There are an overwhelming number of articles on the subject of wellbeing and happiness in the workplace. Many companies are racing to provide the most innovative ideas to show that their employees will be the “happiest”: special scheduling of work hours, unlimited leave, appointing a Chief Happiness Officer (CHO), etc. Some have even provided games, areas for naps and ‘biospheres’, like the ones that Amazon recently set up on its campus in Seattle.
Many of these ideas would have seemed strange just 5 years ago, because they are outside the confines of what a company should do, which is not to keep its employees happy, but rather to provide products and services! We can therefore wonder why this concept has become so popular. Are these companies trying to increase their prestige or attract key profiles by strengthening their employer brand with the concept of “happiness”? Remember that the first Chief Happiness Officers appeared in Google’s offices in San Francisco to keep the engineers happy so they wouldn’t leave the company for a competitor.
A passing fad or a real priority for companies?
There has indeed been an enormous amount of press on the subject, but behind terms such as ‘wellbeing’ and ‘happiness’ we find the concepts of ‘quality of life at work’ and employees’ health that should be taken into account. Let’s not confuse the quality of life at work with wellbeing at work: the first is covered by legislation, while the second is used to boost employee engagement (as seen at Google). There has been a great deal of controversy on recognizing burnout as an occupational disease. Legislators have had difficulty in deciding whether or not burnout, and all its symptoms, should be classified as such.
Has work-related stress become such an important factor that companies will go to great lengths to improve the quality of life in the workplace? Research is currently being conducted at universities on how to make employees happy. This includes Raj Raghunathan at the University of Texas, Rosabeth Moss Kanter at Harvard Business School and Srikumar Rao at Columbia Business School. They all agree that a happy employee is more productive. However, a number of experts and professionals are warning against the risks of a system that could lead to employees becoming ‘over-engaged.
Quality of life at work and overall health
A policy to enhance the quality of life in the workplace depends on the quality of top management. It also depends on finding a balance between private life and professional life (despite the possibility of being in contact 24/7 via smartphones and tablets) and on the quality of the work environment with preventive measures implemented to reduce work-related stress.
According to the “accord national interprofessionnel” agreement of June 13, 2013, on the subject of “Determining a policy to improve the quality of life in the workplace and promote equal opportunity”, several issues need to be addressed during negotiations: “The quality of commitment of all at all levels, the quality of the information shared within the company, the quality of the working relationships, the quality of social relations, based on active social dialog, the quality of work schedule implementation methods, the quality of the work content, the quality of the physical work environment, the possibility of personal development, the possibility of balancing professional and private life, and compliance with equal opportunity.” (Excerpt from ‘l’Accord National Interprofessionnel du 19 juin 2013’).
This agreement ensures that companies include the concept of quality of life in the workplace in their mandatory annual negotiations.
An increasing number of startups in this emerging market
Things are changing and companies will certainly be working towards their employees’ wellbeing because they now know that people are their greatest resources and this is especially true during periods of growth and ‘war for talent’. Employees, on the other hand, have learned that they are in a strong position to negotiate their working conditions. According to a Monster/Ifop survey, employees feel that the following are important for wellbeing in the workplace: superiors that are open to communication (42%), social gatherings for all employees (31%), additional days of leave (28%), a more flexible work schedule (27%) and an employer that supports social, economic and environmental causes (33%). Only 12% found that a CHO was important.
Several platforms, such as Wittyfit, Weview and Octomine have appeared recently to assess measure and manage the quality of life in the workplace, making sure that employees can freely express themselves on the subject, by regularly asking them questions on the social climate, the quality of top management and how they feel.
There have been many attempts to make things easier for employees with applications such as Youdoo (platform used within the company to set up events between employees), GeoLocaux (algorithm used to find the best office location based on employees’ transportation) and Never Eat Alone, which allows employees to set up lunches with each other.
The arrival of numerous startups focusing on happiness in the workplace, that are a part of the ‘le Lab RH’ association or that use the ‘HappyTech’ label, are a sign that this is a promising market!