When enough isn't enough.


We have all been raised to grow; in good health.  Most of us have also been developed to perform well at school, to find a great job, to excel in a professional career, to make nice money and to have a great family life. In that order.
Aiming for growth, setting goals and having specific desires are very natural and healthy things. The human kind needs to aspire. It is also generally accepted that we all perform better when we have clear goals and targets. And in general, we are happy when we achieve our personal and professional goals. Happiness is the reward.
Though not always. So when is it getting wrong?


In business life, the commonly practiced terms of ‘stretching goals’ and ‘stretching people’ is close to entering the danger zone. Same for ‘raising the bar’ and many other buzzwords. ‘Bigger, better, faster’ is red alert. So are ‘double digit EPS growth’ and the desire from a Chairman for a short term share price move from $20 to $25, to $35. Or from the CEO to increase this years’ productivity by 30%.
But also in private life it becomes unhealthy when enough isn’t enough. Like the guy in the pup asking for –yet another- last Stella. Five isn’t enough. Nor is six or seven. He wants more. And more. A once-a-month visit from the Amazon or Zalando man isn’t enough. One week on the beach is too short. It should be two weeks and not with the old smartphone. I need to order the newest iPhone6.

The power of “enough”

And does that make us happier? Does it bring more enjoyment?  Dr. Jeniffer L. Patterson is questioning this in Psychology Today: “it is not inherently problematic to freely choose to aspire for “more” of certain objects, outcomes, and events. On the other hand, immoderation, compulsion, and addiction are highly likely to lead to trouble. As clinical psychologists, we have seen the wreckage in the wake of an inflexible pursuit of “more.” Rigidly chasing “more” can lead to missing out on enjoying what is already sufficient. Greedily amassing “more” can lead to the decay of what is already abundant”.
It looks that we –in private and in business life- have somewhat forgotten the enjoyment of attaining goals. Short-termism has replaced the enjoyment of achieving something by setting yet other and higher goals and desires. We have turned life into a permanent fight. Look at most inspirational or leadership speeches; all talking about winning the game, moving from ‘good to great’, fighting for the last inch, etc. Because enough isn’t enough.
aspiresDon’t get me wrong; personal growth is a very healthy aspire; so is growing business performance. But very few things grow endlessly. Trees don’t reach to the moon; nor does the man-made Burj Khalifa. We don’t get 10 feet tall. No –decent- companies have 100% market share.
For many aspires, it’s not bad to ‘think inside the box’; to enjoy the happiness in what is already sufficient. And, to sometimes ‘let go’ instead of pursuing excessive, greedy and unfulfilling desires.
It’s already proven that happiness is a lever for growth, performance and success. We probably just need to wait a few more years for further research to demonstrate that accepting and enjoying the ‘enough’, is a key driver for happiness.
This blog was originally published on Great Business Life Stories.

Ambition or Happiness – do we need to choose?



Ambition tends to get a bad press. We often link it with greed and selfishness with a ruthless drive towards achieving a goal at any cost. And when that goal is attained, a new one will always emerge. The ambitious person will never be able to get satisfaction, as Mick Jagger still sings. Unsurprisingly, ambition seems to be irreconcilable with happiness.
This idea is not new. As early as the third century BC, the Greek philosopher Epicurus laid the foundation for a way of thinking that extols the virtues of living simply and avoiding fame and (political) ambition. Zen Buddhism is also generally associated with contentment and happiness, not least because it seeks to limit cravings like ambition. The American writer Thomas Merton, who studied Buddhism, didn’t mince his words: “Where ambition ends, happiness begins.”

snale - ambition
Where ambition ends, happiness begins.


