Interview: Happiness at Work Is Important
How do you perceive today's companies’ approach towards employees?
We do not respect people as humans. Businesses say we need to work like a well-lubricated machine. In this parallel, however, we are struggling to see that the gears are people. We expect them to be professional at work and after eight hours flip a switch and start living their normal lives, but it does not work that way.
A person lives at work as well and occasionally their work influences their life, and vice versa. When we try to separate these two worlds, we have to talk about work-life balance, as if work and life were separate. But happiness at home and at work are two interconnected vessels, and therefore, we should not separate happiness at work from the rest of our life.
What is the solution to this?
The so-called turquoise companies, which respect people, go in the right direction. Unlike in hierarchical companies, there is something called psychological safety working there – people can be who they really are, without fear of being sacked. They work in small groups, make deeper friendships and are not forced to strictly divide their lives at work from the lives that come after hours. In addition, turquoise companies are based on power distribution – employees decide the company's direction. Therefore, they have greater power but greater responsibilities as well.
In what other aspects are these companies different from traditional ones?
In traditional companies, you have something called information hierarchy. People do not share information and those who own it are more powerful. Turquoise companies are much more transparent, and people can access information freely. Generally, a number of practices or "rituals" can be found in such firms. They do not only focus on the purpose and goals of the organization, but also on building relationships between people and using their potential.
Whose job is it to introduce these principles into the company?
Culture must always come from the person who founded and/or leads the organization. Their willingness to suppress their own ego is essential. Turquoise organizations can work only if founders recognize that other people can help them and that it is actually people who make the company. Ideally, company culture should be included in the founder's vision. However, happiness managers can also help shift company culture or introduce new habits. It is important to realize that company values are always a reflection of the values of the leader. If the boss considers people to be easily replaceable components, hiring a happiness manager will not solve much.
Still, a lot of big companies think it will.
Well, then it ends up with a happiness manager decorating the office and buying bananas because they are unable to do much else. But this will not bring happiness to people. People are not stupid and they know if the leadership is serious about them.
Do you think big companies and corporations are interested in changing their deep-rooted structures?
I think, unfortunately, it is often a hypocrisy on their part. It's hard to transform these big organizations and make them work on these principles. For small businesses and startups, it's a lot easier. Everything depends on the leader. On the other hand, we live in a unique time. We have had the longest period without war and we are doing great. Most businesses no longer deal with how to survive, but how to find fulfillment. We have lived in hierarchies for thousands of years, but we are gradually discovering new types of organizations we did not know before. Today there are even different types of organizations co-existing with each other.
Do you know any successful turquoise companies?
In the Netherlands, for example, there is an organization called Buurtzorg which provides home care. They have 14,000 employees who self-organize. From the beginning, the company was not focused on numbers, but on its employees, customers, and, above all, on its purpose. Gradually, thanks to their unique attitude, they defeated other firms on the market because their customers feel they are taken good care of. Other examples are Favi, a French foundry; Patagonia, an outdoor appliance manufacturer; Morning Star, a tomato producer; or the German ESBZ school. Even we, at mDevCamp, are learning to work with these principles.
Are these companies really more efficient?
I think so. When people are happier, they are nicer to each other and to customers. Who could be a better bearer of a company’s vision than its own employees? Today, unfortunately, people often take the approach that “They pay me, I will do my work really quickly and then go home.” If a company focuses only on numbers and business goals, it will have its goals fulfilled, but nothing else.
What recommendations do you have?
Think from the start about what type of organization you want to have. It’s good to establish a good relationship between founders and to build psychological security within the whole company. In the early days of our business, we used to have coaching discussions with co-founders, which helped us to clarify our deepest feelings and motivations and build strong relationships. We were able to build our company, which is characterized by its open and frank communication, based on these foundations.