Who believes in business fairy tales?

Once upon a time lived a Business. He constantly battled the competition in order to hold the lead. He was proud at the end of the year when he tabulated results and reviewed his successes.

The Business had amassed all sorts of assets – buildings, factories, computers, and much more. And there were people. Through their help the Business hit its target numbers – and once a month it was custom to remind the people of the ambitious goals they fought for. Heads shook in regret when expenses exceed earnings, and appreciative silence was sustained when all went according to plan. This was fine by the people in the Business, because they believed in the Business and in its Business Goals.

The Business had a favorite place it liked to go, atop a high tower in a glass chamber that housed the Holy Computer with its Holy Excel. One day, when the Business was in the chamber meditating with Excel, a Person knocked on the door. The business was startled at first, because it had been so long since he’d spoken with a Person, and it wasn’t yet the end of the year, the time when he made his traditional speech. The Person had a request. She acknowledged that the goals were worthy, but that she’d occasionally like to rest or play, and work just a bit less.

The Business nodded awkwardly and promised to think about it. But when he entered vacation into the Holy Excel, the numbers were not impressive. He decided to ignore the request of the Person. The next day came another who knocked on the door. The Business suspected that nothing good would come of this, and he was right. This Person complained that the processes were bad and tools needed updating.

The Business chafed: “We conducted a satisfaction survey two years ago and we were near the median in every measure. So what’s wrong?” When he later entered the cost of new tools into Excel, it made his head hurt. How ungrateful People could be! Perhaps these People were simply broken and needed to be replaced? So the Business replaced them.

Unfortunately, the new People were quite incapable in the beginning, and this was evident in Excel. The Business was at a loss for what to do, and a bit depressed. Consumed by his worries, the glass walls of the chamber fogged around him. Finally came an idea which would save him. He could not bear the stress alone: a Finance Guy was needed to get the money flowing, and a People Person was needed to alleviate the People’s anxiety. The Finance Guy should be a man, and the People Person should be a woman: then there would be balance.

Six months after the brilliant decision the Business was again in good shape and he could meditate with Excel. But then the People Person knocked on the door and said that the People had an idea they wanted to discuss. She also mentioned that things weren’t going well with the Finance Guy, since he tended to force his opinion on others.

“What do these People want?” the Business delicately asked.

“They want you to look beyond Excel and talk with them, because everything can’t be measured by money and numbers.”

“It can indeed,” answered the Business.

“It can’t,” parried the People Person.

“It can.”

“It can’t.”


“Can’t!” roared the People Person. And if the two are still alive then they’re arguing to this day – except that meanwhile a lot of good people have left the Business.


Real life challenges

Fortunately there aren’t too many real life businesses that sincerely believe everything can be measured by money, or that dealing with people is a secondary, touchy-feely issue. In real life, these don’t have to oppose one another, because everything that’s done in the interest of a human-centric work culture can, in fact, be measured. The question is whether we’re up to the task, and do we want to measure it. How much does it cost a business when one good person leaves? How much does a wrong hiring decision cost? How much do meetings that drag on ad nauseam cost? Unclear roles? Poor communications? New employee induction programs? Conflicting relationships at work? Carelessly terminated contracts? How much does it cost when an employee feels he’s in the wrong position, or that the business isn’t using 100 percent of his skills, knowledge, and experience?

Different businesses face different obstacles, but the potential of all will suffer in the face of poor self-management or health illiteracy. For example, when we don’t sleep properly, worry too much, eat unhealthily, exercise too little, or even perhaps drink too much, our potential to perform is significantly affected. For the organization this means a huge waste. The center of discourse about happiness in the workplace is about both empowering individuals and using work design methods to make the individual worker’s role contribute toward a harmonious conjunction of the organization’s different goals, roles, and activities.

My deeper interest in this topic got its start six years ago at the software house Proekspert, where I, as a work happiness specialist, analyzed and found methods with which work culture for people could be better designed. Today, we have actually calculated an investment which we make for the benefit of every person who joins the company so that the work relationship will offer the employee a sufficiently long period of satisfaction.

In daily meetings at Proekspert, we measured satisfaction values, including work happiness and development potential. We designed a human-centered career discussion method called HappyMe.ee to replace the classic development discussion, where the new focus was the person and his development – we posed not a single question about the business’ goals! Strange? Perhaps – but the influence was quantifiable. Departure of talent ceased, dissatisfaction decreased, and work happiness grew. Certainly, HR work was not the only influencer. At the same time the business became autonomous and boss-less, with changes on the business side and in service design.

At some point we understood that a twice annual work happiness survey and one annual satisfaction survey was too little in today’s quickly changing information space. We came close to creating a three-button panel placed next to the office exit, where employees could push poor, so-so, or well to indicate how their day had gone. It might have happened had client obligations not pulled our engineers away from the task.


BlueMonday unites managers and workers

And then BlueMonday.ee was born, an application where one could report emotions on a daily basis. How’d the meeting go? Were colleagues friendly? Did the boss understand? Did processes function as they should? The screen’s smiley- and crying face are clear and laconic messages of how you’re doing. We can also do retrospective analysis to find a pattern, moods, and how work happiness is described. Maybe I’m unhappy every Monday because of one boring meeting of which I don’t see the meaning.

Showing one’s feelings and graphical analysis is not the only possibility the application offers. In addition to collecting information, it’s possible to resolve work-stopping- and motivation-sapping situations with your team and move to closer to using 100 percent of your capabilities. This happens in a two-week retrospective, where the previous periods’ most important plusses and minuses are made visible, with topics grouped and step-by-step movement toward a solution, with someone taking responsibility for each step.

In summary, it generates positive feedback for work and solved problems provide a sense of victory. BlueMonday is an inclusive management tool, where the manager, sitting alone in his tower, no longer has to single-handedly provide the motor for processes and culture – these are now accomplished with the help the team. Everything becomes transparent and progress is measureable and visible to everyone who participates, offering hope of a happy ending to the business fairy tale.


P.S. For its work creating HappyMe.ee and other agile HR methods, Proekspert was named a winner in the European Excellence in HR awards in the category Future Workplace 4.0