A view from Sue Unerman

Why happiness at work matters

What would make you happier at work? On a scale of one to five, how do you feel about your role in the company?

Both questions are lifted from Jeff Sutherland’s new book, Scrum: The Art Of Doing Twice The Work In Half The Time.

In many sectors, including media agencies, we need to do more work in less time. In the last decade, the number of channels and considerations required to produce a plan that is connected, has no silos and delivers effective outcomes has obviously increased. The automation that will take time out of the process is not yet fully established.

So Sutherland’s idea is an attractive one. More work, less time. How interesting that the method to get there is rooted in happiness.

How happy are you in your job?

I’ve met two people recently, both in their forties, who are counting the days until they retire. One is a minicab driver – of course, the traffic in London in recent weeks is enough to make anyone miserable. The other is a senior media executive with a great job. It seems to me that they are not spending enough time thinking about what would make them happier in their roles and too much time planning how to escape them.

This summer, I had lunch with a man who was planning to leave the business within months. He’s very analytical. He had calculated that 90 per cent of the time, he was in meetings or at work-relatd social events that he hated.

As we enter an era of great change, with the rise of robots in one form or another being capable of more and more tasks, the greatest consideration at work should move from efficiency to happiness. After all, the robots can provide the former. Only people can find the latter.

People usually say it is other people who make them happy. The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that this is beause, deep down, we are still pack animals. We want approval from the leaders of our communities. This is one reason why great management can make people happy. People want the recognition of the alpha. Our survival is no longer as dependent on it as it once was but, in the workplace, it can feel crucial to have your boss recognise and approve of you.

If you work at a company where your boss never appears except on their way to an important meeting (or golf course) without you and they do not notice what you do, then it can be very hard to be happy about your working day. We are like chimps in that respect – we want affirmation from the leader.

Haidt, however, adds that we are also "part-bee". This is crucial to our happiness too. Bees work for a common cause, not just for individual recognition. They don’t compete with each other within the hive. The hive works together to make honey and ensure the survival of the next generation. A hive-like workplace is one where teams work together for a common goal. There is less focus on an alpha leader recognising an individual and more on celebrating everyone in the team.

Bees are (arguably) happier and definitely more productive than chimps. So perhaps more happiness makes for more effective ways of working.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom