30/07/2015

By Tom Marsden, CEO of people analytics company Saberr

People work for their colleagues, not their companies

Apart from the money surely? People obviously work for money. But if recent studies are to be believed, often it’s one’s social fabric in the workplace that is the key to achieving happiness in the office.

In his book ‘Happiness’, Richard Layard, a leading economist from the London School of Economics, challenges traditional assumptions about our real motivations in life. He discovers that people might be better off if they prioritised their relationships over their earnings, concluding that a nation’s wealth and its inhabitants’ quality of life do not necessarily correspond.

The same trend was apparent in the workplace. Professor John Helliwell from the University of British Columbia concluded that trust was one of the most highly regarded values at work. Staggeringly, the research found that, in terms of happiness and motivation for the employee, a one tenth increase in trust in management is equivalent to more than a one third increase in income.

In his book “Drive” Dan Pink also challenges the “carrot and stick” approach to workplace motivation. Individuals are motivated by an innate need to direct our own lives (autonomy) to learn and create new things (mastery), and to do better by ourselves and our world (purpose). He adds that a key part of autonomy is deciding the people we work with – our team.

Teams and team dynamics are often forgotten when it comes to maintaining and improving employee well-being. This comes despite this growing evidence that happy, productive individuals work within happy, productive teams. What can we do about this?

Take a more proactive managerial role

Managers can now become more thoughtful about designing and managing their teams; it’s becoming easier to be scientific in assembling teams that will work well together. Until recently managers have been all too passive when it comes to designing their teams. It’s important to focus not just on the skills the employees have, but the personalities and core values that drive these employees to do what they do.

Internal team formation with known parties is very reactive and unscientific, and even decisions about whether an external hire will be compatible with his/her team-members are still being driven primarily by gut feeling. There’s not enough thought going into intelligent, compatible team design.

The increasingly available data around team compatibility provides an important perspective to get team design right. Investing the time, applying good judgement and leveraging data will help build a happy and successful teams. These are the engine rooms of great organisations.

Make your work environment more sociable

In a list of 19 daily activities surveyed in Richard Layard’s 2003 study, working ranks as the second least enjoyable activity (with a ‘happiness index’ score of 2.7) despite the average 6.9 hours per day spent in the workplace. Socialising at work ranks significantly higher (3.8). Given this information, it would seem appropriate to blur the boundaries between these two activities to increase overall worker happiness.

In a 2012 case study carried out by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory it was found that certain scheduling changes could increase a call centre’s employees’ call handling time by 20% on average for low-performing teams, and 8% company wide, thus increasing company productivity. How was this result achieved? Scientists advised call centre bosses to schedule worker breaks to happen at the same time, allowing workers more opportunity to socialise. As a result of implementing this change across all 10 branches of the company, the manager forecasted $15 million per year in productivity increases.

There are also certain group dynamics that characterise high-performing teams; these include energy, creativity and shared commitment to surpass other teams. Gensler’s US workplace survey indicates that 67% of respondents felt they were more efficient when working closely alongside co-workers, while only 50% of workers believe that their current workplace design encourages innovation and creativity.

It’s time we started to engineer our workplace and work schedules to encourage networking and collaboration: studies show that, implemented correctly, these changes result in marked increases in employee wellbeing and performance.

Find out what makes quality leadership

“Strip leaders of the traditional tools of power and rely on facts to make decisions”. So says Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations at Google in his recent book ‘Work Rules’.

Evidence shows that the way the boss behaves in a company can have a huge impact on its employees’ well-being. Sadly, often the impact is negative. According to Layard’s research, the average happiness spent interacting with co-workers (2.6) quite significantly surpasses the average happiness spent interacting with one’s boss (2.0).*

There are a few things today’s business leaders can do to narrow this gap. First, the right employees need to be connected to the right managers. Managers need to be encouraged to lead without exercising arbitrary authority: truly great managers will listen more than they will talk. Employees need to feel like their managers are a part of their team, and are on an equal footing with them.

The evidence speaks for itself. We’re at a point where research into the science behind well-being is producing is beginning to produce what looks like conclusive results: the happiness of our employees relies on the network of colleagues around them.

Most companies have yet to fully take advantage of the interpersonal dynamics of their teams to increase performance. To do this successfully data, which is already leveraged so heavily in other areas of corporate strategy, needs to be consistently applied to internal team formation. While of course there are many factors up to the individual in question whether they will thrive in a workplace, having the right teams in place provides an excellent head start.

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