If this is true, the world of work faces a serious dilemma. On the one hand, enlightened employers are well aware of the positive effect that having engaged, happy employees has on customer satisfaction, staff turnover and productivity. But on the other hand, organizations need people to want to strive for improvement. An organization in which people don’t look for ways to do things more efficiently, or to offer customers a better deal, is likely to stagnate and to wither away.
Is the only solution to go for a weak unsatisfactory compromise, in which employees are a little happy, and a little ambitious?
I don’t think so. Excessive ambition (like excessive chocolate eating, excessive exercise, or anything in excess really) is unlikely to contribute much to happiness. It’s quite the contrary. If the ultimate goal is never reached, all that results is persistent frustration. And if all that significant but futile, effort comes at the cost of sacrificing one’s social and family life to pursue constantly moving goals. It is not difficult to see how such levels of ambition lead to unhappiness.

Self-actualization or Depression

But to vilify ambition per se is to deny the profound need for self-actualization that pretty much every human being possesses. Not having a sense of aspiration means that we have no interest in progress, in achievement, in improvement, or indeed in the future itself. That way depression lies ahead. It is precisely experiencing progress, realizing a goal, and getting better at something that make important contributions to how happy we feel.
If our ambitions are within reach, then we have a good chance of fulfilling them. And when we do (or even just get close) we reap the emotional rewards. This applies in our work and in our leisure time. We can derive happiness just as much from successfully completing a DIY project, cooking a delicious Bolognese sauce or finally playing a Bach prelude without hesitation, as from delivering a development project on time and on spec, leading our team towards a successful bid, or getting positive feedback after training a bunch of colleagues.

Choose your aspiration

As an employee, choosing your aspirations wisely will give you the kind of job satisfaction that is depicted so vividly in the wonderful little book Fish! for example. But managers in an organization also have a crucial responsibility here. Staff development and staff engagement go hand in hand. Good managers not only understand the ambitions of their team members, but also help them shape and pace these aspirations so that they are realistic, but challenging – or challenging, but realistic (either way works!).
This means that there is no dilemma. There is no choice to be made between either happiness, or ambition. Happiness and ambition can and do coexist in a joyful, mutually reinforcing symbiosis.

Entrepreneur vs Employee

entrepeneurAre you an entrepreneur ?

I remember the day I applied for an HR Services Manager role in a FMCG firm. That was 13 years ago. This blog tries to bring that memory back to life.
The notion of entrepreneur was apparently very important to my future boss.
The what?”, I asked.
That is already a good sign”, he replied. “You ask what it’s about. Most candidates do not. They simply nod their heads. I often get clichés or some examples when I ask what it means for them to be an entrepreneur.”
So I repeated my question. “What does entrepreneurship mean to you in the role of an employee ? You’re not looking for a freelance HR Manager, right ?”
He smiled. It appears he had a concern. He was worried about the job I had then. I was HR Business Partner in the financial industry. My future boss was wondering about the habits, the culture and the way things were getting done in that industry. He perceived the banking and assurance industry as rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratic. And clearly the company I was applying to, wasn’t like that at all.
I listened to his concerns.
Then I told him about the context of a merger and the related change I was working in. I talked about the uncertainties I had to deal with every day. I described how often it was up to myself  to be creative,  to find solutions, and to take decisions. Last but not least, I told him I had to work with colleagues without having any logic or formal line in the organisation.
Then he replied: “You can tell me everything you like. I can’t check all these things. But I clearly feel your huge enthusiasm talking about this. Are you sure you want to quit your current job ?”
Yes, but for other reasons, as I explained earlier.”
OK, Karl”, he said, “let me just explore a bit further your own story about being an entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship for Employees

“First of all”, he continued, “it is important that you do what your job description suggests. Let there be no mistake about that. But then again, that is not enough”. (From here on the quotation marks are omitted).

Two job descriptions

I would appreciate if you’d have two job description after a year in the job.

  • the one in front of you now;
  • another one that you create yourself. You don’t have to write this one down, but it definitely should exist and be visible to everybody.

The job you create yourself, could at a certain moment replace or even overrule the official one you have on paper now.
See it like this. As you have an HR background and as you are applying now for an HR function, I recommend that you use this job content as guideline. Certainly in the beginning, when all is new and you still need to find your way,

Continuous challenges

However once you’ll have found your way, I expect you to create new challenges.  And I want you to consult with me about them. Challenges can be about:

  • roles
  • job content
  • ways of working
  • initiatives
  • projects
  • strategies
  • collaborations with colleagues or external people
  • responsibilities.

