Lawsagna: Congratulations on your new book “Happy Hour Is 9 to 5”. Have you met many happy lawyers?
Alexander Kjerulf: I've actually worked with lawyers to make them happier at work - and I have to say they often don't seem very happy. Law professionals face some tough challenges including rigid, old school management, a demanding, stressful work ethic and what I call "The Cult of Overwork" - the irrational belief that the more you work the better.
L: Law firms in the US are notorious for the somber and often stressful work environment. What are the downsides of the work unhappiness?
AK: Studies show that people who are unhappy at work are:
More prone to workplace stress and to various diseases
Less happy outside of work also
But the most important reason to be happy is this: As a working professional you'll be spending more time on your job than on your family, friends and hobbies combined. Do you really want to spend that much of your life on something that doesn't make you happy?
L: Why do you think lawyers should read your book?
AK: Lawyers should read the book in order to become insanely happy at work. To wake up every Monday morning saying "YES! It's Monday! I get to go to work." Not only will that make them enjoy work more and life more - studies also show that happy people are more successful.
Lawyers should also read the book in order to create law firms that are fun, inspiring, meaningful and energizing. In my experience, many law firms exhibit a complete disregard for how people feel at work. They care only about productivity and billable hours. This is a huge mistake for one simple reason: Happy companies make more money! Lawyers who read the book will come away with the knowledge that happiness at work is the way to a more fulfilling work life AND to higher profits.
L: Is it possible to stay happy while dealing with the unhappy aspects of life?
AK: It is possible - and it's also difficult. And remember: You can't be happy every single day. No matter how much you love your job, there's still going to be bad days once in a while. That's as it should be.
L: Is the work unhappiness a personal or an institutional problem?
AK: Both! Companies must provide a mood where it's easy for employees to be happy at work, and today many companies fail miserably at this.
On the other hand, it's also up to each of us to take responsibility for our own work situation. If you're not happy at work, you can't just sit on your butt and wait for your manager, your co-workers or the company to fix it. You must take charge and do something.
L: What is the best approach to instilling the value of happiness at work: top-down or bottom-up?
AK: Both at the same time is by far the best. When management and employees work together to create a happier work environment the sky is the limit.
If I can only pick one, it's top-down, because one unhappy top executive can ruin the good mood in an entire organization, whereas one determinedly happy person in the top ranks can positively affect the whole company.
L: What are your secret ingredients for happy hours at work?
AK: The secret is this: Happiness at work starts with a choice. You must choose to be happy at work and to do what it takes to get there. If you don't make that choice, nothing is likely to happen.
What can an individual worker start doing now to become happier at work?
Happiness at work is something you and I create here and now. It's about doing something every day to make yourself and others happier at work. Here are some simple ideas:
1: Perform a random act of workplace kindness. Bring a co-worker a cup of coffee without them asking. Pay someone a compliment. Pass out candy at a meeting.
2: Praise someone. Praise is a great way to make others happier at work
3: Write a log. Every day, before you leave work, make a list of 5 things that made you happy at work today.
L: What’s your favorite happy hour drink?
AK: I usually go with a good Danish beer from a small, local brewery.
Alexander, thank you very much for you time.