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Building Happy Workplaces – What can we learn from the world’s happiest workers?

Building Happy Workplaces – What can we learn from the world’s happiest workers?

What difference does it make if you are happy at work? And what impact can your working environment have on your stress levels? With recent research clearly demonstrating that the happiest workers find meaning in their job, work at a less hectic pace and enjoy natural environments, it’s clear that businesses can use the opportunity of hybrid working to rethink where and how to get the best from their employees.

That isn’t to say that everyone should bin the office and go and work in the forest. But at the very least, we should consider the factors that make the workplace such a stressful place and do what we can to mitigate that.

The Washington Post recently shared data on the world’s happiest workers, revealing which industries have the most meaningful, least stressful jobs. Unsurprisingly, traditionally desk-based professions, such as finance, insurance, and professional services, slipped to the bottom of the table with outdoorsy jobs in agriculture and forestry coming out on top.

Whilst we can’t expect every banker, consultant, and lawyer to don a lumberjack shirt, there are certainly lessons to be learnt from the world’s happiest workers.

1. The great outdoors

In addition to looking at the happiest industries, The Washington Post also explored the activities that bring us joy. The sports, exercise, and recreation category was almost top of the tree, beaten only by religious and spiritual activities. When looking at both tables together, the chart toppers share one thing – the great outdoors. This isn’t ground-breaking – we know nature makes us feel good – but this piece of research shows a correlation between being outside and our happiness at work.

In roles that require a laptop, a power connection, and Wi-Fi, getting your daily dose of Vitamin D isn’t always easy, particularly in the winter months. It’s all too easy to be consumed by work and neglect the things we know are good for us, like time outside. As business leaders and team managers, it’s important to encourage your employees to get outdoors if they are able, and even more important to lead by example.

At Silicon Reef, we try and encourage time outdoors wherever possible. Some team members opt for joining company meetings from the park or garden, and team lunches are more pizza in the park than doughnuts at your desk. We also run step challenges a few times a year to get us up and about. And a little healthy competition can be a great motivator to get moving.

Even if your reason for spending more time outdoors is simply to come top of the leader board, the mental benefits are still the same. If step challenges aren’t your thing, perhaps it’s time to consider investing in outdoor spaces where your employees can enjoy nature and be productive. Many organisations are re-evaluating their offices to become collaborative hubs rather than rows of desk. As part of this evaluation, consider how enhancing the outdoor space at your office could have just as much impact as refreshing your indoor space. A terrace or garden space designed to accommodate group meetings, individual work, or social gatherings may be of far greater benefit than a garden that just looks nice.

2. Finding meaning

Workers that find more meaning in their roles are happier overall, even if their job is typically one that comes with high levels of stress. Health and social care professionals, for example, find their work highly meaningful and as such feature higher in the happiness charts than many less stressful roles.

Not every profession may be as obviously meaningful as saving lives, but we can still help our employees to find meaning in what they do.

Connecting your people to your mission and your values is the first step towards helping your employees to find meaning. As leaders, it’s important to convey that there is more purpose in your organisation’s strategies than simply driving revenue and acquiring customers. The values you convey as part of your brand should be championed just as fiercely to your internal team as to your customers.

Having a dedicated intranet page or hub site that clearly defines your organisational mission, vision, and values is a fantastic way to help your team feel connected to a common purpose, and can also be a valuable onboarding tool for new starters.

Using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) can help employees see how their work makes a difference at an individual level. By understanding how their daily tasks impact the overall business goals employees can more easily find the greater meaning in what they do. Viva Goals is one of the newest additions to Microsoft Viva and is a great way to help you identify, share, and track your organisation’s OKRs. It even breaks goals down to team and individual level, so your people can tangibly see the impact their work is having.

3. Consider your workplace

The Washington Post’s research also explores the happiest places on earth, considering how meaningful and stressful we find various locations. The workplace was listed as the most stressful place – more than twice as stressful as being outdoors, at the gym, or at a restaurant. And, whilst the workplace does have more meaning than other locations in the list, like the bus or the grocery store, the high levels of stress it can evoke pulls it down towards the bottom of the happiness list. The bank is the only place less happy than the workplace. Take from that what you will.

As organisations continue to navigate hybrid working and returning to the office, the impact the work environment has on happiness levels must be a key consideration. The least happy industries – of insurance, finance, and professional services – are typically the ones with the most in-office time. Is that a coincidence? Or should we be doing more to make the office a happier place to be?

Reducing unnecessary time in the office in favour of less stressful work environments – like your own home, someone else’s home, or a third workplace can make a significant difference to stress depending on whether you thrive in quiet, ambient noise, or a bustling situation. If possible, you can redesign your office layout to create distinct areas for individual work, collaborative work, and downtime, or use colour and soft furnishings to make your work environment feel more familiar and comforting, and less sterile.

4. Slow it down

Another reason why agricultural and forest workers find so much happiness in their work, says The Post, is because that style of work – at the mercy of the elements and aligned with natural rhythms – forces you to work at a slower pace and look at the bigger picture. “There’s a point where you are now planting trees that you are not going to see harvested,” says Leslie Boby from SR Extension Forestry, “ It speaks to something larger than yourself. … Your work is living on, and someone else will benefit from your efforts in a tangible way.”When applied to a desk-based world, the message to slow down is an important one. Often, we’re so consumed by getting results today and seeing an immediate impact that we forget to take a step back.

The small steps we make every day all help to build towards a future that others can benefit from – and if we don’t slow down, we won’t enjoy the journey.

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