What I Do Well + What is Useful + What I Love = Happiness at Work

In: BlogDate: Oct 22, 2020By: Billy Burgess

When Laurence Vanhee joined Belgium's Ministry of Social Security, the department was struggling to recruit Belgian citizens to the civil service and simultaneously losing 40% of staff to retirement. Social Security is essential, especially in a country comprising two very distinct groups. So Laurence and her colleagues set out to change the laws in order to gain more flexibility, attract newbies and retain people.

In this two minute clip from the 2018 Happy Workplaces Conference, Laurence outlines how the Ministry circumvented traditional HR practices to focus on what staff did well, what was useful to the organisation and what they love to do. 

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What I Do Well + What is Useful + What I Love = Happiness at Work

We get rid of HR policies. You are requested to let young people evolve. To do so, we give you a dictionary of competencies and a job description as well as a cartography of available jobs and taxonomy of the functions - plenty of exciting tools! I say, please, this is again bullshit from HR. Let them play with that at the Ministry of HR. What we will do is the three potatoes. We are Belgian, we love fries, so potatoes.

First potato is: find the answer to what I am doing well. You have to ask feedback from your own colleagues, your own boss, whoever you are working with.

Second question: in my job, what is useful to the organisation? Because there are plenty of people who do the stuff nobody cares about really well.

The third potato is: what do you love to do? Because if you do well something that is not useful, this is a hobby. This is entertainment and maybe it’s not during the working hours that you do that. If you do well something which is useful but you don’t like it, this is a job. This is only a job and what you can face is routine, demotivation, problem of quality, and you get in trouble. Your potential, your development plan is there, but it’s useful.

Something I love to do and I don’t do it well - this is something you have to invest in young people, not in a dictionary of competencies. Please stop with that. If you want to make young people happy, you put them there, they do what they love to do and which is useful to the organisation, and they will calculate the happiness at work. This is so easy, but it’s not easy to find the right answer.

There are many restrictive laws and regulations in Belgium, conceived by people with no comparable experience to those affected by the laws. This is echoed in the HR policies of government ministries. Laurence named her solutions to these bureaucratic barriers “the three potatoes.” 

Number one is to “find the answer to what I am doing well,” she says. Not via introspection – that’s not the most reliable road to self-evaluation – but by seeking feedback from colleagues, bosses and anyone else you’re working with.

The second potato is the question, “In my job, what is useful to the organisation?” People might excel at things that have no tangible impact on the organisation’s effective functioning, but what are they doing that people genuinely care about?

And the third potato is all about what you love to do. “If you want to make young people happy, you put them there, they do what they love to do and which is useful to the organisation, and they will calculate the happiness at work,” says Laurence. “This is so easy.”

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About Laurence Vanhee

In 2010, while in charge of HR at the BE Ministry of Social Security, Laurence changed her job title to Chief Happiness Officer. Her goal was to nail happiness at work to sustainable performance. It was based on a basic summation: happy people perform better, making it a win-win framework.

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This year's conference took place on 30th July via Zoom. We were delighted to welcome James Shaw, a minister in the New Zealand government on putting wellbeing at the heart of policy and Ynzo van Zanten of Tony's Chocolonely on creating a culture of happiness to achieve an important mission (ending slavery in the chocolate industry).

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