In the 1930s, economists like John Maynard Keyes prophesized technological advancements would mean reducing the workweek to just 15 hours. Despite gains in productivity, he did not foresee that work would, in fact, become the centrepiece of our identities. It has become more than a necessity, more than a job that pays the bills, or even a career.
The highest-educated and highest-earning individuals fill the little leisure time they have with more work. For some, building more wealth is a creative process they enjoy. We work for status. Work fulfils our life purpose.
If work has become the new ‘play’, perhaps we should take our well-being at work a little more seriously.
Jim Lippens is organizing his third Happiness@Work Conference in Belgium on 13 December.
The conference which will be held at Queen Elizabeth Hall in Antwerp, Belgium will be the biggest of its kind in Europe. A few of the world-class speakers on the agenda include:
- CEO of Semco Partners and author of ‘The Seven-Day Weekend’ Ricardo Semler is an advocate of trust. He has spoken often about the difference between smart and wise
- Pianist and composer Iris Hound seeks to open hearts with her music and share the importance of making connections
- Chief Heart Officer of Vayner Media, Claude Sliver, will share her experience on creating a culture of belonging
- Dr Tal Ben-Shahar will bring science into the happiness equation
- NY Times bestselling author Gabby Bernstein will reveal the secrets of becoming a ‘super attractor’ and future-proofing your organization
Turning a Nightmare into a Dream
Jim is not a best-selling author. However, he averted a potential catastrophe and found his purpose in life. He was trained as an industrial textile engineer. He was inscrutable, appeared serious and unassuming.
His story did not begin with the turbulence stirred up by the COVID pandemic. His passion for the importance of ‘happiness at work’ started with a mandate to fire 27 employees on the first day he was promoted to run a textile production plant. He found out that the management planned to fire all 108 employees in the coming months.
His heart sank.
He wanted desperately to save the jobs of the remaining employees. Jim’s resolution was fueled by his experience of growing up in an abusive family environment. He had suffered regular beatings as a child. Seeing the fear of losing their livelihood in the eyes of the employees was a pivotal moment. He related to their fear and pain, and he vowed to fight back against those who abused their power.
Fear Doesn’t Motivate; Self-realization and Passion Do
In just one month, Jim turned the business unit around and made it profitable for the first time in 30 years. He toiled not only to improve the plant’s efficiency but also to gain the trust of his team and their engagement by focusing on human factors. He taught them to develop themselves and their skillsets. He encouraged them to discover their hidden talents. With a sense of pride and belonging, passion was ignited. They began to take initiatives to develop better processes and even designed new products.
Four years later, the department — headed by Jim — which accounted for 10 per cent of the company’s total plant headcount, went from a loss to delivering 85 per cent of the results.
Despite his efforts and proof of profitability, the management continued to reduce the headcount, and finally, they shut the plant down.
During this time, however, the team had had not been idle. They had gained experience and invaluable skillsets. The staff were either transferred to other departments or received their severance pay and found new and better jobs elsewhere.
Jim had done what he had set out to achieve.
Jim’s Mission to Reach 10 Million People
Determined to find a way to keep his team employed, Jim took time off to take a course led by Norman Bodek in the United States. Norman Bodek was dubbed ‘Mr. Productivity’ by the industry. Bodek had studied the Harada method and had brought the concept of ‘Lean Manufacturing’ from Japan to the United States.
Bodek believed that “If the people grow, the organization grows.”
The Harada method was created by a Japanese high school teacher Takashi Harada. It teaches a mindset that focuses on self-reliance and self-development. He believed passion is kindled by identifying and embracing a goal, thus enabling employees to develop their full potential
When Norman Bodek asked Jim: “What is the goal in your life?” Jim was stupefied. It dawned on him that he did not know the answer to this important question.
The shock jolted him into action.
His reaction was “Let me try a short-term goal in my department to see if the Harada method works.” He implemented it successfully, and the rest is history.
“When the employees were in front of me, and I got that flashback to my youth, I knew why I was here in this life,” Jim says.
There and then, he decided his mission was to reach 10 million people. “To bring them happiness, balance, and success, and closer to themselves,” he explains. As ‘reaching people’ was too vague, he decided to measure his goal by donating Euros 10 million to charity between 2035 and 2050.
The Happiness@Work Conference is just one part of the larger ecosystem Jim wishes to build.
He has created movements in Belgium and Holland where initiatives like acts of kindness or appreciation help people connect emotionally in the community.
He has built on the Harada method and developed an Academy and training model 4DLean. The Academy aims to create awareness and guide organisations. The 4DLean model describes the different dimensions (inertia, control, engagement, connection, purpose, and wholeness) of how a corporate or an individual may behave, and what motivates them.
To be a conscious and effective leader, you cannot motivate your team unless you understand what drives each individual. Being able to show vulnerability builds genuine connections. Empathy does not mean you need always to agree with the other person. Empathy is about demonstrating that you understand the needs, interests, and perspective of ‘the other’. Basically, understanding what makes someone happy.
The goal of the Happiness@Work Conference: A reminder that prioritizing happiness at work leads to greater effectiveness and lasting overall results.