Stop trying to make the workplace happy, says Twitter chief

Why stepping away from technology and increasing reflection is better for wellbeing than perks

There is no correlation between perks and people actually feeling happier at work, according to Bruce Daisley, EMEA vice president at Twitter.

Speaking at Management Today’s Inspiring Women in Business Conference, Daisley said perks like “happiness weeks” or “smoothies and donuts” in the workplace did not lead to sustained happiness or higher productivity. 

“Employees who receive rewards for boring work are making themselves sick,” he said, pointing out the difference between ‘hedonic’ happiness, which is fleeting, and ‘eudonic’ happiness, which endures and is linked to meaning and values.

Daisley said advances in technology were harming productivity and creativity, with the length of the average working day increasing from seven to 9.5 hours since phones have been able to receive email. “Half of people who check their email outside of work are stressed,” he said. “So why not turn off the number on your email app? It seems trivial but the way we improve work will be through doing lots of little things.”

Daisley offered several tips for making workplaces happier and more productive:

  • 40 hours is enough
    “We need to break the cult of overwork,” said Daisley. Neuroscience, he explained, proves that the maximum capacity for the human mind to work is 55 hours per week, and workplaces should respect that. He added that stress kills creativity: “When your boss emails you on a Sunday… that has had a bigger impact on workplace creativity than we can measure.”

  • Reclaim your lunch break
    “The evidence in favour of taking lunch is powerful.” Daisley cited benefits including getting an energy boost, ‘creative renewal’ and coming back to work more productive after a proper lunch break.

  • Presume permission
    The workplace should assume permission for flexibility and leaders should give trust freely. “Permitting people to work in different ways and giving them the scope to adapt how they work is critical,” he said.

  • Be yourself
    Daisley cited an experiment carried out by IT services firm Wipro in its call centres. Some employees were asked to discuss what made them unique, what made them happy and to reflect on a time when they were ‘acting in the way you were born to act’. The results were “transformative”. Those involved raised customer satisfaction rates from 61 per cent to 73 per cent, and retention in the group increased by 58 per cent. “Customer and employer satisfaction went up, by people being themselves,” said Daisley.

  • Laugh and talk in offices
    Offices where people talk to each other freely are more creative and generate better ideas, Daisley said, calling for more laughter in the workplace. “The more conversations people are having, the more creative they are,” he said.

  • Find space for deep work
    But all that chatter can impact on ‘deep work’, which Daisley said was best not done in open-plan offices. He advocated people doing deep thinking either at home, or in offices with designated quiet spaces. Open-plan offices also have a negative impact on interaction, he said, as people tend to put headphones on when they need to concentrate.