Every time we meet, I’d like you to present at least one idea to enlarge, enrich, change your job. And I want you to tell me about at least one error you’ve made.
Quite frankly, I am much more interested in coaching you on those aspects than on your performance in the job as it is described. This being said…
I interrupted him with a smile. Yes, you want me to do the job as well.

The Engagement

Already on the way back, my future leader called me. He asked if I could come in the evening for a last meeting with the CEO. And I was kindly invited not to screw things up because I was number one on his list.
Guess what the CEO asked ?
The conversation repeated pretty much what my future leader had said about the expected entrepreneurial spirit. At the end of the meeting he made me a formal offer. I gladly accepted.
The first year I worked there, I thoroughly explored my entrepreneurial skills. My new colleagues really showed me all the corners of the room. I loved it!
Let me try to summarise these skills.

The skills of an employee-entrepreneur

  • Be hands-on.

    Some tasks are not part of a formal description. But someone needs to do them. Do not hesitate to do them yourself. Especially when you see no one else is picking them up.

  • Ask internal/external “strangers” for help.

    You can’t know everything. Certainly not when it’s not your job. So nobody will ever blame you for asking what you don’t know. On the contrary. They’ll appreciate it. So ask people for help. Also include people you do not know yet.

  • Read and act in between and across the lines.

    Your territory is not somewhere on the organisation chart. Your territory is the large group of people all working for the same company, or on the same projects. Network and have conversations with them regardless their function or place in the organisation.

  • Have courage.

    You’re doing things you’re not used to do.  Sometimes there’s nobody to call and ask how to go ahead. So you may have to take decisions yourself. Take risks, make errors and assume the consequences. Your boss may disagree with your final decision. (S)he will usually agree that the presented options were reasonable for the situation at hand.

  • Be results-oriented.

    Take ownership of many things. You want to complete them successfully. The result (the “what”) is much more important than the “how”. Of course within the context of common sense. You are a can-do person. You cut through and resolve problems others run away from.

  • Grow fast.

    Your judgment becomes stronger and more powerful with each experience, decision or failure.

  • Be energetic.

    You are full of enthusiasm and energy. You consistently generate results that are higher than expected.  You are fully committed to the organisation, its goals and its overall success.

  • Supervision.

    You perform effectively with limited supervision. You are able to self-motivate and set priorities with minimal guidance.

  • Multitask.

    You are flexible to create and accept new assignments and responsibilities. You can take on more than one role until these tasks can eventually be assigned to others.  You’re also willing to do things that others with less responsibilities or skills will take over in later phases.

The environment of an Employee-Entrepreneur

Of course this can only work in the right environment. An employee can only become an entrepreneur if the company encourages him/her to be an entrepreneur. I have known organisations that prefer you to do your job within the lines of your job description without exploring other areas. And that’s fine if organization and employee agree on that and find happiness in it.
Briefly, I think a culture that encourages people to become an entrepreneur, should have the following elements:

  • the belief that teams of entrepreneurial employees do better and work faster than teams of traditional employees would.
  • the willingness to accept mistakes, conflicts and chaos, than a traditional employee environment would.
  • a coaching style more focused on potential than on performance.
  • a reward policy that prioritises success in special initiatives, and not success in the normal job.
  • a very safe and trustful relationship with the direct leader.

I went through an intensive learning curve in this company. This would turn out to be priceless later in my career.

The skills of a real Entrepreneur

You’ve learned how to be an internal entrepreneur. How can you transfer those skills into being a real entrepreneur in the real market ? This is an important question e.g.  when you become consultant after a corporate career.
To be continued.

Continue reading “Entrepreneur vs Employee”

Happiness. Do happy Cows give more Milk?

