11 Takeaways From the 2018 Happy Workplaces Conference

In: BlogDate: Aug 22, 2018By: Claire Lickman

In June, Happy hosted our annual Happy Workplaces Conference in London. Here are the top 11 take-aways from the attendees on the day.

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We were delighted to welcome over 100 people to our sixth annual Happy Workplaces Conference, held at Glaziers Hall in Central London.

Our excellent line up of speakers included Cathy Busani, Managing Director of Happy Ltd; Laurence Vanhée, formerly Chief Happiness Officer at the Belgian Ministry of Social Security; Sarah Gillard, who likes to be known as the Director of Happiness at the John Lewis Partnership; and Donna Reeves, formerly Director of Internal Communications and Engagement at Kingfisher PLC.

Glaziers Hall, next to London Bridge, was the perfect setting for the event. This historical venue was built by William Cubitt and opened in 1866. The 1830 London Bridge built by Sir John Rennie was replaced in 1967-1972, but one of the arches of the original bridge can still be seen in the basement space – the London Bridge Arches. We hired the London Bridge Arches room for lunch and refreshments throughout the day – this beautiful space has three restored Georgian brick arches and a Grade II listed original York stone floor.

The day was full of inspiring ideas, leaving everyone feeling motivated and excited to create happy, productive workplaces.

Here are the top 11 take-aways from the day, taken from the evaluation forms completed at the end of the day.

1. Multiply your people

Cathy Busani’s talk centered on Multipliers and Accidental Diminishers, an idea from Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everybody Smarter.

Multipliers are leaders who make their team feel smarter and more capable, and in turn, their teams are higher performing – everyone brings their expertise and ‘smarts’ to the table. Accidental Diminishers, meanwhile, make their people question their own intelligence and leave their great ideas at home. This wastes the talent and intellect of the people around them.

“The title Accidental Diminisher is really important, this word accidental – it’s not that you’ve been purposely doing this. One of the challenges that people often say to me is ‘But no, isn’t it really helpful when I see my team failing if I support them and help make it a success?’ Yes, but it depends how much you step in and to what degree, and how much dependence you create as a result of that,” explained Cathy.

2. Start meetings with something positive

Arlette Benzen of Woohoo! Inc worked with LEGO a few years ago, and one of the things that they have introduced is an ‘item zero’ on the agenda of every meeting where they each share something positive – whether that is just one person sharing a project they have been working on, some recent praise they received, or a team sharing something together.

“If you look into the science we actually saw that meetings that start with something positive will be better meetings. We could see that, firstly, meetings that start with something positive will, for the rest of the meeting, be in a more positive atmosphere. Secondly, when meetings that start with something positive, it will be easier to agree on something – and so often at meetings we want to agree on something. And last but not least, meetings that start with something positive will be shorter” said Arlette.

3. Give staff a ‘propel day’

Nikki Gatenby explained that at Propellernet, each member of staff is given one ‘propel day’ a month. This propel day is designed for staff to propel themselves forward – however they feel that is most beneficial to themselves and to the company.

“I’m not particularly interested in what they’re doing that day, although I’m happy to talk about it. What I’m more interested in is what happens when they come back into the business and how they can supercharge what we’re doing,” says Nikki.

4. Have regular well-being check-ins with staff

This was also discussed by Nikki Gatenby of Propellernet. As there is a large issue with burnout in marketing and advertising, Nikki wants to make sure that everyone in the organisation is taking care of themselves.

Each member of the team meets with a manager to ask four things – are you taking your holiday? Are you taking your propel days? Are you working with our resident coach? And do you know about our health cash plan?

Nikki explains more about these well-being check-ins in the short video below

5. Revise the appraisals process

Sophie Bryan talked about the importance of creating a coaching culture at work, and the concept of having regular conversations with your team rather than just an annual appraisals process. This enables difficult issues to be raised and resolved in real-time, rather than weeks or months later, as well as giving praise and positive feedback when it means the most.

She challenged everyone attending to get rid of their annual appraisal process altogether – or at least review what value appraisals currently have in the organisation and whether they are necessary.

“Appraisals need to be more curious – regardless of whether you scrap them or you don’t, you need curiosity in those particular sessions. And you need to make it on time, don’t park things because it’s part of the process, deliver it there and then, as and when you need to give that feedback,” explained Sophie.

6. Have team objectives and job descriptions

Cathy Busani explained that at Happy, we have moved away from having specific job descriptions for individuals and from delegating tasks to specific individuals. Both of these things have enabled teams to work towards their individual strengths, and find more happiness at work.

