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'The Future Belongs to the Happy'

February 7, 2008 By:
Diana Aydin, JE Feature
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Snack rooms with goodies like candy and fruit, lava lamps, video and sports games, gyms, massage therapists, shuttles, dry-cleaning, car washes and even top-notch dining that's free.

It's not a hotel or a day-care center.

It's just another day at Google in Mountain View, Calif., where happiness at work "is a huge priority," according to spokeswoman Sunny Gettinger.

"We design our perks and benefits programs to aid the work-life balance: When people can complete many of the more mundane daily tasks while at work, they have free time to really relax at home, and make healthy choices overall," she says.

From team-building to unique perks, Google is a model of workplace happiness. The company was recently ranked No. 1 on Fortune's 2008 "100 Best Companies to Work for" list.

But you don't have to be a California-based engineer to enjoy a happy workplace.

"There is a huge interest in happiness at work from companies all over the world these days," according to Alexander Kjerulf, author of Happy Hour Is 9 to 5: Learn How to Love Your Job, Create a Great Business and Kick Butt at Work.

Kjerulf, who also pens the blog positivesharing.com, and has consulted for companies like IBM and Lego, notes that the enjoyable-workplace trend isn't necessarily something new.

"We stopped regarding work as something inherently unpleasant gradually over the last few decades, mostly because of an increase in wealth," he explains. "When you're poor, work is mostly about survival. When you're well off, you can focus more on enjoying work."

As for the future, Kjerulf predicts that more and more companies will implement happy workplaces.

"Happiness at work is still the exception, but in just a few decades, it will be the norm," he feels.

However, he adds, there still exists a traditional view that work isn't supposed to be fun.

"Because the industrial age has taught us that work is hard and unpleasant -- that's why we get paid to do it," says Kjerulf. "It all goes back to the Protestant work ethic."

'Being Part of a Team'
Workplace happiness, however, could be needed more than ever, especially since job stress still affects a significant number of Americans in the workplace, according to the American Institute of Stress.

"Job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults, and has escalated progressively over the past decades," states Dr. Paul J. Rosch, president of the AIS and clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College.

Work stress not only negatively affects absenteeism and turnover, but "is also very costly, with the price tag for U.S. industry estimated at over $300 billion annually," according to the AIS Web site stress.org.

But work doesn't have to be boring or stressful. Making an office happy isn't just about fancy perks; rather, it's often about less tangible things, like work fulfillment and "being part of a team," according to Kjerulf.

"Most companies get it wrong," says Kjerulf. "They try to create happiness at work through raises, bonus schemes or perks. This is doomed to fail, because [none] of these motivate people."

But if companies do get it right, and workers are happy and motivated, both employees and company could see results, he believes.

"In fact, happy workplaces have significantly lower absenteeism rates overall," he reports. "Unhappy workplaces can easily have absenteeism rates of 20 percent or more, while happy companies hover around 1 percent to 2 percent."

For a company like Wegmans, a supermarket chain that was listed No. 3 on Fortune's list, happiness is also about employee advancement and education.

The Wegmans Scholarship Program "has awarded $63 million in tuition assistance to more than 20,000 employees since it was started in 1984," and employee turnover is about "half the industry average," according to Jo Natale, Wegmans' director of media relations and consumer services.

Google also has an impressive list of benefits that support working parents, nonprofit organizations and even the environment.

"Some of the benefits available to parents include emergency child-care reimbursement, $500 for take-out meals for the first four weeks following the birth of a new child, as well as financial assistance for adoptions," says Gettinger. "One of our newer benefits is the residential solar program, which offers incentives to Googlers to put solar panels on the home."

"Physical space matters," writes Kjerulf. "It's easier to be productive, creative and happy at work in a colorful, organic, playful environment than in a gray, linear, boring one."

"Workspaces are designed for collaboration and interaction," adds Gettinger. "Few Googlers have their own offices, allowing teams to discuss and make decisions quickly in a collaborative environment."

Kjerulf names companies like Google, Southwest Airlines and Disney as American models of happy workplaces.

"Semco in Brazil [is] probably the wildest example," he says. "They let employees set their own work times and choose their own salary."

Kjerulf expects more and more companies to adapt to the happy workplace model in the future. Already, he notes, younger workers are less tolerant of "boring jobs, unfair treatment and bad management."

"People will go to work fully expecting to enjoy themselves and do great work," he claims. "There is one simple reason why this is so: Happy companies are so much more efficient and profitable than their unhappy competitors that they will win out in the marketplace. That's why the future belongs to the happy." 

 

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