Happy cows give more milk. This is what an entrepreneur told me. In the same way one could say that happy employees are more productive. In the past 10 years there has been an evolution in how we look at certain psychological constructs in the workplace. We talked about employee satisfaction, commitment and organisational citizen behaviour (OCB). Then we started to talk about employee engagement. For a short while we thought we needed passionate employees. And since a couple of years we seem to think that people need to be happy, before  they can be productive.
Let ‘s return to the cows. Keep them happy and they will produce more (and better) milk? This is what this veterinarian confirms.
There is even a book on the matter and one consultancy company has taken this up as their creed. In more general one could say that animals – cows, horses, dogs, cats, … – that feel well, will perform well.

Milk or meat

Let me ask you this question: do happy cows also produce more and better meat? The legend about Kobe-steaks is that they come from cows that were massaged and extremely well cared for. Rumours go that they drink fine beer and even listen to classical music. If this were true, they lead a life that is envied by millions of human beings who are living in dire circumstances.
The question in itself is not nice. And maybe not fair. But to compare a happy employee to a cow isn’t either. There are differences.

Happiness or Contentment?

First of all the cow is not happy. It is content. There’s a huge difference. Keeping employees contented would mean they are mentally sedated and put in some sort of trance. It means you influence their mental state either by manipulating their expectations or the perception of their experiences. The people in Plato’s cave were perfectly content with their lives, even when it meant they were in a mental dungeon.

Deliberate Happiness

Second, the cow has no choice. It receives the treatment that it receives and has hardly influence on it. Even when it would want something else, it would have very limited possibilities to express its desires. Moreover, the cow cannot decide to leave. It is condemned to stay in the stable, or the meadow.

Transactional happiness

Third, the cow gets what it gets. This view on employee engagement is very limited as it is extremely transactional. I will make the cow happy in order to have it produce more and better milk. But if it doesn’t I can still send it to the slaughter house. How cool is that? Imagine that we think like that about the people we work with? I want employees to be happy because they will be more productive. And if they are not productive enough, I will fire them. That’s logical isn’t it? However, we know that being laid off is for most people a traumatic experience, with effects comparable to those of a divorce. If we believe that we have the right to fire someone, we should maybe stop talking about employee happiness.
Maybe you think that a dismissal might be the best thing that could happen to someone. But think again. This is valid for people with high job mobility, transferable skills, … But not for the specialised mortgage-burdoned employee who is due to whatever reason not able to move to a region where his limited skills are wanted. How happy will that make him? I admit. I have a problem with the instrumental view on happiness.

Thinking about happiness

Fourth, the cow does not think about it. Happiness requires a mental development that goes beyond the limited cerebral capacity of a cow. Can a cow be happy? I believe a cow can be happy the moment it experiences pleasure like standing in the sun, drinking water, being massaged. But the next moment it might have forgotten the experience. Cows can have a form of hedonistic happiness. And also humans can be caught in a kind of hedonistic treadmill. Eysenck coined that term to express the relative importance of hedonic experiences. People seem to have a constant experience of happiness, regardless of their concrete experiences. People seem to return to a constant set point of happiness. And the question is how to raise that set point.
But hedonic happiness is only one kind of happiness that we might share with other mammals. Humans (and maybe some primates) are capable of a different kind of happiness. There’s also something like eudaimonic happiness, that is derived from a sense of purpose. I cannot believe a cow will wake up and say to itself that it will produce milk to quench the thirst of many school children. A cow has no conscious purpose. Employees do. And this purpose does not necessarily need to be found in the place of work. A person’s sense of purpose might be found in family or community life. What if work is only a means that enables someone to do other, more meaningful things like raising a family, or travelling, or … The thing is, that happiness is a very individual experience that is almost related to a decision. People ask themselves – usually implicitly – what they find important in their life. It’s an important question, with no bad answer. And no one can judge the other person’s answer. Happiness is personal. And it’s a choice. Cows do not make that choice.

Happinesss and Regrets

Fifth, the cow cannot regret anything. I believe that being able to regret something is essential in the quest for happiness. In a blog palliative counsellor Bronnie Ware has listed the 5 top regrets of the dying. Here they are.

