Happiness at Work Launch


Our new exceptionally innovative happiness at work survey has now launched.  For me this is the most exciting thing I have been done since the creation of the Happy Planet Index.

Get a free Happiness at Work check up and see how to make your work happier …

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Our first happiness at work masterclass

It seems I am starting a whole new career at the tender age of 47 years! Just two weeks ago the director of nef (the new economics foundation) threw a party to celebrate that I had been there for 10 years.  It was (for me) a lovely event as people I have worked closely with over the last decade said some nice things about me and then we had a party down the pub!  But it was also a bit more that just saying carry on as it is also a time of change in my work.  I moving away from working so much on government policy (we have a great team at the centre for well-being doing precisely that) towards working with businesses and organisations.

Over the last 3 years I have worked with nef consulting developing a set of tools for promoting happiness and well-being at work.  No one wants to go to work to be miserable so are there things we can do to make work happier? To this end we are launching a new happiness at work survey tool with out US partners called Delivering Happiness. In addition I am personally going to start running (so-called!) Masterclasses on the topic. I am not sure I am really a ‘master’ (it brings to mind Yoda from star wars to me!) but I guess over the last decade we have built up a huge body of work and experience in this new field so we have some frameworks that others can start to use in their work immediately.  So they are offered in that spirit – that we have some ideas – and participants have their in-depth experience of working.  Together we can learn about the practicalities of promoting happiness and well-being through our work.

Specifically the first “masterclass” will be on Tuesday 27th March 2012. We will cover:

  • The science behind well-being at work
  • The business case for investing in well-being
  • nef’s model of well-being at work
  • An introduction to the happiness@work survey
  • Training on how to make sense and interpret results
  • Tips for facilitating conversations with teams and organisations
  • Ideas for designing interventions to address challenges

For more details see here or contact my colleague Jody Aked (0207 820 6316 or jody.aked@nef-consulting.co.uk)

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January 19th!

I have been asked by the Action for Happiness campaign to give one of their monthly public talks.  This series of talks have proved pretty popular and for me it is a rare event as it is a public one – mainly I speak at conferences etc … So it should be fun and I am really looking forward to it. 

Anyway I have called the talk “Practical Ideas for a Happier World” and I will share some ideas about three levels of change:

Anyway you can get tickets here and it is a donation affair … perhaps see you there …

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More Mr Nice Guys

I read an interesting article last week asking the question – do nice guys and gals really finish last? Now I am a big fan of being nice so I don’t want to believe this to be true. However this paper did present evidence that people who score lower on the personality trait of ‘agreeableness’ do actually end up earning more than people who have high levels of agreeableness – nice people to you and me. In fact they reckoned that nice men earned about $7,000 less than their not-so-nice colleagues (or in reality bosses!). For women it was lower ($2,000) and the relationship was slightly less clear not least because the gender gap in pay is an even bigger factor – in other words whether a woman scored low or high on nice-ness was less significant than her being a woman in the first place. Of course this gender pay gap is well known but it means that the two groups of people I like best – women and nice men are both less successful financially than the group I can’t stand – not-nice men! (I don’t like not-nice women too but I seem to come across fewer of them!)
But is this evidence of nice people not succeeding or instead is it evidence that organisations have it all wrong who they promote and pay more? I am inclined to think it is the latter and for two reasons.
Firstly it is well known that men tend to be more assertive than women (and indeed not-so-nice men even more so) and thereby they self-promote more. Maybe business leaders will argue that being nice is all well and good but they have to deliver profits for shareholders and being nice to each other isn’t going to do it so forget it. But here I think the second reason is critical. In following this model of promoting mainly assertive not-so-nice people organisations are suffering from what psychologists call a ‘focusing error’. They are focusing on the achievements of the individual rather than the group. There are very likely to be ‘negative externalities’ exuding from the not-so-nice assertive types – basically they alienate those around them and undermine other people’s performances. So if instead of the ‘unit of measurement’ for performance being the individual, it was the team then suddenly the nicer qualities of co-operation, helpfulness and simply caring about others would become more valued. If these nice qualities were promoted more within organisations then organisations themselves would have stronger social bonds, not only making them nicer places to work but also making them more resilient and adaptive to external changes. So I think that organisations should promote people for not only WHAT they achieve but also HOW they achieve it. Are they living the organization’s values? Do their behaviours at work really demonstrate this?

At the moment nice guys and gals do seem to come in second but that in my opinion is due to a short-sightedness. This short-sightedness is probably resulting in sub-optimal organisational performances and I would suggest a whole culture of business that is insensitive to the pressing societal issues.  So let’s systematically promote more nice-ness and bring on more Mr Nice Guys (and Ms Nice Gals).

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Well-being is becoming a serious business

This week Forbes asked Chris Anderson, the curator of TED what his seven top picks for the year’s best ideas would be. Amazingly Chris chose us here at nef for our work on National Accounts of Well-being, an idea he thinks can make “powerful, positive and measurable differences in how we create the future”.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that our work doesn’t look out of place in Forbes magazine, which is sometimes dubbed “The Capitalist Tool”.  The logic of well-being indicators is so strong that not only are governments starting to take notice but also businesses and organisations.  And why not?  It makes good business sense. Research has shown that what employees do at work and how they feel builds their resources, leading to increased productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction. But what does well-being at work look like and how can it be improved? This is the challenge that I am working on at the moment with nef consulting. We are working in collaboration with Delivering Happiness in the US on the next generation Well-being@Work survey, and are devising an intuitive DIY tool that individuals, teams and organisations can use to accurately identify levels of well-being and, most importantly, set about improving them.  I have designed the survey tool to paint a real-time picture for people wanting to better understand their place of work, how motivated and engaged employees are, their views on CSR initiatives and, of course, how they feel at work. It can track all these changes over time for organisations as well as provide tailored evidence-based tips to help managers, teams and individuals take action.

