Happiness at Work: The Worst-Kept Secret Ingredient for a Unique Work Experience

Think of a great workplace. What sets it apart from the rest?

Nearly 70 percent of employees globally agree that happiness at work is the best ingredient for a unique work experience, according to a new JLL study on the human experience in corporate workplaces. In a survey of more than 7,000 employees in 12 countries, JLL found that the “human experience” means far more than work-life balance concerns, but encompasses how empowered, engaged and fulfilled employees feel in the workplace.

Savvy C-suite executives today see a direct correlation between a productive workplace and a healthy balance sheet. Despite advances in workplace technology and increasing levels of automation in corporate real estate management itself, the facilities and workplace are ultimately about the people they house. Organizations ignore this reality at their peril.

From a real estate perspective, companies need to think about whether their real estate offers the right locations, technology and design to inspire the best from their employees. In an era of rapid business change and stiff competition for talent, creating memorable, engaging workplace experiences is more important than ever for organizational success.

JLL’s new research, Workplace Powered by Human Experience, looks at how the workplace experience and a focus on people can help businesses thrive in the new world of work. The key takeaway? Three priorities drive the human experience in today’s workplace: engagement, empowerment and fulfillment.

Engagement comes first                              

Engagement—the sense of commitment that drives employees’ performance and effectiveness—is essential for advancing an organization’s goals. Globally, only 40 percent of employees say they feel very engaged at work, whereas 55 percent claim they are only somewhat engaged or not engaged at all.  

What are the secrets to engagement? Giving employees a choice of workspaces that cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit and focus on the human spirit is key. Employees should have access to the right kind of workspaces to work effectively, which includes workplace technology that actually works. Only about half of employees say that their workplace actually enables them to work effectively. That obstacle affects engagement, too.

Here’s what some companies are doing to enhance employee engagement:

  • Adopting innovative workspaces, such as “war rooms” for project teams, digital fabrication laboratories, coffee lounges and patios, service desks for concierge or IT services and meditation rooms to foster employee wellbeing.
  • Using workspace to foster an entrepreneurial spirit to attract and retain employees, such as providing an in-house incubator/accelerator space in which employees can develop new products or services using corporate infrastructure.
  • Adjusting workplace density to improve employee effectiveness, by combining a high percentage of space dedicated to communal working with low-density individual workspaces for heads-down work.
  • Formalizing the human experience in the organizational structure—Chief Happiness Officer, anyone?

In fact, many employees would happily give up their enclosed offices for the opportunity to work in other kinds of workspaces. More than 40 percent would trade their enclosed office for an open-plan desk, while nearly 40 percent would trade a dedicated workstation for access to an unassigned “hot desk” and other innovative environments.

Empowerment (and agility) drive change

Our research also finds that empowerment—giving employees a sense of control in their working environments—also drives workplace happiness and performance. One way to empower employees in the workplace is to allow freedom of choice: the choice to work in the most productive workspace for the task at hand.

Providing a choice of different work settings, as well as allowing employees to work from elsewhere entirely— through co-working arrangements, for example—can signal trust, which empowers employees. Moreover, access to external co-working spaces can significantly improve employees’ work-life balance.

In particular, JLL’s research finds that employees want spaces for concentration, regeneration, inspiration and movement. A thoughtful workplace strategy also empowers employees to work effectively from outside the office. With voice and data connectivity, employees can work from anywhere, understanding they are trusted to get their work done no matter where they are in the world.

Fulfillment is the new happiness

What exactly defines fulfillment in the workplace? According to JLL research, building a sense of fulfillment comes from recognition and personal development opportunities that boost a sense of belonging and satisfaction. However, the workplace itself also contributes to fulfillment. 

In addition to providing different kinds of workspaces, companies can contribute to employee fulfillment by providing facilities for personal care and wellbeing. Many companies today are introducing spaces and services that support employee wellbeing and health, from on-site day care facilities, fitness centers and healthy food options to concierge services so employees can concentrate on their work. For example, some companies are providing concierge services that enable employees to delegate mundane personal chores and reduce the stress of work-life conflict. 

The future of work and workplace

Among forward-looking companies, real estate strategy will continue its evolution toward placing a human experience at the heart of the workplace. Understanding the ecosystem in which employees operate and thrive is critical to business success. The trifecta of well-designed space, easy-to-use workplace technology and workplace services is key to creating workplaces that offer truly exceptional experiences. And, a Chief Happiness Officer might be just what your workplace needs to boost employees’ wellbeing and workplace productivity—and give your organization a leg up in talent recruitment and retention. 

Ed Nolan, Managing Director, Workplace Strategy, at JLL

Ed Nolan is Managing Director, Workplace Strategy, at JLL, for a the central United States. Nolan has more than 15 years' experience delivering positive workplace experiences based on an analytical approach to workplace strategy. Before joining JLL, Nolan was Hewlett-Packard’s Director of Global Workplace for 13 years.