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I didn’t work so hard
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

After Reading that list, employers should be modest about their impact on happiness. Work does not feature in the list. At the end of your life, it’s about family, friends and pursuing your true purpose. Indeed, it’s in the last item that employers can contribute the most. If someone can find fulfillment in the job, then an employer can genuinely add value to someone’s life. And as to the second item on the list, it should not be about more milk, but about better milk.

Adding quality to someone’s life

Employers can add quality to someone’s life by making sure the work someone does is sustainable, meaningful, … Employers can create a context that contributes to employee happiness. Happiness is then one of the outcomes of work. It’s less one of the input factors. Satisfaction is. Happiness isn’t.
Increasing productivity as a goal of happiness enhancing measures is dangerous, especially if there are no limits. But then again, I assume there are also limits to the milk production capacity of a dairy cow. So let’s make the cows as happy as they need to be to reach the limit of the milk production quota.To make them more happy then that, would be not in the interest of the company. I rest my case.
Read also:

Are you an imposter?

What a bold question to ask. However, many people seem to suffer from the imposter syndrome. They feel like anyone else would be better at their job then they are. Very often these are highly proficient people who are comparing themselves continuously to others. They judge others on what they see, which is of course only a façade. Social comparison is the killer of joy. People with the imposter syndrome seem to be unable to put things into perspective and appreciate the qualities and achievements they have.
In the past we paid more attention to people who really are impostors, like Madoff. Those who think they are imposters have been neglected.

Sign of the Time

The question is if some people are not pushed into imposterism? We live in an age of personal branding and are pushed to manage our identity as a brand. And how can we keep that identity genuine? Through social media we get access to audiences that were previously unreachable and we are being flooded with manipulated impressions of perfect lives. Social media enable us to build images of ourselves. Introverts can become extraverted. Everyday media confront us with ideal families, ideal bodies, ideal minds. And people start copying other people or role models, like children do. It takes a strong and independent personality to resist the temptations of imitating people that are  successful, more successful than we are. And when self-doubt starts taking the lead, people might be lost. On the one hand they might try to boost their “personal brand” in order to impress others, and on the other hand they feel an increasing discrepancy between the brand they are creating and the reality. And they might believe they are failing.

You don’t have to be Posh

The ideal state is one of POSHism: being Perfect, Original, Successful and Happy. And the biggest contradiction is that people often try to be POSH by copying others. They run off to Hollister to buy the same T-shirt that thousands of others wear. They are trying to go to the same places and drive the same cars as their successful peers.

The quest for authenticity

But there is another counter tendency. People are looking for authenticity and intimacy. There’s even a market for that. Now you can buy authenticity. There are personal coaches that will tell you what to wear to be authentic. There are travel agencies thar offer unique trips to Antarctica, the middle of the Sahara, the icy slopes of the Himalaya (only to find out that there are traffic jams towards Mount Everest).
The quest for authenticity is in itself not authentic. The moment you ask yourself the question “am I authentic” you stop being authentic. And how authentic can you be? Should we measure that? We are all products of nature-nurture. The only thing we can control are the choices we make as of today. But if we take authenticity as a criterion for these choices, the choices will not be authentic. It’s like happiness. The moment you start thinking about happiness, you risk to become unhappy. So maybe to be authentic, our choices should be based on principles that we apply categorically? But will that get you closer to yourself?