To be launched in January 2012, we hope the survey will start a global conversation about what socially responsible, happy working lives are all about.  If you would like any information or would like to share ideas in the meantime, contact my colleague Jody at jody.aked@nef-consulting.co.uk

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Nic & Ragnhild wearing Happy Movie T-shirtsThe summer is almost over and it is time for me to get back to work – always a mixed thought of course but I feel ready to commit to some projects that are emerging.  Apart from holidays with my kids one trip I made this summer was to the International Positive Psychology Association’s third conference in Philadelphia.  I gave a workshop on the Five Ways to Well-being which seemed well received but the big surprise to me was the screening of a new film simply called Happy.  Why a surprise?  Well I was actually in it!  I had completely forgotten that about 3 years these guys came to our offices and interviewed me (for quite some time!).  Anyway independent documentaries take a long time to make and now it has been finally released.  So apart from the shock of seeing myself through a time warp (with short hair and no beard!) it was great to see a well made thoughtful film about happiness around the world.  The film is available for groups to arrange viewings and I think that Action for Happiness in the UK will host at least one this autumn. But I believe you can arrange them directly with the makers through their webiste here.  Anyway the picture is of me (with friend) in happy t-shirts! 

In time I will post here about the projects I am working that excite me but meanwhile have a good end of the summer.

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Voter Power Index

Today, Tuesday April 5th, sees the launch of a new version of the Voter Power Index (VPI) which I first created in 2005 to try to assess how much power voters really had in the UK.  As people familiar with my work with nef will know I am keen on creating relatively simple ways into complex issues as a way of opening space for debate.  Examples include the Happy Planet Index and Five Ways to Well-being, and the VPI is in this tradition.  The current First Past the Post (FPtP) system creates pointless inequalities in the distribution of the power of votes across the UK and I wanted to be able to create a single number that ‘held’ this issue.  By having geographically-based constituencies electing single members of parliament (MPs) the FPtP system creates ‘lumps’ of electoral power and thereby introduces potential inefficiencies in the way the will of the people is translated into the number of MPs elected from each party. As is well known some constituencies are so ‘safe’ that they are not really contested by any parties, with all focus on the ‘marginal’ seats that might actually change hands.  The VPI equates ‘power’ with the ability of electors to influence the results of their local constituency election and is a statistical representation of the contestability of a constituency.

In exactly a month’s time, Thursday 5th May, the UK will hold a nationwide referendum to decide whether we should switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) system of electing MPs.  AV still uses a system of single member constituencies but voters get to express their political preference as a ranking of candidates (1, 2, 3 …) instead of having to just choose one. AV clearly does not eliminate the ‘lumps’ of electoral power but by increasing the probability that seats will change hands it does mitigate some of the inequalities of FPtP.  This increase in probability of seats changing hands can be thought of as increasing the number of ‘very marginal seats’ – by my estimates up from 81 to 125, an increase of 44 seats.  Very marginal seats are defined as having a greater than 1 in 3 chance of changing hands and are clearly the most strongly contested with both turnout and the spending by the political parties significantly higher.

You can see what the impact of switching to AV might have on the power of your vote by visiting the Voter Power website, created and designed by web designer Martin Petts.


Voters will have to decide for themselves whether this increase in voter power is sufficient for them to vote YES on May 5th. Clearly the VPI does not hold everything that might be important in determining whether we should switch systems, but as a simple way into the issues I think it does have potential to open up space for a more (statistically) informed debate.

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The Happiness Manifesto

So today Wednesday 26th January 2011 is the day that I become a published author!  Back in mid-October I got an email from TED’s Chris Anderson asking of I wanted to write a short book for TED. The deadline was late November.  I thought that it must be some sort of mistake – firstly TED do not publish books and secondly no one – not even TED – just give someone four weeks to write a book!  But it was not a hoax – or a mis-sent email – but a new venture by TED into publishing short to the point books for download only.

TED were picking up on Amazon’s decision to create a new type of book – a Kindle Single – I guess mimicking the idea of the relationship between a music single and an album. I actually think it is a genius idea as some many non-fiction books are full of padding out chapters simply to make up the work count that makes a real book seem like good value.  I often find I have got the main thrust of the argument by the end of chapter one.  So TED’s brief was to write between 10,000 – 20,000 words as compared to 50,000 – 100,000 for a normal book.

I have been planning to write a book for – well too long – but incredibly I had put November aside to try and start.  So I switched writing plans and set to creating a short to the point book based around by TED talk.  It was an exceptionally intense period – and a steep learning curve as it actually turns out that a short book is not that easy to write as it is quite unforgiving – you can’t go off on tangents at all.  Anyway the long and the short of it is, well a book – The Happiness Manifesto: how people and nations can nurture well-being.  I hope you like it – and if you don’t have a kindle, iPad, iPhone or other eReader – then I am not sure I can help you there (perhaps borrow someone else’s).

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Nic @ TED

I was honoured and very excited to be asked to deliver a TED talk at the 2010 TED Global conference in Oxford – ironically just 20 miles from where I live! 18 minutes to try to sum up a decade of work is a challenge but ultimately very liberating as I stripped back our ideas to their visionary core. I know many people hate public speaking but for some unknown reason I love it – though I have to say that giving a TED was the most nerve racking experience ever.  I hope that the talk inspires people across the planet to joyfully engage with the serious challenges we face. A video of the talk is now online.

Photo courtesy James Duncan Davidson / TED

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Voter Power nominated for web award

The Voter Power Index website that I helped to create has been nominated for a .net magazine award – if you found the site useful then please vote for it (Voter Power is listed under the best use of API section).

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