Opinion

Are you happy?

In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Brooke Hemphill reveals the results of our industry-wide mental health check and asks what our bosses could be doing to make us happy.

Some days are diamonds, most days are stones and nobody likes work on Mondays. So says Encore’s survey of more than 1,000 media, marketing and entertainment industry professionals that found 31.5 per cent of people are happy at work every day.

A further 29.9 per cent are happy four out of five working days while 23.6 per cent are happy on three out of five days. Only 1.2 per cent of respondents are unhappy every day.

Dr Timothy Sharp, a positive psychology practitioner and founder of The Happiness Institute, an organisation that helps companies to cultivate workplace happiness, says these figures are fairly standard for the Australian workforce.

“It varies a little from industry to industry, but if you look across the board about 70 to 80 per cent of people will say they are happy most of the time. Very few people are happy all of the time and that’s actually an important point to make,” he said.

According to Dr Sharp, there are several factors that contribute to our happiness in the workplace starting with the basics – a fair and reasonable wage and physical safety. “Beyond that we get into some of the more subtle issues and one of them is job security,” he said.

For those whose workload changes from week to week such as casual workers, contractors and freelancers, or people that feel their job is at risk, the uncertainty can be stressful.

With waves of redundancies across the industry in 2012, job security is clearly top of mind for many. More than 76 per cent of respondents to Encore’s survey feel uncertain about the coming year and several intimated specific concerns including: “When I have work, I am happy every day. When I am out of work or forced to take work outside the industry, none,” and “Our division has been abolished so no job very soon”.

The next factor that impacts upon our happiness is a slightly loftier sentiment – meaningful work. Dr Sharp said: “We know that people who perceive their jobs to be purposeful and meaningful – above and beyond just ticking off a to-do list – have much higher rates of satisfaction.”

The chief marketing officer for Commonwealth Bank, Andy Lark, who has led the marketing teams of global brands, start-ups and communications agencies, reckons meaningful work is key. “They want to do meaningful work. They want to feel they’re making a difference and also having an impact,” he said.

Carolyn Maloney, who runs consultancy Mad People specialising in people management in the media and advertising industry, says passion is one of the most powerful drivers for happiness in the workplace.

“If people can say they love what they do, they will stay in a company and do great things, but I don’t think companies are understanding how to harness this passion for business success,” she said.

Continuing with Dr Sharp’s hierarchy of workplace needs, next on the list is friendship. “If you’ve got friends that you work with, if you feel you’re part of a community or like you belong to something, that leads to much higher levels of happiness,” said Dr Sharp.

The newly arrived managing director at Sydney media agency Initiative, Annick Perrin, has established a reputation for building positive company culture and helped to establish one of the best media agency cultures in her previous post at Ikon. She believes friendship is the most important factor in generating workplace happiness.

Perrin said: “It’s really critical, from my experience. That’s what gets you through the good times and more challenging times. And it allows you to give really constructive feedback because there’s a lot of trust in a friendship.”

BMF managing partner Stephen McArdle agrees. He said: “If you’re doing 10 to 12 hours a day, it’s bearable if you’re doing it with a mate sitting across from you. If you’re having fun and enjoying it, it doesn’t feel like 12 hours.”

Oh happy day

So how important is happiness at work? Surely it is secondary to, well, just doing your job? Dr Sharp says for some organisations, this is very much the case.

He said: “It is based on a misunderstanding that happiness is somehow frivolous or a waste of time. They think, ‘if I see you smiling then you’re obviously not working hard enough and I should give you more work’ and that’s unfortunately quite common, particularly in more conservative ‘serious’ organisations.”

But according to research, there is good reason to make happiness a priority. One study conducted by a team of economists at Warwick Business School in England found a clear link between worker’s happiness and productivity. Through a series of experiments, the economists deduced that happier workers are 12 per cent more productive while unhappy workers are 10 per cent less productive.

Dr Sharp said: “In very simple terms, happy workers are better workers and by that I don’t mean slapping on a fake smile or pretending to laugh when really you’re crying inside.”

