Being responsible for employee happiness is not something I take lightly.
I think it helps that I am a genuinely happy person, who is keen to find new and exciting ways to keep everyone motivated and connected. To me, if you provide all the elements that a person needs to do their job effectively, that naturally helps make a happier working environment. That, in turn, adds up to a happy company, which makes for a satisfied CEO and most importantly fulfilled clients, who want to engage with the culture and efficiency that you’ve fostered.
Most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else, which sounds depressing if work isn’t somewhere that you want to be.
A perfect balance of IT, HR, Finance, Operations, company culture and, of course, people are the essential ingredients that make for a joyful workplace. As Shawn Achor, Founder and CEO of Good Think, Inc. says, “Happiness is a precursor to success” and we enthusiastically share in that mindset.
Above: Wendy Isaac, Director of Happiness at LS Productions
The core principals are the same in any business; however, it follows that in a creative business you can use and release your inner creativity to come up with different ways to implement ideas on how to run the business. While agencies have long embraced HR practices, many production companies don’t have official HR people in place, instead of having one senior person wearing many hats.
Is the corporate sector as receptive to those same creative techniques? I think it all depends on leadership (you only have to look at the tech world, to see creative practices in place amongst the workforce). In the Sunday Times' ‘Best companies to work for' list, they say ‘Employee Engagement is the cornerstone of a thriving enterprise: greater productivity: lower staff turnover and a proactive approach.’ I was surprised to see an Insurance company was on the first page at No 1. Who would have thought it?
Happiness and fun in the workplace should not be exclusive to those in the creative industries. It should be the right of all. Who wants to work in a miserable place? According to Business Insider, we spend on average 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime... and, let’s face it, probably then some.
Happy staff are motivated staff which ultimately equals happy clients. You want everyone in a company to feel invested in the bigger picture and connected in a joint ambition to achieve those goals together. As Joe Wedgewood from The Happiness Index points out, 'Simply having the right people is not enough either. If you have a demotivated workforce, then you will endure more absences, a lower retention rate and a decrease in performance.’
If it’s sunny outside and you can get away with it, why not shut shop a little early and grab an ice-cream, have a picnic, catch a movie or pop to the pub?
Understanding the core principles of a company, not just your outward facing identity but the company culture, ethos, values etc. and sharing those with everyone from the CEO to the intern, means that you can create a united team, build trust and evolve a supportive working environment. Most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else, which sounds depressing if work isn’t somewhere that you want to be. Our industry thrives on trust and relationships, and it’s no good only focusing on nurturing those with clients - you have to start by truly valuing and investing in the people that work within first.
In a production environment, it’s not always possible for people to take an hours lunch break (as much as we might try), so how can we inject something positive into the time they do have? Taking it in turns to cook, sitting around a shared table and having real human engagement away from the laptops is a good start. Do we ban devices from the table? No, but it’s not a bad idea…
HR guru Patty McCord says in her TED series, 8 Lessons on Building a Company People Enjoy Working For: ‘I think we can run our businesses by talking to each other like actual human beings, I think we might actually get more done.’ If it’s sunny outside and you can get away with it, why not shut shop a little early and grab an ice-cream, have a picnic, catch a movie or pop to the pub? These spontaneous moments help keep working life fun and enriching outside of the job itself.
Of course, we’re still going to check our phones in those moments but it’s better than stagnating inside an office, and it’s all part of building collective memories and staying connected as a team. Our office team, for example, have been charged with instigating ‘Happiness Activities’, this includes thrice yearly ‘Sunshine Meetings’ where we stop, have a beer and share great moments. No devices allowed for this, though!
Never be too busy to teach, to support or to help each other. In our industry particularly, it’s how many of us learned our skills in the first place.
Activities outside the office are, in my opinion, incredibly valuable – from pub quizzes to celebrating birthdays to team fitness regimes but my favourite is that at LS, each member of staff is entitled to a bank of ten ‘Happiness Hours’ - self-managed and to be used throughout the year. This is not for popping for a doctor’s appointment or letting the plumber in; this is for taking a longer lunch whilst turning off your devices, an extra hour in bed, a massage, or whatever it is that floats your boat.
Allowing staff to work from home if required, being more flexible about start and finish times can all help fuel contentment in the workplace and support staff’s mental health in an increasingly ‘on’ world. If you’ve hired the right people, you can trust them to be adult about this and not abuse the flexibility. Simply put, it’s important to recognise that people have lives outside of work and that if your team work very hard when they are with you, why not reward them with your trust?
Advice and support cost nothing. Never be too busy to teach, to support or to help each other. In our industry particularly, it’s how many of us learned our skills in the first place. Supporting the next generation is vital, whether that be Creatives, Directors or Production teams. If staff feel that you will train them, bring them up through the company, involve them in the bigger picture thinking, look after them, then you can’t help but foster loyalty and stability. We even support our staff when they choose to move to sunnier climes - anything is possible.
No-one is going to flourish if they don’t feel they have a voice.
Regular one-to-one reviews are also key, as they give us a chance to listen, learn and implement improvements. No-one is going to flourish if they don’t feel they have a voice. We also encourage well-being through free consultations with experts, newsletters laden with guru-based advice and share our knowledge with each other.
I am not always great at putting the computer/phone down – just ask my husband - but my excuse is that I love my job. When I do have some downtime, I sing in a church choir and a local covers band. I always wanted to be on the stage and in truth, if I had my life again, that is where I would be. I love to help out with my son’s youth theatre – that makes me super happy. I live in a small village, East of Edinburgh, where we hang out, go on ski trips together, organise big events. Encouraging staff to invest in their lives outside of work, helps make them more focused and efficient when they’re in work and creates the seemingly mythological work/life balance. You only live once, so why not make the most of work as well?
Above: Patty McCord, Netflix's former Chief Talent Officer
I love listening to [Netflix's former Chief Talent Officer] Patty McCord [pictured above] and reading her book Powerful – although it’s impossible to make notes whilst driving, so we’re starting a library of inspirational books for all to read. We’re going to mark the great pages that we want to highlight for others and share our inspiration, opinions and experiences. Office politics are so draining and distracting, and we’re much more in favour of openness and connection.
There’s so much good stuff to digest out there, and in HR or in my role as Director of Happiness, it’s essential not to stagnate but to continually listen, learn and implement. Even if things are good, the best is yet to come.