Can companies design a happy workplace?
It may not be possible to buy happiness, but organizations around the world are attempting to offer it, for free, at work.
The idea is that by creating a truly experiential environment, employers can enable employees to feel engaged, empowered and fulfilled whenever and wherever they do their work.
But can happiness on the job really be dictated by the place where that job happens? Isn’t it possible to have a beautiful office, and a miserable workforce? The answer is, it’s complicated. A tyrannical manager, for example, can cast a shadow over any great space, just as an engaged team might be happily doing their job out of a basement.
Still, there is mounting evidence to suggest that a workplace that sparks an emotional connection for people can in fact profoundly influence their professional happiness. And vice versa. In a recent global survey, roughly 70 percent of employees said that happiness at work is the best ingredient for a unique work experience, according to new JLL research.
“Happiness is defined as ‘a pleasurable or satisfying experience,’” says Marie Puybaraud, Global Head of Research, JLL. “In the future of work, experience really should be a major focus to drive a high level of satisfaction from work. People are craving authenticity in their lives—and their careers.”
Designing for happiness may sound like a touchy-feely subject, but there are a host of concrete benefits for employers who get it right.
Valued experiences add balance sheet value, too
It’s still rare that you’ll find a Chief Happiness Officer at most organizations, but the idea is catching on—for good reason. Globally, nearly nine in 10 people want a Chief Happiness Officer at work.
There’s a meaningful business case for creating a choice of environments that encourages employees to be bold, to take initiative and share responsibility, and to feel like they are treated with kindness and trust.
“We’re seeing a tremendous interest in planning that is specifically oriented around engagement, empowerment and fulfillment,” says John Forrest, Global and Americas CEO, JLL Corporate Solutions. “There is a growing sense that offering the optimal human experience will create value for the people who work there as well as customers, visitors and other stakeholders.”
Consider, for example, University of Warwick research that found that “happy” employees are 12 percent more productive, and are specifically more likely to work more creatively, effectively and collaboratively at work. They’re also most likely to show up healthy, ready to share their knowledge and think creatively. Innovative workplaces are well-suited for happy employees. JLL research shows that 50 percent of employees find it important that their workplace features spaces dedicated to collaborative working, while 32 percent want creative spaces.
When employees actively and happily contribute to the corporate culture, they can shape brand perceptions internally and externally. Their sense of engagement contributes in turn to stronger recruitment and retention rates, and can even continue to strengthen perceptions after they leave, in the form of positive memories and stories. Positive workplace experiences can also inspire stronger ties between management and the workforce, as well as between the organization and its visitors, clients and customers.
How companies are already designing for happiness
Today’s workplace is about far more than just buildings. Now, future-friendly workplace strategy is all about the humans.
One of the best places to see this “human experience model” in action is in the growing emphasis on workplace choice. “Modern workers thrive when there’s space both for contemplation and reflection, as well as controlled and spontaneous community dialog,” says Puybaraud.
Many companies are already offering a wide mix of spaces, like cafes and lounges, as well as project ‘war rooms,’ together with ample space for more focused, individual work. Some have incubator space where people can develop personal projects while using company infrastructure and support, and a rapidly growing number now provide the technological support needed to work comfortably from home or other remote locations. Some are also building in places to cope with work pressures, like meditation rooms, family-friendly space, and service-oriented areas like dry cleaning locations.
“That rich diversity of choice,” says Puybaraud, “engenders good will toward one’s employer and a broader sense of personal fulfilment at work.”
Space layout and use strategy can also help facilitate a new, more democratic managerial approach. By creating open lines of sight between employees and their supervisors, organizations can help employees feel closer to the leadership, and like their service is directly tied to team performance.
Everyone’s vision of happiness differs. But companies are beginning to find some similarities in how space can be used to make professional happiness a reality.