Happiness and quality of life at work: answers to the big questions

Interview with Flore Pradère and Jérémie Peltier

Flore Pradère, Researcher for Offices for the Future at JLL, and Jérémie Peltier, Head of Research at the Fondation Jean-Jaurès

When asked about their relationship with their employer, three in four French people will say they want to be happy at work. What does this mean to you?

Jérémie Peltier: One of the delightful things about life is the steady stream of freshly-coined terms that attempt to encapsulate the defining mood of our time. Some reflect our widespread aspirations. Others show a dafter side. “Chief Happiness Officer” is one of those. “Thou shalt be happy!” That’s the idea when there’s someone on your company’s payroll with a mandate to make sure you’re happy and encourage you to exercise with your colleagues. French people are passionate about their work. The pressing issue, they will tell you, isn’t so much that they’re unhappy – what they crave more than anything else is recognition.

Flore Pradère: I won’t dwell on the debate over whether Chief Happiness Officers are any use. What I think workers are asking for, mostly, is flexibility – not the shackling kind, the liberating kind; 62% believe that fixed working schedules will disappear, 52% dream of choosing their assignments and adjusting their pace of work as they like, and 47% want to safeguard their free time.

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Many people spend most of their working life at the office. Is the flex office, which is being adopted by several companies, a way of satisfying this need for flexibility?

J. P.: The flex office basically means you don’t have a desk you can call your own at work. I think that’s a problem. When you have a flex office, you turn up to work every morning with your smartphone and laptop in tow and sit at the first free desk you find. It undermines the stability that we all need and disrupts the work-life balance. We agree to answer emails from our bedrooms, but we don’t get the minimal level of privacy afforded by having an assigned desk at work.

F. P.: One thing we can say for sure is that workplaces are more important today than ever before. More than anything else, offices should be places for engagement, fulfilment, collective identity and where people unite around their shared interests. They should be open places that bring people together, where team members can interact easily – pretty much the opposite of traditional pyramid organisations.

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So how can employers improve quality of life at work?

J. P.: Let’s start with recognition. That way, employees – particularly the new generation – won’t flee large organisations that command them to be happy instead of considering the role they actually play and the purpose behind what they do.

F. P.: We should also think about places that empower employees, allowing them to control their own quality of life at work – by providing different areas, for example, so that team members can move around according to their mood and tasks, without managerial disapproval. Let’s create spaces that make people comfortable enough to be themselves at work and combine their professional and private lives to a healthy extent. Healthy, comfortable and fun spaces, where people can disconnect – which is incredibly important in our ultra-connected world.

Vincent Grosjean

Well-being at work in our overconnected age