Cathy explains more about how this works in this short video:

7. Project Maverick

Donna Reeves talked about a trial that she ran while Director of Internal Communications and Engagement at Kingfisher PLC, named ‘Project Maverick’ – inspired by Ricardo Semlar’s book, Maverick. Donna and her team wanted to do something different and break all of the rules, and so chose two stores to run a 90-day trial with the store managers.

“The store manager could not make any decisions so they had to coach their teams around everything, and if things went wrong, they would then have another great coaching conversation.

“That was one of their biggest concerns; they were really open to everything, but it was just: what happens if someone comes to me and they still go off and do the thing that I don’t think they should do? I said, ‘well, you’re going to have to let them do it. Assuming you’re right and that it’s the wrong thing to do, you’ll then have a great conversation with them.’ One of the keys to this is how you’ll react in that moment when something goes wrong,” Donna explained.

8. Random acts of kindness at work

This was another great point from Arlette’s talk – introducing random acts of kindness to the workplace. For example, adding Post It notes to a colleague’s computer screens, decorating rooms or offices, or bring a colleague a cup of coffee when you go to make one for yourself. These small things can be very inexpensive but can mean a lot to the other person and really make them happy.

Arlette explains more in this short video from the conference:

9. Get to know my team more

One of the great points from Jill Armstrong and Jason Ghaboos’s talk was around the importance of social networks in the workplace.

These social networks and the friendships that form from them are not only key to being happy at work, these friendships also mean that your colleagues are more likely to know what you are good at, to think of you when an opportunity comes up and involve you in decision-making processes. This also leads to being thought of when there are opportunities for promotion, as they know you and what you do.

These social networks tend to segregate into women talking to women, and men talking to men – in general, there isn’t very much mixing between groups. Part of this has been caused by the #MeToo movement – men are now more nervous about speaking to women or being alone with woman at work, in case their behaviour is construed in the wrong way.

In this short video, Jill has some tips about how you can encourage men and women to talk more and form more friendships at work – helping to open up further opportunities for everyone in the workplace, and make the most of everyone’s expertise:

10. Give staff more freedom and responsibility

Laurence Vanhée joined the Belgian Ministry for Social Security with the challenge of making the department one of the sexiest organisations in Belgium. in 2005, out of 100,000 citizens in Belgian, there was no one applying specifically to social security – they received only the 17% who said they didn’t have a preference for department. Meanwhile, they were losing 40% of the staff to retirement between 2005 and 2015 – so there was a real staff crisis.

So how did she do it? Laurence looked at creating a happy workplace culture – as the Ministry couldn’t compete on salary compared to the private sector, and all of their benefits were the same across government. But culture was something that they could change and make their department stand out.

To do this, she created a culture of freedom and responsibility – ensuring that staff felt trusted to do their roles but giving them responsibility and accountability for their work and performance.

“Freedom plus responsibility will lead to happiness because you can choose whatever makes you happy, and to better performance because you will respect your engagement. How can we translate this to an organisation? Within the organisation we reinvented our workplace… We co-created the solution with our colleagues and we decided from January 2009 that, as responsible adults, you can choose where, when and how you want to work,” explained Laurence.

11. Show appreciation – it’s free!

Sarah Gillard of the John Lewis Partnership talked about the three main things that the company has learnt from over 100 years of putting staff happiness at the core of what they do. When the John Lewis Partnership was created by Spedan Lewis, the very first part of the company constitution is “the Partnership’s ultimate purpose is the happiness of all it’s members.”

One of the key things Sarah explained was that many of the things that make people happy don’t cost anything to do – saying thank you, learning about your team’s personal lives and recognising that with a congratulations or sympathy, and supporting staff to set up social clubs. All of these create a community which helps people to feel happy and appreciated, rather than just a cog in a machine.

Sarah explains more in this short video from her talk.

How many of these could you implement in your organisation? If not, what is getting in the way and how can you overcome those barriers to advance your staff happiness in your organisation?

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Claire Lickman

Claire is Head of Marketing at Happy. She has worked at Happy since 2016, and is responsible for Happy's marketing strategy, website, social media and more. Claire first heard about Happy in 2012 when she attended a mix of IT and personal development courses. These courses were life-changing and she has been a fan of Happy ever since. She has a personal blog at lecari.co.uk.

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Next Conference: 2025 Happy Workplaces Conference

Our Happy Workplaces Conference is our biggest event of the year, and we'd love for you to join us on Wednesday 25th June!

Our 2024 event was our first ever hybrid event, and so we hope to run next year's in the same way. We will host up to 50 people face-to-face at Happy's HQ in Aldgate, London, and we can host up to 200 people online via Zoom. However you choose to join, there will be interaction, discussion, space for reflection and opportunities to network with others.

Stay tuned for full details of our speakers for next year's event. As always, our speakers share practical, hands-on ideas that you can implement to create happy and engaged workplaces.

Find out more