If life is like a box of chocolates, one wonders what cluster of confectionary constitutes working life. Lifting the lid on an average day and one is greeted with mounting deadlines, the strain of 24-hour connectivity and processes that often seem to be streamlined to the point of parody.
For Verena Rentrop, the box of life remains one that is full of chocolates – whether at home or at work. Armed with sweet treats she sets out to bring joy to the workplace under the name of the Chocolate Angel.
What first started out as a hobby, when Rentrop moved from Germany to Finland in 2012 it subsequently grew into a business. Smiles are contagious and, as we all wish to be recognised, these ‘micro-moments of love’ inevitably have a positive knock-on effect on working life.
What is your morning routine?
My alarm goes off at 4:15 am, which I often don’t need as I’m already awake. Then I play 30 minutes of online games like Candy Crush in bed. I have had the same breakfast for years, including a huge health boost from pomegranate, which is my favourite fruit.
My official workday begins with a daily routine at my laptop: sending positive energy via WhatsApp messages to 15 people who are dear to my heart.
What inspires you?
People whom I’ve met over the years in all kinds of capacities and from all over the world, and their stories. Being able to make them smile is both inspiring and motivating for me.
Many people know you best as the Chocolate Angel. Why is it important to visit workplaces and distribute chocolate and positive moments?
In a world which is going more and more digital, I see a lot of disconnect: people inside and outside of the workplace are glued to their screens. There is a lot of pressure to perform, to grow and even to find a job in the first place. At the same time, there is not much appreciation for a job well done.
Based on my own observations over the years, adding a little moment of positive attention from a ‘stranger’ is sometimes the absolute highlight of a workday. The effect stays for much longer, it often even reminds people to always stay, think and behave in a positive way.
What is the most memorable reaction you’ve had to your service?
One day, I met Somnath from India. He was in Finland for a few weeks on a work assignment. His best friend told him that he should meet me. He was quite sceptical at first. We finally met, I shared my story and he saw first-hand the impact that my positive gesture had on people when I offered chocolate also to his boss and a group of German students who were sittißng in the same café.
We kept in contact and just the other week he told me that that meeting me changed his life forever. He started to realise that the smallest positive action towards others is not changing just their lives, but it also can change his. In his words: “I am now trying to help people by doing one simple thing: listening to their problems. I never cared before I met you… and this makes me really happy.”
You are the co-founder of the Beyond Nokia movement, the largest ex-Nokia community in the world. Why did you found the community and what does it mean to you now?
Back in 2011, when my closest work ‘buddy’ Elsie Parumog in Sydney and myself in Düsseldorf learnt that we will lose our jobs at Nokia, we couldn’t imagine a day without staying connected in the online world. For years, that was our way of working, with half of the globe between us.
To keep the connection, we started the Facebook group. Next, I invited every Nokian who had become my FB friend over the years. Still today it is humbling that I was and am part of the seed which connects current and ex-Nokians from all over the world.
To see the daily activities of the group gives me a lot of energy.
You have a keen interest in black & white analogue photography. What is it about this form of photography that you find most satisfying?
Analogue means that every single photo counts. I work with 36 pictures per film roll. That is ‘healthy’ for the end results. When I look around the world I always see colours, they are always there, but when I use my camera the focus shifts to structures. It slows me down as I suddenly start to notice interesting details everywhere I look.
What is the best thing about running your own business in Finland?
Back in 2016, when I decided to start my own business, I was already living happily in Helsinki for several years. The connections I built over my 17 years at Nokia are all over the world, but the majority are in Finland. So, in a way it was a rather logic step to stay, to open my business and to offer my services here, but with my wings I can also serve everywhere in the world. Why not spread positive energy as a German from the happiest country in the world? It surely works for me!
You are originally from Germany, whose residents share many similarities with Finns. The chilly Arctic conditions make efficiency and punctuality a necessity up here – but why do Germans have such qualities?
I can speak only for myself and over the years I’ve became more and more aware of my own punctuality. Meeting people is very important for me, so I make sure to come on time to show respect. If you run late, just let me know and I’m happy to accept any delay or last-minute change. When it comes to efficiency, it is really enjoyable to make the most out of every minute available of my day.
What is your favourite joke?
A cat chases a mouse. The mouse runs into a cow barn and says to the cow: “Please put cow dung on me, so the cat will not find me.” The cow does the mouse the favour. But unfortunately the tail of the mouse is still poking out of the cow dung, and the cat catches the mouse. What is the moral of the story? Not all who pull you out of the shit are your friends, and not all who shit on you are your enemies.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
“To never leave scorched earth behind.” Always take a positive approach to anything you do, work together and support people towards a positive outcome.