We are no longer the same without these digital tools, so we may as well adjust accordingly, even for offline interactions!
RE: Plato and the conversation below with Sig, GOODNESS!! I just had to step back, get a cup of coffee, and enjoy the dialogue! Stunning!! Certainly, Plato would have a completely different notion of what knowledge workers are today from what they were back in the day. Back then they pretty much depended on their hard work and labour, whereas knowledge work now is all about hard work, pretty much the same, but based on the knowledge that not only do you have, but that you are capable of sharing it across in an open and transparent manner. Tell you what? I would love to see Plato get a glimpse of what the Internet has done to us as a society. Probably he would have shouted a single word: sacrilege! 😉
Wonderful response Sig !- but are we not all slaves to political and economic systems ? And how does Plato define the word “slave”?? Most ancient societies only moved forward in terms of “knowledge” when they created enough food surplus and ability to store it to feed bigger populations who could support the knowledge workers to explore that context!??
Marie-Louise, thanks, I love a good discussion in the morning! 🙂
Not sure how Plato defined “slave” but in today’s context (heh) I’d suggest: those who are under complete command & control?
You are totally right that we were/are dependent on the leaps and bounds our societies go through to generate enough surplus to allow non-survival activities like healthcare, government services and much of the knowledge work.
Somewhat aside: But that’s also a bit of a chicken and egg situation: Each leap we’ve done, from hunter-gatherer to agricultural to industrial and so forth can be seen as happening in two steps: first the “efficiency” phase where we change “how we do things”, then the “effectiveness” phase when we change “what” we do. And the basis for that I’d think would be deemed as pretty typical “knowledge work”. I.e. the “knowledge worker” had to exist before the societies could move forward.
Even more aside; I’d suggest that we have yet to start the second – the “what we do” phase – for the information age transition. And what’s discussed in/around Luis’ post here might be relevant in regards the “what we do”, so I think it might be important beyond the happiness aspect.
Thanks Sig! Actually I don’t think any of your remarks are “asides” but totally to the point! And how right you are to say that we are embarking on the “what we do” phase for the information age transition that goes beyond “happiness”- but also “how we do it” and what elements are necessary to make it happen in a sustainable way.
My point about Plato was really that it is very easy to blame ancient cultures for future misconceptions – but those societies have to be seen in the correct context to understand how they arrived at that point and what the outcomes were for them first and foremost – and not transposed in to our modern thinking.
I’m not sure that knowledge workers “had to exist before the societies could move on” I think they are the result of multiple factors coming together to produce a context that allows their development at that moment in time. This is when major leaps take place. Ancient Greek Society during the period when the great philosophers, writers, poets, artists, architects and historians existed was very unique and very short lived – but managed to produce legacies that have lived for thousands of years.
Thank you for such an interesting dialogue! A great start to the weekend!
Whoahhh! What a treat! Thanks ever so much, both Marie-Louise & Sig, for the amazing Sunday afternoon reading 😉 hehe One of the perks of blogging, I guess … everlasting.
Couldn’t have agreed more with you both when talking about the “what we do”. I guess that’s also along the same lines of the perception that Euan Semple has been talking about for a while where that final business transformation into the “what we do” is something that’s going to take a whole lot more time to sink in. Euan says about 50 years. I tend to agree with him. If you look into the first iterations of social software, circa 1994 with blogs and wikis, we have already walked over 19 years, so we still have got a good 30 years to shape up the corporate world and our lives, for that matter, into something that would persevere over the centuries. Just like Plato’s philosophy and thoughts… And even more to the point where he didn’t even write a single word. Talking about legacy, right? And what a brilliant challenge for today’s society! Can you imagine if that foundational work didn’t exist in the past from that legacy?
Goodness, I wouldn’t want to think about that one! Perhaps switch gears into that concept of Context that is becoming and more critical towards building, creating and managing content AND relationships with just the right flavour in place: a balance!
A winner, imo 🙂
Luis, an interesting post. There is no question that leadership at work has to start with happy employees. But happiness at work doesn’t come from what we might get from elsewhere – for example the love of your family. It comes for the satisfaction of the achievement of a worthwhile purpose. Supporting that come the structure of transparency, good processes and a no blame culture. Happiness at work sounds trivial. However, it is anything but. It is a crucial part of business success. Ara Ohanian, Chief Happiness Officer and CEO Certpoint Systems.
Luis, I really loved this post as well. Now I need to go master saying the word! I am sure Michael will get it before me!
Hi guys, deb lavoy has a great post on this, I commented on her G+ post.
To me (whether life in general or at work) people want to feel “wanted”, they want to “belong” (they feel good when their contributions are acknowledged, and doing something for the greater good.)
I think creating conditions for this is the most fundamental thing.
So when we say: transparency, openness, ownership, visibility, autonomy, mastery, purpose…let’s always keep in the back of our mind people want to be wanted and to belong