Okay, it kind of is, but with good reason. As almost anyone who is unemployed and looking for a job will tell you (but anyone among the majority of Americans dissatisfied with their jobs may find shocking), work is a predictor of happiness. Only about two-thirds of unemployed workers say they are satisfied with life, while more than three-quarters of working stiffs are.
That may be because work daily gives us access to other predictors of happiness. Events like staff meetings and birthday cake breaks provide social connection, which is a major predictor of happiness.
Work can also provide a sense of purpose and an opportunity to help others. And, if you have work that challenges you but is still within your capabilities, work offers flow experiences—those stretches when you’re so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time.
“The most satisfied workers find their skills tested, their work varied, their tasks significant,” writes psychologist David Myers in The Pursuit of Happiness. A lot of that has to do with how a person frames his work more than what kind of work he does. An 18-year-old brick maker in Pakistan who makes $3.50 a day working alongside his siblings told NPR, “I’m happy because we are builders of the nation. If we don’t make bricks, people can’t build anything. Pakistan is going to develop every day because of us.” Knowing how you contribute to the bigger picture—whether as a member of a work team, a sports team, or the human race—boosts feelings of wellbeing.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term “flow,” has some suggestions for how to increase enjoyment and opportunities to experience flow, whether at work or at play. Set goals and measure your progress, immerse yourself in the activity, and focus on that moment in time, rather than worrying about tomorrow.
Money, by the way, doesn’t buy happiness, once basic needs are met. But happiness may bring more money. According to Myers, in recent research “Today’s happiness predicted tomorrow’s income better than today’s income predicted tomorrow’s happiness.”
You might think that my idea of an office is different than my parents’ idea. Not so. It turns out that they, like a lot of Baby Boomers, are really good at adapting to what’s becoming more common for all of us—working anywhere. That can mean working from home, a coffee shop, or a “campsite” at headquarters. Mobile work is becoming a reality for many people and businesses.
Here I am working in the coffee bar at Herman Miller. (Got my portable mouse and separate keyboard, got my laptop support so I can elevate the display and get it to a good viewing angle.) Studies show that the simple addition of a portable mouse and separate keyboard dramatically increases comfort for mobile workers.
Ask anyone—like me—who’s really into mobile working, and she’ll tell you that portable technology is a must, and the fewer things to carry, the better. While mobile working may be the preferred work style for many now and most of us in the future, it doesn’t mean we can ignore our health while we do it. If I’ve learned anything from working anywhere it’s that being on the move feels better when I bring some good ergonomic support along with me.
A research summary published by Herman Miller ranks the option to position a computer in a suitable location as one of the most important attributes of a comfortable workspace.
I saw this need addressed during a recent visit to a trading floor located in New York’s World Financial Center. The Herman Miller company Colebrook Bosson Saunders supplied this particular floor with Wishbone monitor arms and posts that can support up to four monitors. Most people on a trading floor work with at least two screens, although many work from four and sometimes six.
The Wishbone monitor arm fits well in this environment because anyone can reconfigure it to support a variety of needs. In fact, the monitor arms on this trading floor are reconfigured up to three times a week.
Monitor arms also carry ergonomic benefits. They allow the technology to move with the user, while contributing to an ergonomic posture and reducing eyestrain.
Unfortunately, from 2008-2009, an estimated 9.3 million working days were lost to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Having proper ergonomic support, however, creates safer, healthier environments that help to prevent these disorders.
Whether you work on a trading floor or in an office like mine, the appropriate technology support, such as a monitor arm, is a smart investment.
One of the great design features at our Design Yard facility in Holland, Michigan, is a walkway that extends from one end of the building to the other. Lined with windows and without doors to negotiate, the walkway is a great space to meet people, exhibit art and creative projects, look outside, and exercise.
This last option fits in with our Health Management Program, which includes bicycle commuting, fitness programs, and flu shots. Why just the other day, as I was walking to lunch, I was nearly run over by the group in this picture. As I rounded a corner, they came barreling along, talking away, and intent on doing their noon-time walk. We all smiled, said hello, and I thought, “That’s one of the things I like about this place—work is part of life, and not the other way round.”
Remember your dorm room? Yuck. (Or maybe you can’t remember, but that’s another story.) The opposite of “yuck” is the trend today.
Take the William Jessup University in Rocklin, California, for example. It recently won an American Institute of Architects chapter award for its new student apartment building. Beyond being a great place to reside, the 192-bed, 24-apartment project preserved “the original conversion of the Herman Miller furniture factory, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.”
So, the place has the look, but does it deliver the good life? You bet. Each apartment has a full kitchen, wireless Internet, cable TV, central air, a two-story parking garage, laundry facilities, and a courtyard big enough for community gatherings and barbeques. “Boola, Boola.”
I once worked at a company housed in the second floor of an old mill building. You might be thinking “lovely renovated office space with high ceilings and tons of character.” You’d be wrong. The building was dirt-cheap chic and the only character it had was a homeless man who slept in the unoccupied first floor.
