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Kalamazoo Entrepreneur Explores Happiness at Work

Daniel Jefferies

Compulsively curious, Daniel Jefferies is a happiness evangelist. He's constantly seeking to deepen his understanding of its effects on work, and to share his knowledge with those around him. Happy employees, it turns out, drive customer satisfaction and corporate growth.

Jefferies is the founder and former CEO of Newmind Group, a Kalamazoo-based IT managed services provider launched in 2003. After turning the CEO title over to Matt Vollmar in 2014, Jefferies appointed himself the company's Chief Happiness Director so he could study positive work environments more closely.

Newmind operates on a values-based philosophy with a mission to "make work more profitable, productive and fun," for its clients. Jefferies likes to say, "If what you're doing isn't fun and enjoyable, go find something that is!" Newmind hires Happiness Technicians and Engineers to underscore the importance of customer satisfaction as the employee's highest goal - more essential even than technical excellence. The result was growth for Newmind. It made the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies in 2014.

"We were hiring people who were not only talented but really excited to join our team," Jefferies explains. "They would tell us they were willing to take less money than they were making elsewhere, just to be a part of our culture. And I started to wonder, 'what is it that's happening here?'"

Jefferies was on a quest for answers. Can happiness be measured? Can it be cultivated? What makes a person happy at work? How does individual happiness drive organizational dynamics? How do people form automatic behaviors and routines?

Today, Jefferies has stepped away from daily involvement with Newmind, though he stays engaged as an advisor and board member. He uses his talents instead to advise other startups and entrepreneurs while pursuing projects in technology and innovation, entrepreneurship, and positive culture. One of is those projects is an online tool that began as Happy Graph and evolved into 21 Days of Happiness.

"I thought, what if you could make software that helped people measure and improve their own happiness at work? Starting with the individual, can you teach people to make those environments more positive, and create great cultures as a result?"

The online program that resulted is available at Jefferies compares it to the fitness tool Fitbit.

"Fitbit measures your behavior. When you use it in conjunction with exercise, you're not only tracking how much you exercise, but you’re encouraging healthy exercise habits," Jefferies explains. "21 Days Of Happiness is similar, but it focuses on research-based habits that drive happiness, like mindfulness and meditation."

A labor of love among like-minded entrepreneurs and innovators, Jefferies has no plans to develop 21Days further. "It was an all-volunteer effort," he says, "And our software developer had to step off the project." In the meantime, it's free and available to anyone who wishes to use it. That includes several business coaches who are experimenting with the program to measure and modify behavior among clients.

Among the lessons Jefferies learned from the project is that happiness is a word that's loaded with emotion. "It may be the wrong word for what we're trying to get at," he explains. Asked how he'd define happiness at work and he says, "I think it means a place where people are free to be their whole selves in the work environment. Not where you feel like you have to be one at work and a different person when you leave."

Newmind continues to spread happiness - or maybe success is a better word - among employees, clients, and the business and IT sectors. The company has created conferences in Kalamazoo and Detroit - called BuildItTogether, that encourage collaboration and the exchange of best practices. Among its goals? To make work more fun, of course!

Want to learn more about creating a happy environment for employees - or becoming a happier worker? Jefferies is among many business leaders seeking to understand and cultivate positive workforce cultures. He suggests the following links for more information: University of Michigan Center for Positive Organizations, which recognized Newmind for their outstanding work. Greater Good Science Center - University of California, Berkeley, and Tiny Habits for behavior change with Dr. BJ Fogg. The University of California, Berkeley also offers a free eight-week Massive Open Online Course for learning practical, research-based tips for living a happy and meaningful life.

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