80,000 Hours of Happiness

Feb 22, 2013 • Gabe Weaver

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness on my drive to and from the office I work out of in Chattanooga. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend checking it out. In a one sentence summary, the book talks about the history and growth of the culture at Zappos, and how the company has grown to become the largest online shoe seller by focusing on one key activity - delivering happiness to people. It really got me thinking about things through a bigger lens. How and why did a shoe company choose to focus on delivering happiness to its employees and customers over actually selling shoes and focusing on sales, profits, and financial dominance? To answer that question beyond what Tony presents in his book, I started doing a bit of math.

The average life expectancy of Americans is 78.5 years. We all have about 687,660 hours on this earth. Most people spend a third of their adult life working and pursuing careers. If you start fresh out of college and retire in your early 60s, you will have worked for over 40 years, 2,000 weeks, 10,000 days, or 80,000 hours. That’s roughly 11.6% of your entire life spent working so you can make enough money to live and support your family. If I’m going to spend 80,000 hours doing something, I’d really love to enjoy it, find satisfaction in my work, and be happy. Not surprisingly though, 55% of Americans are not satisfied with their work. A recent Gallup poll found that “lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs more than $300 billion in the U.S. annually.” Wow.

This led to my next question. Why are so many people unhappy with their job? Looking back through the different companies I’ve worked for provided a lot of answers to this. Before I started working at Cramer Dev, I worked remotely for a large-non profit. I joined the company because I was so passionate about what they were doing and I genuinely believed that I could have a positive impact on the organization and help it fulfill its mission. It didn’t take long before I started to see the dark side of corporate culture. I had great ideas, drive, and a relentless appetite to innovate and make the world a better place. But there was a problem - the culture the company had put in place was one of hierarchy and a top-down management style. To get anything done, you had to get the approval of your manager, who then had to get the approval of their manager, who had to get in touch with legal to run things through them, who had to run things through the CFO…you get the idea.

I was hired to do a job, bring my all, but I had to do it blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. There was no trust, no empowerment to innovate, and I was relegated to pushing paper and playing politics. The culture of the company was fundamentally broken. I was unhappy and miserable. Stepping back, I started to see that the company was holding on so tight to old ideas, it was blind to see how the world around it was changing. Stepping back even further, I started to see how the majority of companies across the country operated with the same broken mentality. Tony was right on - culture is everything. A good culture leads to happiness. Happiness leads to productivity and innovation - and that leads to profits.

After a few years of subjecting myself to the corporate world, I broke free and joined Cramer Dev. Why? Because everyone in our company is empowered to innovate, make changes, and grow. There is implicit trust among us that breeds happiness. Our company culture is the sum of the core values we all individually bring to the table, not a document written by an H.R. department out of touch with what’s going on with the front-lines of the company. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend 11.6% of my life being happy instead of unsatisfied and lacking. I can actually spend 80,000 hours making the world a better place instead of doing meaningless work.

I’ve decided to make it my personal mission to continue to uncover what a company culture really is, how to foster it, and how to deliver happiness to everyone I come in contact with on a daily basis. My hope is that this relentless pursuit will become infectious and maybe, just maybe, 46% of Americans will become happy and satisfied with their work instead of 45%.

What do you think makes for a good company culture?