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We are catching up with Johan van Maanen on a sunny monday morning. He is the co-owner and inhouse storyteller at Bakery Van Maanen and we are here to talk to him about happiness at work. We are meeting up at his new establishment in the political capital The Hague. There is a sense of pleasant hussle and bussle around the bakery: parents with toddlers, businesspeople who came in to get coffee, a freelancer or two behind a laptop.

The bakery slash lunchroom invites people to get together, just like Van Maanen intended. Johan: “It is our mission to create a meetingplace where people can feel at home. Just like it used to be in the old days, at your local bakery around the corner, a place where people came to exchange stories. A place of happiness in the neighbourhood.

A heart to heart

Not only personal contact but storytelling as well, is central to Bakery Van Maanen. According to Johan there is a storyteller in everyone: “When you touch upon someone’s favourite topic, something they are passionate about, the enthusiasm and stories come up. The art is to make sure the real story is told, only then one can show their true colours. People have been so accustomed to adapt, to be homogenous. But we feel the most interesting aspect is the difference between people. I love to see how much fun individuals become when they are encouraged to be more themselves, how much better they are in doing what they do. Stories convey that and it helps to make connections from heart to heart. That is exactly what it is about for me.”

The best version of yourself

Johan continues: “Happiness at work is about discovering the best version of yourself, to show that and act towards it. If we start with the best version of a person, we ultimately get the best version of teams and therefore the best version of the Van Maanen brand. And because we feel safe and connected, we feel like we could help each other becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Journey towards yourself

The focus on people, happiness and happiness at work has not always been prevalent at Bakery Van Maanen. The family company that this year will exist for 110 years, had previously a strong focus on financial results. “Eventually that went wrong,” Johan explains. “There was a lot of tension between my brother and me. We lost our souls. On one day an employee said to us: ‘This isn’t working. Something needs to change and that has to start with you two.’ So we started our journey to ourselves, towards our authentic identities. That was a long process of facing fears and peeling off layers to the core. With the personal transformation came the transformation of the company, in which the focus moved towards the wellness of the people. From then on we focused first on the person and his or her story and we’ll see what we can contribute to achieve our goals.

Never finished

Despite seeing that the individual is central to Bakery Van Maanen, Johan still isn’t satisfied: “The process of happiness at work that we started is never finished. First we came from a hierarchy to equivalence, from store managers to coaches. It took a while before everyone could cope with that but now self-steering seems successful. Even so, there is a lot to improve. We continuously build towards meaningful relationships with employees and customers and the results that matter.”

Open table conversations

Storytelling has an important role: “That begins when people start at our company. We will start a conversation with new employees about what is going on in their lives. But also on other moments we exchange idea’s and thoughts with our employees. In this way, everyone is welcome to participate in ‘Open-table conversations’. I will sit around the table with seven employees to see what is going on, what keeps them occupied and how happiness at work take shape for them. With these sessions we really can see what make people happy and what they find important.

Storytelling card game

One tool that Van Maanen uses during these conversations is a card game from his own design. It has questions such as ‘what is your story’, what keeps you busy’, and ‘what makes you tick’? By asking these questions a conversation starts, about what it is really about. It goes deeper than just the questions, where are you from and what are your hobbies.”

Happiness@work at Bakery Van Maanen

When we walk out the bakery with an oat bread we conclude that they have understood the power of happiness at work at Van Maanen. It is great to see these stories being translated into unity and strength to get the best out of people. It is another way to use storytelling, besides finding and writing down your purpose, to find happiness at work. We can’t wait until the bakery opens up an establishment around our corner. Because we are fans, that is for sure.

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