A recent piece by McKinsey & Company featured an interview with Lord Richard Layard, program director at the London School of Economics. He has recently explored the concept of ‘happiness’ in a new book: Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, and believes that rather than think of it as a “fluffy concept”, we should take the notion of ‘being happy’ seriously – especially in the workplace.

As incomes have risen, the assumption might be that people’s moods have also lifted. However, Layard writes that, unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

At work, three factors are believed to impact happiness and wellbeing: “belonging, social connection, and a sense of purpose” – the latter outlined in Ankita Dwivedi’s piece for The Great Indoors on designing with purpose as being fundamental. The McKinsey article states that if we “don’t have these elements in our work, then we don’t have them in our life”.

Steps to improvement

As well as Layard believing that employers should take responsibility for their workforce’s wellbeing and happiness, Wired’s Victoria Turk writes: “Tech companies are known for their generous employee perks: free snacks, nap pods, the now-obligatory office ping-pong table. As the conversation around workplace culture has moved to focus on wellness, so too have many of these benefits; it’s not unusual to hear of companies offering mindfulness or yoga sessions, meditation rooms or therapy puppies.”

But, she argues, companies should proceed with caution -

“While usually well-meaning, these initiatives may not be quite the mood-boost some companies seem to think. It’s all very well offering extra-curricular opportunities to staff, but if your broader workplace culture is lacking on the basics, these attempts at forced wellbeing may fall flat or even backfire.”
Victoria Turk - Wired Tweet this

One more time, with feeling

The general consensus from a psychologist's perspective is that any initiative an employer makes to positively impact on the wellbeing and happiness of their staff must be genuine. Going back to Layard’s point, these things must be taken seriously.

Our own research shows that office perks are seen as positive and well-meaning by European workers, but many felt they lacked the time to take advantage of any benefits offered by the businesses they work for.

Therefore, as both the McKinsey and Wired pieces outline, happiness cannot be achieved through a weekly yoga class or free fruit. To truly make an impact on workers’ wellbeing, and, as a result, happiness, businesses must look at their operations holistically. If people are constantly working late, denied the opportunity for flexibility or struggling with their colleague relationships, feeling happy is simply out of the question.

In our contributor post by Ankita Dwivedi, ‘Wellbeing-ology’, the author discusses the measurement of workplace health and wellbeing – stay tuned.

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Camille van Emstede Segment Manager Workplace

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