Happier employees are better employees

Friday’s post about Google’s study on work/life balance raised questions about the relationship between employee productivity and happiness, and how both can be maximized. Economists from the University of Warwick recently published a paper on the same topic. The economists tested over 700 participants’ performance on a simple math quiz after feeding chocolate and fruit to one group, playing a stand-up comedy videos for a second group—and then giving an unfed,  unamused third group the same test. Somewhat unsurprisingly, those who were given food and shown the stand-up routine performed better on the test.

As we discussed on Friday, doing a good job is its own reward, and it’s easy to imagine that the participants who performed well on the test left with a sense of well-being separate from the ones induced by chocolate and comedy. What does this mean for companies? How can you set employees up for success, build a pattern of productivity, and promote a self-sustaining culture of happiness and well-being?

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A scientific approach to work/life balance

“After more than a decade in People Operations, I believe that the experience of work can be — should be — so much better.”

With all due respect, most of us reached the same conclusion by the end of the first week of our careers.

More seriously:

We all have our opinions and case studies, but there is precious little scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, cultivate high performing teams, maximize productivity, or enhance happiness.

Google is doing a major, longitudinal study about work/life balance and the factors that shape employee attitudes and behaviors. One outcome should be a better understanding of the well-being of workers. But there may be other benefits as well:

Beyond work-life balance there are any number of fascinating puzzles that we hope this longitudinal approach can help solve. For a given type of problem, what diverse characteristics should a team possess to have the best chance of solving it? What are the biggest influencers of a satisfying and productive work experience? How can peak performance be sustained over decades? How are ideas born and how do they die? How do we maximize happiness and productivity at the same time?

That last question is a good one. One answer is that productivity can be a component of happiness. I’m not sure where I fall on Google’s spectrum of “Segmentors,” who uncouple work stress from the rest of their lives, and “Integrators’” who never quite unplug. Work is in my mental RAM even on weekends, but I also take the time to walk my dog during the workday. Feels like balance to me.

Workforce research: Inputs and outputs

At the core of our research project are a pair of surveys aimed at discovering best practices in global talent management and helping shape the creation of talent strategies for the future. One survey involves  2,600 C-level executives and direct reports, screened for knowledge of HR strategy, while the other goes out to 2,600 non-executive employees. We’ll also be conducting 26 executive interviews to gain qualitative insights into workforce strategy.

Survey responses and interview subjects will come from a broad range of countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, UK, and US.

After our survey results come in, we’ll release an executive summary of the research paper, four think pieces that explore specific research themes, four interactive infographics to accompany the think pieces, and 26 country fact sheets to present key data for local audiences. We’ll also be participating in a live speaking event and a webinar.

Throughout the research program, we’ll be updating this blog regularly with relevant research as well as our own survey data, and of course, we’ll let you know when we release new content and where you can find it.

The workforce of the future

Jean-François_Millet_-_Gleaners_-_Google_Art_Project_2Nothing is more critical to the success of a business than its people. Workforce issues have become a high-level strategic concern in a global, technology-saturated economy — and a growing challenge as well. Executives must make sure that talent and skills are available when and where they’re needed, and that the shifting expectations of a diverse, mobile employee population are Chaplin_-_Modern_Timesanticipated and satisfied.

Employees, meanwhile, have come a long way from the old days of field and factory (represented here by the work of Jean-François Millet and Charlie Chaplin). They must compete for jobs with people around the world, and master a changing set of skills, and adapt to the demands an ever-changing economy. At the same time, they want jobs that fit their personal and generational preferences for compensation, workplace environment, and meaning.

How well are executives prepared for the challenges of Workforce 2020? How many of them have a strategic vision, much less an action plan, and how well do those plans match the views of their employees? The answers will help determine financial results and competitive outcomes, and separate the winners from the rest of the pack.

These issues are the focus of this blog and the research program behind it. Over the next several months we’ll share results from our global surveys of 2,600 executives and 2.600 non-executive employees in 26 countries; publish excerpts from our series of exclusive interviews with corporate decision-makers; analyze news and break down trends; and preview the original reports and infographics that come out of our research. We’ll also share expert opinion and insight – including yours, if you wish to join in.

Look for us on Twitter and LinkedIn, too.