Can you design happiness? What is happiness anyway and does it matter? Specifically, does it matter for the workplace?
It does matter, and it matters a lot, because generally speaking we are not very good at creating a happy atmosphere at work. Too often we take it for granted, or just ignore it.
Bosses are not reliable enough as leaders to create an engaging positive environment to work in. Yes, the finance teams might find budget for decent coffee and biscuits, but is there a separate space to enjoy something in a work break or somewhere to find some head space. And to add insult to low productivity, all too often the FM teams ignore pleas for better designed office layouts and decent chairs and desks to work at.
The UK is not good at happiness. Which is a shame because happiness at work is crucial. Happy people are more productive: it is not rocket science. The Confederation of British Industry estimates £17bn lost every year through absenteeism. But happy people come to work motivated. Google and other organisations like them have taken on board the findings of behavioural research: they have invested heavily in employee relationships and strategic workplace design seeing happiness and satisfaction rise by 37%.
Our behaviour is influenced by how we feel. How we feel at work is directly affected by the physical environment we work in as well as the leadership and overall workplace strategy being applied by employers (or the more enlightened ones at least).
The idea of happiness has become such ‘thing’ that even the Prime Minister got on the bandwagon a few years ago when he pledged to monitor happiness. Now, for the Government and business it is not just common sense; the notion of happiness is linked to productivity. But indices measuring happiness across the globe are not just about Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or KPIs for a business or manufacturing plant.
For example, Bhutan is the real trailblazer in this area. The tiny nation to the east of the Himalayas has long been renowned for its focus not on GDP – gross domestic product – but GNH (gross national happiness). In other words, what matters to Bhutan more than upping production and improving productivity is whether its citizens are happy. It’s a measure the remote south Asian nation has been using since the early 1970s, well before the rest of the world began to realise that wealthier does not necessarily translate into happier.
The trick to this conundrum is to forget the costs. Just focus on happiness. It might sound daft, but if we all stop and think sensibly about how we feel and how much more we get done with a smile on our face it starts to make sense.
That’s the key to excellent workplace design. A better workplace is created as a result of finding out what the users of that space need to make them happy and therefore more productive. Simple. Good office design, combined with well-being strategies, sensible HR policies and enlightened bosses creates an environment that engages employees, fosters a sense of creativity, motivation and, crucially, points to evidence of more productivity.
Happiness can be designed into a workplace. The way to do it is talk to the people using that space. Anyone likely to be affected by a change in design have to be an integral part of the process. The best ideas on how to improve your workplace often come from the staff within and these prove to be the most successful projects – as well as the happiest ones.
And despite somewhere as humble as Bhutan being so happy, in the modern workplace one of the key factors in a happy productive workplace is technology. Any workplace design needs to be agile enough to keep pace with technological advancement. So, although that technical development is unstoppable, we need to endeavour to design the workplace in such a way that it embraces change in the future –even though we may not know where that may come from.
But, whatever you do – do it with a smile on your face.