Our office space consisted of shoddily constructed half-walls and an eclectic mix of broken down desks, wobbly chairs—and, most important of all, space heaters. In winter, there’d be miniature snowdrifts on the window sill, and you could see your breath until 10 a.m. We never had temperature wars in that office. We just cranked the thermostat as high as it would go, and our space heaters, too.
Granted, ours was an extreme case. But recent IFMA research shows that complaints about the temperature top the list of common office grievances. Facilities managers say they get an almost equal number of complaints about the office being too hot or too cold.
This is a big deal because there’s a positive correlation between comfort and productivity. Unfortunately, it’s tough to keep everybody happy and comfortable all the time. As any facility manager will tell you, often the person complaining about the office being too hot is sitting right next to the person complaining about it being too cold.
Facility managers do the best they can, but when it’s not enough, people do what they have to do. They use space heaters (frowned upon because of the fire hazard), heating pads, personal fans, supplemental clothing and, in one case reported in the research, a small wading pool under the desk in which the worker could “paddle” his feet to cool them off.
Herman Miller has a sweet and sensible alternative that uses 90% less energy than space heaters. C2 climate control uses advanced thermal electric technology to provide heating and cooling in a single unit. Someday I’d like a C2 for my home office, but for now I use a foot warmer to stay warm. What’s your solution?
Like other sixteen year olds, my son writes a history paper, texts his girlfriend, and plays Battlefield II on his computer—all at the same time.
Me: You can’t possibly do all three well. Him: Practice makes perfect. Me: Riiiiight. Him: <shrug>
New research is on his side (darn it). René Marois, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University is co-author of a study on multitasking. Marois says there are two major ways tasks can interfere with one another: If they both require concentration (we’re bad at splitting our attention effectively) or if they make demands on the same neural resources, e.g., trying to carry on two conversations at the same time. His study focused on the former and showed how people can become efficient multitaskers when tasks require less attention.
“Our results imply the fundamental reason we are lousy multitaskers is because our brains process each task slowly, creating a bottleneck at the central stage of decision making,” he says. With practice, we can learn to process more quickly.
Researchers on another project asked a different question: Does multitasking affect your ability to concentrate when you aren’t multitasking? They tested the concentration of students who multitask frequently and other students who multitask but not all the time. The three tests measured students’ ability to ignore irrelevant information, organize items, and switch tasks. Each test required the students to do only one thing at a time. Students who spent less time multitasking did better on every test than students who multitask frequently.
Finally, experts agree that no one truly multitasks. Instead, the brain toggles between, say, history paper, Battlefield II, and girlfriend so quickly that it gives the illusion of multitasking. And oh, how we love that illusion.
There’s new research showing that managers believe women experience more work/life conflict than men. Women employees in the study actually reported less conflict. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and appearing in the Academy of Management Journal, says the belief is held by men and women managers alike, who then see the women as less worthy of promotion.
Women who know about this misperception may think twice about using company-sponsored work/life balance programs like telecommuting—and rightly so. “As long as managers buy into that stereotype, women who take advantage of programs like on-site child care or flextime or paid time-off for parenting are only undermining their prospects for advancement in their companies,” says Professor Jenny M. Hoobler, one of the authors of the study. “What we’re talking about here, I expect, is one of the subtle, entrenched forms of discrimination that make up the glass ceiling.”
Or at least cut back on them. I know, there is always pressure to cram more into the day, especially more meetings. After all, they’re where most work gets done these days. But does it have to be over lunch? We need a break. And some, including Carl Honeré, author of In Praise of Slow, argue that getting away for lunch clears the head and makes room for creative thoughts. Even if you’re lucky enough to be sitting in a chair designed to keep you healthy, you need to get up and move around. And leaving a meeting room for a quick lunch can be just the way to do it. So here’s to the separation of lunch from work. Bon appétit.
Most working mothers (62%) prefer to work part time, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center. Working fathers, not so much. Only 21% of them say they’d rather work part time than full time.
Rick Dernberger is one of them. For a long time after they had children, he and his wife Becca both worked full time. Whenever one of the kids got sick, “we’d have fights over who had the most important day,” he says. “One day she whimsically said, ‘Why don’t you quit work?’ That had never occurred to me, but as soon as she said it, I knew it was right. She was making more and she enjoyed her job more.”
For the last seven years, the arrangement has been working for the Dernbergers. Rick enjoys the mix of parenting four daughters (ages 6 – 20), counseling college students, and helping entrepreneurs get new business loans. Being a part of all the details of his daughters’ daily lives has been especially rewarding—and an opportunity that most dads don’t have.
The Pew research didn’t ask men why they don’t want to work part-time, but it’s not hard to guess a few reasons. Cultural norms change slowly. Most men had dads who worked full time so, like Rick, the option might not even be on their radar screen. Even if men do consider it, the decision may be driven by finances: men still make more, on average (women make about 77 cents for every dollar men make).
Still, some men have made the switch. At Herman Miller, .5% of male employees in the U.S. currently work part time; 6.3% of female employees do. In our international division, 1.6% of employees work part time, and all are women.