The “Feelgood Manager”: is ensuring workplace happiness a full-time job?2013-01-11 15
We often hear that a happy worker is a hard worker. But for a growing number of companies worldwide, it’s a truism that’s revolutionising workplace culture. Enter the Feelgood Manager or Feelgood Department; a Santa’s workshop for your workplace happiness and lifestyle needs. From finding you new friends and hobbies to organising drinkathons and StarCraft-themed brunches. In between, a breadth of practicalities, such as lining up routine feedback sessions and even calling on a technician to install Cable TV round your place.
Many studies have shown that making employees happy raises productivity and profit levels: In short: workplace happiness equals more money. But for traditional types, this new “feel good” role may raise a few suspicious eyebrows and undoubtedly – questions: Is caring creepy? Can you feel good at work without someone looking to raise your dopamine levels?
To find out, we explore the smile-making sector and speak to three Feelgood Managers from across the German startup scene..
Workin’ on sunshine
Classical HR roles may in part manage workplace “happiness”, but it’s only become a full-time job in recent years, particularly within the startup sector. Gitta Blatt, head of HR for online social-gaming company Wooga, leads a team of 20 – eight of them are “Feelgood Managers”, ranging from sporting and party organisers to house-hunters and on-boarding helpers.
“It’s reflective of how workplaces are changing,” says Blatt. “People expect greater quality from their employer. We have 250 workers and it’s becoming very international: 37 nations are represented and more than 50 per cent are non-German speaking. So you need a distinct and diverse support group to look into their needs, help them with services that make them feel good and therefore help them become successful.”
“Feelgood stuff was always something I subconsciously did when I started out as a marketing intern, like baking cakes for people’s birthdays,” says Stephanie Greenstreet, Feelgood Manager at ResearchGate. The “Facebook for scientists” employs more than 100 people at its Berlin HQ, and comes with a whole floor dedicated to eating, napping, and playing games.
“Moving up into my role came out of a natural progression within the company. I have friends working at big corporations (back in England) who say they wish they had someone like me organising fun, internal events. If you have someone making sure that everyone’s happy, it’s easier to retain staff and recruit good people,” she adds.
In July, 2011, founders of website-builder Jimdo called Magdalena Bethge to ask if she’d consider being their Feelgood Manager: “At the time I had no idea what it was about, but when I learned more, I thought ‘I have to do this, it really speaks from my heart of what a workplace should be’.
Before Jimdo, Bethge studied sports science in Kiel, Germany, so she was keen to get her new workmates into tip top shape. “It’s hard for people to sit for eight hours in front of the computer. So, I went running with them. There are around 120 people here in the Hamburg office, so it’s all about getting people to really know one another outside of their immediate teams.”
The Feelgood recipe
It’s fair to assume that Feelgood Managers are extroverted “glass half-full” types with rosy dispositions. But beyond beaming smiles and organising fun activities, what makes a good Feelgooder? Blatt, Greenstreet and Bethge agree that with a helping of creativity, it takes the following ingredients:
Looking out for the newbies
Taking care of fresh-faced employees is top priority. For foreigners relocating to Berlin, a Feelgooder at Wooga greets them on arrival with keys to an apartment with a two-month lease. The team also takes care of all necessary mountains of German paperwork; “To name a few,” Blatt breathes in deeply, “getting your work permit, transferring your driver’s license, registering your address, finding the best health insurance and translating all sorts of contracts.”
A large part of easing new workers into the melee of their new workplace is acquainting them with fellow staff. “I play a team memory game with them that I created,” explains Bethge. “On one set of cards are people’s names, on the other, their faces”.
Greenstreet video interviews her new colleagues for ResearchGate’s internal who’s who series. “It’s a fun and easy way for others to get to know their new colleague,” she says.