Looking across the industry landscape, the most happy people work in television. According to data from Encore’s survey, TV professionals are happy on average 3.96 days. This is followed closely by radio on 3.92 days with agency staff next on 3.76. The least happy are newspaper staff who are happy on average 3.47 days, perhaps unsurprising given the recent layoffs at both Fairfax and News Limited. But it is the happiness of agency staff that raises the greatest debate.

Mad People’s Maloney said: “There’s more great places to work in the media industry than the creative industry because the media industry has done a lot more work in this space. They’re also taking part in surveys. MediaCom, Ikon and OMD all take part in the Great Place To Work survey. There’s not one creative agency that takes part in that survey.”

Cassie Sacks, human resources director at Sydney ad agency The Works, who has previously worked for media agencies, says while there may be more focus on culture and people management in media agencies, there is a good reason why.

“Without bagging the media industry, I think it’s because the kind of work that people do there is more mundane. So to retain people they need to be able to keep them happy and have a great working culture whereas advertising agencies have interesting work so haven’t had to invest in culture as much,” said Sacks. She believes change is coming as more creative agencies focus on people, as evidenced by her own appointment at The Works.

BMF’s McArdle agrees the nature of the work is he greatst influence. “In the creative department, happiness is bound to the quality of the work that actually gets made because there’s always a big drop off between the number of ideas you come up with and the number that are actually seen by the big wide world. That also resonates out across the whole agency. Not to sound too spiritual, but an agency marches on its confidence. That goes back to recruiting people that give off the right sort of energy.”

Both McArdle and Commbank’s Lark agree that happiness begins with who you put in the building. Lark said: “You have to hire people into an environment that fits who they are, where they want to be and what they want to do.”

Shiny happy people

Ultimately, whose responsibility is happiness in the workplace? Is it the individual’s or management’s? Sacks said: “It’s both. A lot of the responsibility falls on the managers to provide an environment that is happy and engaged but the individual also needs to be able to speak up and talk about their needs.”

Mad People’s Maloney says management responsibility is key as 95 per cent of unhappy people leave managers not companies.

“If employees are happy with their managers and how they manage, coach, guide and lead them, there’s more propensity for them to stay,” she said.

In 2012, Lark told the audience at the Mumbrella360 conference “don’t work for arseholes”. He maintains this is vital to workplace happiness as is mutual respect. “You can have your foosball tables and bar and all the great things you can ever dream of but if the person you’re working for doesn’t respect you and respect what you’re trying to achieve then it’s really hard to be happy,” he said.

That said, Lark is the first to admit keeping staff happy is a challenge. “It’s really hard to manage other people’s happiness. There are so many other things going on in their lives that are going to determine their state of mind. Life is so much bigger than the eight to 10 hours we might spend together in the workplace and often as a leader you’re only spending a fragment of your time with the people you’re working with,” he said.

Taking this into account, Dr Sharp recommends small ways managers can make a difference, starting with thanking and acknowledging their teams for a job well done. “Too many organisations take their best people for granted. There’s always good people doing good things. In the worst organisations, people will look at them and say ‘well, she’s just doing her job. Why should I thank her?’ But the best organisations and the best managers walk up to you and say ‘fantastic, thanks for that.’ It’s a ridiculously simple thing. It costs nothing and it takes three seconds of your time but we know that organisations that have a culture in which gratitude and appreciation is expressed often tend to outperform comparable organisations.”

Lark says his team takes this approach one step further. “At the start of our weekly leadership team meeting we talk about the people we want to recognise who did great work and it’s not about their manager recognising them. It’s about getting the other members of the leadership team to recognise them. Someone will say to me: ‘Hey Andy, can you give this person a call. They did a really amazing job on a direct mail campaign or they did a really great job on managing a PR launch’,” he said.

For the small percentage of people unhappy at work, experts suggest finding a way to love the job you have.

Dr Sharp said: “If we can’t change what we do, we can change our attitude. It means appreciating the best bits of what you do rather than getting bogged down in the crappy bits. You can flip that around and say ‘what are all the best things about my job, what are the best things about the people I work with’.”

And Dr Sharp suggests that if you are unhappy at your workplace, you may not be alone.

He said: “Chances are the other people around you are probably having problems as well and many people would love something to change, but they’re waiting for someone else to do it.”

Brooke Hemphill

This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.

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