Letting go and appreciation

The only way to even get near your true inner self – let’s take this as the definition of authenticity – is to let go and to appreciate what is. What can you let go? The have to’s, the musts, the ought to’s, the should do’s, … as far as you do not damage others by letting go (you’re not an island).  What can you appreciate? Anything. And accepting the things you cannot do is a part of that. This is far away from a well constructed and mediatized personal brand. You are what you are and you become what you can become, but that’s not a brand.
So should we no longer boast about ourselves? Should we tell only the truth? Should we stop embellishing our CV’s? The answer is probably yes. Life becomes easier when you embrace yourself and you are clear about what you want and don’t want. You do not have to remember what you’ve told during a job interview. You do not have to spend energy on upholding an image of yourself. You cannot get caught lying. Your employer, or partner, will not discover unpleasant things later on. You’re an open book.
And now you’re thinking: OMG, if I tell the truth, nobody will hire me. Or I will never find a partner in Life. The challenge is not to find employment, it is to keep employment. It’s not about finding a partner, it’s about making the relationship last. And that can only be based on trust and truth. On being yourself. Not on some kind of fabricated image of yourself.

Branded and Authentic?

@HeidiWulff asked me the question on twitter why I put personal branding in contrast to authenticity. She mentioned that most literature on personal branding refers to the need to be authentic. This is true. Check e.g. this review. But what I see happening is that personal branding in practice is limited to the engineering of a brand, an image of oneself. Many articles on personal branding are about how to uphold an image on social media in an efficient way. But I agree that this is not what it should be. Personal Branding could be a quest to achieve what we can, be who we can be, live our life at the fullest, … But then I’d suggest not to use the word personal brand. Self-fulfillment will do. So being oneself is not passive. We all have the duty to become more of ourselves. Like Tomasso de Lampedusa wrote in his novel “Il Gattopardo” we have to change in order to be ourselves.

From being an imposter to healthy Self-Doubt and Self-esteem

A healthy doubt about yourself is not wrong. It stimulates evolution. But once you think you’re an imposter, you might need to think about how you want to arrange your life, what you want to do, why you are doing what you are doing. What makes you think you’re a mediocre imposter? What makes you think that all others are better than you are? What about your self-esteem, your personal dignity? To what extent do you enjoy what you are doing? Why do you care so much about what others do (better)? What kind of feedback have you received about what you are doing? And finally be mild on and be kind for yourself. You are probably not an imposter. Similar questions can be asked about personal branding.

Happiness and love. Why employers should not touch them!


Happiness. looking at water is relaxing.

