The cult of compulsory happiness is ruining our workplaces
Written on the 13 December 2016In their quest to make employees happier, companies around the world have been busy installing play equipment in the workplace. Google has set up slides in its Zurich office so engineers can whizz between floors. The online shoe retailer Zappos encourages employees to dress as their favourite animal on certain days. There are US companies that give staff an opportunity to be ninjas for the day. Fussball tables, computer games, action figures and scooters have become fixtures in some workplaces. And if you walked into the offices of Inventionland, you could be mistaken for assuming you were in a children's playground: workspaces there include a fake pirate ship, a tree house, and a giant shoe.
The lengths companies go to in order to make employees happy to spend increasingly long hours at work do not stop there: Tony Hsieh, chief executive of Zappos, has been known to down vodka shots with employees in interviews. And Expedia, ranked this year as the happiest workplace in the UK, has modelled its London office on a night club with free bars, chill-out zones and Formula One simulators.In The Wellness Syndrome, the book I wrote with Carl Cederström, we took a look at the increasing fascination with happiness at work. We found a growing industry of "funsultants" offering advice on how to make workforces more positive. Firms such as Zappos have started to employ chief happiness officers. There is also a booming field of management research on positivity at work.
But despite all this effort, work still sucks. According to a recent study by the London School of Economics, the place where we feel most miserable is work. There is only one place and circumstance that makes us feel worse being sick in bed.
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