Give them lots of feedback
Keeping channels of communication open and employees on track with regular feedback sessions is a surefire way to check the happiness gauge. It can also prove motivating for workers and help them feel more identified with their organisation. Most Feelgood Managers implement on-going feedback meets: “The first feedback comes after two weeks of starting, then six weeks, then every five and a half months,” says Bethge.
A healthy heart, a healthy mind. Sport and fitness ranks high on the “feelgood” barometer, and is mostly met with regular soccer matches, volleyball games, and group running sessions outside of work hours. “We’re always open to suggestions and take care of all court-hire costs,” says Blatt. Over lunch, table tennis tournaments, rounds of air-hockey and Guitar Hero have proved popular at ResearchGate.
Relax and recharge
At-work yoga classes are also becoming increasingly popular. But if breaking a sweat over your lunch break isn’t your thing, Greenstreet says there’s a nap for that: “We had a few workers from South America request beds so people can take a short sleep, so now we have beds,” she beams.
Beautify your office… and bring your dog
All three Feelgood teams have a dedicated member as a somewhat “office-atmosphere specialist” for all your day-to-day aesthetics. This entails filling rooms with flowers, plants, new furniture, and dressing up walls with motivational posters, company pictures, team photos, and general smile-inducing stuff. At Jimdo, there’s a “Captain Chaos” – a qualified interior designer who works to create a “pleasant atmosphere” and restructures the growing workplace.
Although rules on bringing in pets differ from office to office, Jimdo has a relaxed policy on dogs: “There are six here at the moment. They can cause problems for others, but we always make sure that their co-workers are happy with the arrangement,” says Bethge.
Eat good, free food
Hiring a full-time chef at the office or bringing in a daily catering service is become a “feel good” norm. Jimdo has the qualified hands of a Amaradjan “Sam” Samake, a chef from Côte d’Ivoire who’s worked at a top London restaurant before whipping up international cuisines for more than 100 people at Jimdo’s Hamburg HQ for the past year.
And then there’s the specialised catering service at ResearchGate. Vegetarians and meat-eaters have the luxury of planning their daily meal in advance and having it delivered fresh and hot to the office (and yes, it’s all paid for by the company).
The element of surprise
Throwing in little bespoke surprises are winners, too. Blatt says that each month, a mystery lunch is organised between four people from different departments: “We choose people who don’t have much to do with each other at work. The goal is get them to know others and take advantage of the growing network. They’re given €40 as a group to head out for their mystery lunch and we often seen new friendships arise from it.”
“I started with picking five random people to meet to drink tea and eat sweets for as long or short as they like,” chimes Bethge, “they just talk about whatever interests them but it’s all about getting to know each other.”
Explore, socialise and party on
Sociable activities make up the cardinal ingredient to any “feelgood” workplace. Everything from karaoke and German-language classes to movie screenings and bar-hopping events. “Everyone likes to party,” says Blatt, “we organise huge summer and Christmas events. Sometimes they go on until six in the morning,” she laughs.
Every month, Blatt’s “feelgood” team designates €10 to every employee to put toward their immediate team’s social kitty: “They can collectively use that money for us to organise an event or activity of their choice. Or they can keep it banked up for bigger quarterly events, it’s all to them,” she says.
So, do you need a Feelgood Manager to feel good?
There’s no denying that creating real happiness is up to us. But having a Feelgood team help spread the love certainly doesn’t hurt. Top American psychologist Shawn Achor has long argued that long-lasting happiness fuels success: “Your brain at positive is 31 per cent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed,” he announced to a TED audience last year, “in fact, what we found is that every single business outcome improves.”
“I think it’s incredibly important to make people feel good when they’re at work. You spend so much of your lifetime there,” says Greenstreet. In more ways than one, feelgood teams look to take the “cog out of the machine feeling” at large and fast growing companies: “It’s about making people feel special,” she adds.
Blatt argues that it’s all part of transforming work into a lifestyle: “It’s no lie that we need a healthy work-life balance. The whole ‘feelgood’ philosophy is part of people wanting more from their employer. People these days are after a higher quality of life.”
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