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The new C-suite position: Chief Happiness Officer

By Ewout Holst, Head: Corporate Solutions, Sub-Saharan Africa, JLL
Google is probably most famous for it. The introduction of new workplace fads designed to make us happier, more fulfilled staff members. Stairs replaced by slides. Brainstorming over a game of pool. Fine tuning that algorithm from the comfort of a bean bag. Sure, all could be nice-to-haves depending on your office environment, but we know that happiness and fulfilment at work goes far beyond that.

Helping people to feel good at work is more than a box-ticking exercise in trying to achieve work-life balance. This is clear in the results of JLL’s global research project on the subject: Workplace Powered by Human Experience. Undertaken in consultation with 40 global corporates, this research included a survey of over 7,300 employees from 12 different countries across the world, including South Africa.  The report reveals how companies stand to benefit in measureable ways once they realise that the experience they create for their people in the workplace goes to the heart of those employees’ levels of engagement, sense of empowerment and feelings of fulfilment at work.

So much more than fun and games
Our report found that 77% of South African employees rank ‘happiness’ as the biggest contributor to a unique work experience, compared to 69% of global respondents.

Importantly though, only 6% thought that a workplace should facilitate games. What this indicates is that perhaps there is a disconnect between what employees want from their workplaces, and what employers think they want. Employees want their workplaces to provide them a good, if not great, level of comfort and make them happy and content about their work, but they clearly don’t think games and novelties are the best way to do this.

A custodian of wellbeing 
The South African workforce is broadly supportive of a dedicated role to drive happiness at work – some 90% of you think having a CHO would be a promising idea. With support higher here than in many other countries surveyed, the case for companies to appoint a Chief Happiness Officer at work (or equivalent) undoubtedly merits further consideration.

The trend of driving happiness in the workplace is certainly going mainstream in some of the world’s biggest corporations. No longer just the domain of the Silicon Valley, companies like Virgin (with its staff consultations on workspaces) are pioneering putting people at the centre of office design. It seems clear that many other businesses are getting ready to follow suit.

Get the balance right
What’s with this seemingly sudden focus on workplace happiness? Studies have proven that an inspiring work environment boosts productivity, efficiency and creativity. Managers are increasingly aware that they get the best from happy, fulfilled, engaged employees – with a real influence on the bottom line. At the same time, a new generation of employees are more demanding, searching for organisations whose ethos they believe in, and work environments in which they feel at home.

How do they do that? Our survey came up with some interesting answers. Workers are turning away from the traditional workplace. A sizable proportion are seeking an entrepreneurial and trusting culture (78%), space to share interests/hobbies with colleagues (66%), and a work environment that offers ‘hospitality and lifestyle’ close by (69%).

Find your happy place
To feel fulfilled, South African employees need to be happy and healthy at work. Empowered workers are often involved in designing their own physical surroundings and have access to a range of environments. Fulfilled workers know that their needs are catered for through the design of their workplace.

The good news is that the rigid structures of the traditional office environment are being overhauled.  There may still be a way to go but we are making our offices more human. And in South Africa, where employee engagement translates into unrivalled commitment and loyalty, companies must find ways to unlock this extraordinary potential.

JLL is a leading professional services firm that specialises in real estate and investment management. A Fortune 500 company, JLL helps real estate owners, occupiers and investors achieve their business ambitions. JLL has nearly 300 corporate offices, operations in over 80 countries and a global workforce of over 80,000.

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