Everyone wants to be happy.
Everyone deserves to be happy. We all agree on that since the earliest philosophers have contemplated about the meaning of life. So there’s no rocket science in that. And for centuries people have looked for a certain kind happiness. But on the way – somewhere in the 18th century – we have derailed. We have made happiness into a quest and the more we seek it, the more we seem to lose it. Today we live in a POSH-society. People have to be Perfect, Original, Successful and Happy. There is an obligation to be happy. And we try to define happiness too often in a hedonic sense. We look for pleasure and have no longer boundaries. We want it all and we want it now. And we have not become happier because of that. On the contrary.
Employers have discovered happiness as well. Happiness is important because happy people perform better. Imagine that I would say to my wife that I want her to be happy because she would cook better (for me). A slap in my face is what I would deserve. I want my wife to be happy because I love her, not because I want her to perform better. Probably it’s the other way around. Cooking for my family makes me happy (I hope they like the food).
Employers should not touch happiness for many reasons. Happiness belongs to the personal experiences of life. People have the right to be unhappy. People do things that make them unhappy. People find happiness elsewhere (too). People derive happiness from a sense of meaning, less from single experiences. And work is not the single most important source of happiness.
Richard Layard (2011) describes the 7 factors affecting happiness: family relationships, financial situation, work, community and friends, health, personal freedom and personal values. The funny thing is that work is not the most important generator of happiness, it’s family. Even when we know that becoming unemployed will lower your level of happiness (the most important aspect of work, is to have it), the effect seems to be lower than when one is separated (rather than being married) and it has the same impact as a small deterioration of personal health.
Who is responsible?
But if health and family are the most important aspects of happiness, who is responsible for that? It’s the individual of course. So an employer cannot do much about happiness, but to provide possibilities for people to combine work and private life, personal health, … and at the end the choice is with the employee.
People are unhappy during parts of their life: losing a spouse, divorce, economic crisis, health issues, … and still they keep working. Not working would make them worse off, financially and socially. And luckily for the employers, some people seem to cope well with unhappiness. Not everyone ends up in a depression even when they might have feelings of depression during difficult phases of life.
It’s not only about critical life incidents. People are also unhappy because they compare with someone who has or earns more. This is the pitfall of social comparison. We work hard to earn a lot of money to be able to buy stuff to impress people we don’t even like. Having a big car in the driveway is for someone a sign of achievement. And to have that car, they do foolish things that make them utterly unhappy. Why does Peter’s principle exist? Because people ignore their limits and are driven by things outside of themselves. But is the employer responsible for the inner drives of all employees? Should we as employers intervene when we see an employee is leading a life that might lead to unhappiness? Or should employers exploit those drives in order to maximize output, which I am sure happens. The answer to the latter 3 questions is negative.
Happiness is a state that is the result of many variables. Employers cannot be normative about what happiness is for each and everyone. Employers might think that working hard and achieving is the single most important source of happiness. They might think that engagement is not enough, but that they need people who see their work as a life’s mission (workaholics are good to the company). They might feel contempt for people who give work a minor role in their life (work just enough to earn a living that will feed the kids and allow me to go fishing every weekend). Employers might try and save people from their dull existence and have them develop their full potential. They might want to rescue people who have lost their ambition or who in spite of their potential go for the quiet job.
Oh yes. Employers can contribute to one’s personal happiness by providing decent and meaningful work. By making sure that work does not make people sick. By providing choices (also so called bad ones). And a leader will make sure that the people in his or her team will be able to stay in balance. All of this is a lot and it’s enough. The focus should not be happiness, but sustainable employability which includes health, engagement and talent. Because this is what employers do: they employ people. If they are good at that, they might contribute to overall happiness in life. But again, the employer is not responsible for the happiness as such of the employees.
Happiness comes as it is. It’s a hidden quality of life. It’s a quality that disappears when you focus too much on it. If we want to be happy, we need to stop talking about it and take every day as it comes, with a high appreciation of what it brings: the sun on your face, the smile of a child, the gratitude of colleague, the sense of having done something worth while, … Let’s not engineer happiness.
And what about love?
After employers have conquered the field of motivation and inner drive, they went for engagement. Engagement is interesting because it brings benefits to the company and by being engaged people might even improve their mental health (isn’t happiness a state of mental health?). And after that they went for passion. And after that they went for happiness. And now they seem to go for love. And after that it’s spirituality.
Like the fact that anyone of us wants to be happy, all of us wants to be loved as well.
A husband wants his wife to be happy because he loves her. Does an employer want his employees to be happy because he loves them? Basically any (normal) person wants any other human being to be happy because he is human. We are empathic. An employer respects his employees, appreciates them, wants to help them, … but he does not necessarily want or need to love them.
Trying to conquer love is a logical step after having tried to conquer happiness, but it’s not a position an employer needs or wants to hold. Vice versa, people can say they love the company they work for (remember Steve Balmer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvsboPUjrGc) but that’s not love. It’s identification. It’s sharing goals and values. It’s part of a psychological contract. There’s even a “prenuptial”. He was basically paid to jump on stage.
Love is unconditional. That is why people can love people that do bad things, are failures in life, … Will an employer love his employees when they do bad things, or when they make too many mistakes? Employers don’t want to, and they should not,  because the relationship is different, conditional, even instrumental.
And please do not accuse me of being cold. An employer that tells this to his employees cannot keep the promise of love. It’s already difficult to be kind, even though I am convinced that kindness is an essential part of leadership. Love isn’t. Not love but empathy will make a difference.
I plead not to go into the realm of personal happiness and of love as an employer but to focus on creating a context in which people can pursue whatever they want to pursue, with the condition that they contribute to the results of the company. Let’s not hide possible issues under the cloak of happiness and love. These two aspects of human life are way too important to be hijacked by employers who inevitably will link the concepts to economic profits.
Layard, R. (2011) Happiness. Lessons from a new science. London, Penguin Books.
Originally posted at www.human-interest.be