You can’t please everyone, but you can try to make the vast majority happy.
Happiness at work is a really tough thing to achieve. Are we ever going to be as happy at work as we are in our free time? Probably not. Can we still make sure that people are happy at work (but maybe a bit less happy than on the weekends)? Absolutely, and that’s what all companies should be actively striving for.
Happiness at work doesn’t just happen, though - it’s a complex sum of many parts, but the common thread through all of those parts is freedom. So, how can you give employees freedom?
We’ve chosen two ways that we think you can offer freedom to employees, without sacrificing productivity or performance. In fact, you’ll likely enhance it as happier employees are more engaged employees.
One thing that the pandemic has definitely taught us is that work and life cannot be separated.
As human beings, freedom makes us happy. We can rationalise a lack of freedom if there is a reason for it. For example, we restrict ourselves from eating three tubs of ice cream because we know that it’s bad for our health and therefore we’ll regret it.
A 9-5 desk job is inherently restrictive. This working pattern was developed by Henry Ford because of the fact that in order for people to be able to do their jobs, they needed to be in the office or factory where the technology physically was. Now, this is not the case for a large proportion of the workforce so this restriction is hard to rationalise.
What employee A wants is probably different to what employee B wants. Therefore, giving people freedom to choose (within reason, we’re not saying that they should be given the option to work on the moon) is likely to increase their happiness.
If you had a terrible night’s sleep then being able to work from home has a drastic impact on how you feel that day. Knowing that your week only requires 4 hours of commuting rather than 10 hours means you have the freedom to fit in breakfast with your dog while reading the paper, or an early evening swim. These choices are key to making employees happy.
Think about what could work for your company.
Could you change the set working hours to more flexible core hours of 11-3 so that people can come in a bit later or leave a bit earlier?
Could you restrict mandatory office time to the front end of the week, cordoning off face to face collaboration time so that you can get the benefits of the office, with the freedom of choosing where you work?
Could you allow dogs in the office so that dog owners don’t have to pay extra to put their dog in day care and add more travel time onto their commute?
There are dozens of ways that flexibility can be incorporated into your working environment, it’s not all about working from home.
Providing benefits that appeal to everybody is one of the toughest things a company can get right, especially in the sphere of mental health and wellbeing. The fact that our health strikes such a personal chord means that, by its very nature, a one-size-fits-all approach is rarely going to work.
So why have so many companies used that approach? Up until recently, it has been because there’s been no alternative. Aside from standard Personal Medical Insurance, pensions and Employee Assistance Programs, instituting a support framework that touches all aspects of the continuum that is our mental state is treacherous to say the least.
Especially in a time like this, our mental health requires thoughtful preventative measures that touch our hectic and complex lifestyles across a whole gamut of diverse people and circumstances.
What has been found to be extremely impactful is putting employees in control of their own wellbeing programme and allowing them to define what ‘wellbeing’ means to them. For parents, that might be accessing child care when they need it. For young graduates, that might be tapping into a community of like-minded people. For stressed managers, it might be speaking to a counsellor.
Only by facilitating the empowerment of employees, and connecting them to the right choices that are actually going to make a difference to their lives, can we start moving the needle on mental health.
Having crisis-oriented initiatives such as therapy and mental health first aid are important, undoubtedly, but we need to encourage more prevention through the choice of lifestyle benefits.
Having flexibility in work and life is the key to success in both domains.
In times like these, of immense turbulence and uncertainty, we need to look at each other as entire beings - not workers, or managers, or senior leadership and ‘everybody else’. Our entire selves are involved now, and putting autonomy at the top of the list is key in ensuring we safeguard the future of work and ultimately, our future.