Is Your Team Happy at Work?

Is Your Team Happy at Work? | IE-UK

In the latest edition of Steelcase’s Work Better magazine, researchers and thinkers reflect on the current state of happiness in the workplace, and what can be done to help us all find more joy.

First, some bad news:

Happiness seems in short supply

Research into employee’s current workplace experience is showing:

Workplace experience data from Steelcase

Source: Steelcase, Joy at Work

But less than a quarter of leaders say they feel the same way.

There’s clearly a disconnect between leadership and their teams which must be corrected if we’re going to retain and recruit the best people.

But we’ve been here before

Jeff Sutherland, in his seminal work ‘Scrum’ (published in 2014) famously identified how traditional workplaces made people unhappy. He showed how old-school hierarchical organisations made teams work in unproductive ways, robbing them of autonomy and stifling creativity. 

How traditional working practices made us unhappy 

This lack of productivity and purpose, he argued, equalled unhappiness for workers. In contrast, teams that were able to find their ‘flow’, who were self-directing, customer-focused and continuously improving, were always happier and healthier.

Equipped with this knowledge, Sutherland famously remarked. we can make the choice to build a happier workforce:

“Work doesn’t have to suck. It can flow; it can be an expression of joy, an alignment toward a higher purpose."

Agile tried to make us happier

Silicon Valley took this idea and ran with it, creating workplaces and organisations designed to bring frictionless ‘flow’ to their workers. Facebook, Google, and other companies famously designed their workplaces as campuses with amenities like cafes, gyms, and even sleeping pods to help their people work in exactly the way that suited them.

This agile working was all about face-to-face - and maybe never going home - about teams working together seamlessly to solve problems and be endlessly productive.

And then the pandemic happened.

The impact of the pandemic

In the latest Steelcase podcast, the thinker Barry Schwartz reflects on how the pandemic created a hiatus in society that made many of us stop and think about what we wanted from our lives.

According to Barry, the COVID-19 pandemic was a collective trauma that reshaped our relationship with work. It forced many organisations to adopt remote work, granting employees a new kind of autonomy that made them suddenly aware of how things could be different.

“The pandemic gave the workforce more leverage because we simply could not continue with business as usual.”

Barry Schwartz

The search for a new sense of happiness

While this shift brought about new challenges, such as blurred boundaries between work and personal life, it also highlighted the potential for a more flexible and satisfying work environment.

It gave many people, including groups not previously given much voice in the workplace, a new set of priorities and a new feeling of power (expressed in the great resignation).

Amongst these priorities was a desire for a more holistic sense of happiness, encompassing physical, social and mental wellbeing as well as professional satisfaction.

"People who are enthusiastic about their work, who have autonomy and responsibility in their work, who think their work is making some sort of a difference in the world do better work."

Barry Schwartz

What are the new priorities of a changed workforce?

  • Younger generations are more focused on finding fulfilling work (not always the biggest pay checks)

  • Neurodiverse people are focused on finding a voice - looking for more control in what can be overwhelming and unhappy environments

  • Across the age/role spectrum, people want a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their work

  • More of us want to use hybrid to find a better life/work balance

How can we help our people be happier in their work?

Barry Schwartz (and others) advocating for increased happiness in the workforce argue we should focus on some key areas of our workplace experience to achieve these aims.

Give workers more autonomy and control

Employees should have control over how and where they work. This can be achieved through flexible work arrangements and empowering employees to control their own working environments.

The importance of privacy

New Steelcase research says finding privacy and spaces to support wellbeing within the working day are now top priorities for workers.

Employers should design workplaces and choose furniture that allow for moments of quiet and deep focus.  

Post-Covid we definitely need to bring more people back to the office to bring them the joy of connection - but we also need to give them spaces to detach when they need to recharge.

Orangebox’s Away From the Desk range of furniture offers all kinds of opportunities for teams and individuals to find refuge and acoustic control, while still ‘being present’.

Orangebox - Away from the Desk

Source: Orangebox - Away from the Desk

Supporting hybrid - using technology to improve the hybrid experience

The agile pioneers thought ‘flow’ could only be found in face-to-face collaboration. But flexibility in work location brings many benefits from helping workers with life/work balance, to accessing an international labour market.  We need workplace design that brings us together wherever we are.

Steelcase’s Ocular table range is helping bridge the gap between office and virtual work.

These tables are designed to route, house and mount technology needed for video meetings. Unique table shapes cue people where to sit for optimal sight lines for those in the room and those who are remote.

Make work more meaningful

Employers should strive to offer roles that provide a greater sense of purpose. Whether through meaningful projects or opportunities for personal growth. Organisations should contribute positively to employees' lives and society at large.

But workplaces can also be built and organised to remind us ‘why we come to work’.

How is your company’s key commitments to sustainability or innovation expressed in your working environment?

Gooddee, a Canadian e-commerce company, surrounds its workers with examples of the world beating, sustainable products they curate. These objects are displayed like ornaments on shelving units that zone their workplace. The effect is homely and immersive, reminding their workers every day of their heritage and mission:

"You can’t do good work, you can’t be your fullest self if you don’t feel like you belong and are part of something. Where you work is a reflection of your company and it’s where people can feel a sense of belonging.

We designed our new office to reflect our culture and values and help people feel connected to the company and to each other. We don’t think of it as just an office, we naturally think of it as our home, as well.”

Byron Peart, Co-Owner, Goodee

Creating a sense of community and belonging

Increasing happiness is about increasing connections and feeling a valued part of a wider team.

Think about Olympic House, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOCs) head office in Switzerland. Their great central staircase, shaped like the five rings of the Olympic symbol, embodies the organisation's purpose in a physical metaphor, encouraging people from different departments to meet, talk and exchange ideas to further their collective goals.

Olympic house - 3xn

Olympic House - IOC Headquarters. Source: 3XN

But you don’t always need massive design statements to improve the sense of connection and collaboration in your business. There are plenty of examples of extraordinary ‘destination offices’ built with different kinds of resources and budgets in mind that work to bring teams together.

Provide more opportunity for learning and development

Continuous learning opportunities are vital. Organisations should offer both formal training and informal learning experiences within their environments, encouraging employees to grow and flourish in ways that work for them.

A new, radical learning centre in Germany, the study pavilion for the Technical University of Braunschweig, exemplifies where and how people feel most empowered to learn. Their building is an extraordinary modular space, where people can gather or nest to pursue collective or individual study objectives as their needs evolve.

We can emulate this commitment to learning in our own workspaces, by providing flexible workplaces, dotted with niches and technology for sharing knowledge and supporting study.

Steelcase offers a range of furniture to support active learning in a range of settings.

Steelcase flex collection

Source: The Steelcase Flex Collection

The future of happiness in the workplace

The insights in Work Better magazine around the evolving search for happiness in our workforce underscore the need for a fundamental shift in how we view and design work environments.

By focusing on meaningful work, autonomy, community, and continuous learning, companies can create workplaces that not only boost productivity but also enhance employee well-being and satisfaction.

As we navigate the hybrid work era, these principles will be key to unlocking happiness and meaning at work.

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