Insight — Be happy at work: Bruce Daisley, Vice President of Twitter Europe
Achieving true happiness and balance in your working life can seem like a never-ending challenge. This is something that Twitter’s Vice President Bruce Daisley knows only too well, having dedicated much time and thought to exploring the ways that work and working cultures impact our wellbeing. On top of his podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat, he launched The New Work Manifesto with Sue Todd, an eight-point proposal to make work healthier and more fun. As part of our Insight Report, we spoke to Bruce about his findings, including the ways we can prepare for the future of work.
What drove you to create The New Work Manifesto?
We employ several hundred people in the Twitter London office and we’ve always been aware that it’s been a positive environment. I used to think that as long as we preserved that, we’d be in a good place. But what we found as time went on, was that work everywhere, not just here, was becoming more stressful and demanding. I started noticing that people were showing the signs of that. I was interested in learning what we could do to make work less demanding, to make it a place where you can laugh. So the manifesto came from those discussions.
Why do you think happiness is a topic that all companies should really be embracing at the moment?
The critical thing is that we’re currently in the mix of two broad trends. The first is the arrival of email everywhere. It’s such a given now that we don’t even think about it, but it’s only happened in the last 15 years. In that time, the average working day has gone up from seven and a half working hours a day to nine and a half hours a day. In fact, in America there’s an expectation in some places for employees to stay online, connected to their work, for 70 hours a week.
“The average working day has gone up from seven and a half working hours a day to nine and a half hours a day.”
The working day is getting longer, and the reason that matters is because half of those who check emails outside of work show signs of high stress levels. That’s particularly relevant if we look at what’s going to happen to the nature of work, with the automation of some jobs, principally those with no creativity – repetitive, manual jobs. So if we want to remain part of the workforce, the jobs we need to ready ourselves for will demand us to be at our most creative.
There’s no shortage of neuroscience, psychological and organisational behaviour studies that show that stress kills creativity. Put these things together and you realise that although emailing outside of work hours feels like people are getting the job done, what they’re actually doing is leaving themselves unable to be at their most creative.
Bruce and Sue’s manifesto on newworkmanifesto.org
Will any of those issues especially affect new graduates?
New grads are brilliantly receptive. The reason why millennials often get bad press is because they question the things organisations do, and hold the mirror up to some of our practices. The critical thing is that new staff in the workplace need to find a way to add value, while feeling like they’re being their best selves.
The danger is that when you’re new to a role, you might expect to do what you did at college – work late nights, cram and work harder and longer to get things done. The evidence suggests that we need to find a way to do sustainable work. That means trying to be productive within a short (or manageable) working week. One of the best things anyone can do, and something new graduates are good at, is maintaining a sense of outside interests. It leaves you ready and willing to contribute more in the workplace.
Why is flexible working in such demand right now?
If you speak to elite sports people, they say their goal is to have maximum impact in the time you’re at it. The mantra of the GB cycling team is, “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down.” That’s interesting as, for most of us, if we were training for a big race our natural instinct would be to walk up stairs as much as possible, but it’s the opposite of what elite athletes do. We do the same at work – we work continuously and think breaks are for wimps. We’re not thinking about the way our brains work.
“If we want to remain part of the workforce, the jobs we need to ready ourselves for will demand us to be at our most creative.”
As cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin points out: “Our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions a day. Once we reach that limit, we can’t make any more regardless of how important they are.” This is based on academic research where students watched clips and then made decisions. What they found is that your brain has an almost finite amount of gunpowder it can pop a certain number of times a day. Then you think about the way we work. About 40% of our time is spent emailing; between two to three days a week goes on meetings. We’re largely using this finite resource (our attention) on rubbish. Finding a way to spend less time on unproductive things is really critical.
You mention the importance of company ethics in the manifesto. Are you seeing ethics featuring higher up on job hunters’ priorities?
Definitely. And if people take a job that doesn’t reflect them, they feel anxious about it. In Daniel Cable’s book Alive At Work, one of the things he found was that people who take big rewards for jobs they find boring or demotivating actually end up making themselves ill. They inflame their immune systems. While a few of us might take a job with a company whose ethics we don’t necessarily agree with as a short-term thing, this actually has a consequence on our body that’s far more significant.
“People who take big rewards for jobs they find boring or demotivating make themselves ill. They inflame their immune systems.”
What advice do you have for managers and senior staff wanting to improve workplace culture within their companies?
The most important thing is a degree of flexibility. There’s a lot of proven science around the benefits of coming in to work, where we tend to be more collectively and individually productive. But people should have the flexibility to work in different ways. A lot of people struggle with open-plan offices. If you’ve got to finish a document or a presentation, stepping away from your desk can be really productive. But if your boss says, “Where are you? Why are you not at your desk?” it actually ends up heightening anxiety, because now you’re concerned that you’re upsetting your boss. There’s so much about modern work that infantilises us. Time and time again, bad managers and bad work turns us into children.
How can grads work out whether a company’s culture is a good fit for them?
Some of it is going to be intuition. Did the interviewer smile, laugh or appear to value questions about personality? Sometimes you get a sense from the way current employees depict themselves on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, plus how they interact with each other. Ask about the things the team does together to build culture, and how they feel it has evolved in the last two or three years.
Bruce and Sue’s rules for work, on newworkmanifesto.org
The New Work Manifesto
You can see the full version of the manifesto here, but by way of an introduction, here is an overview of Bruce and Sue’s eight rules:
Ensure your work is grounded in trust, and that flexible working is therefore a given, so you can work successfully in a way that best suits you.
Reclaim your lunch
Take breaks away from your desk, especially at lunch. No eating al-desko!
Give us some room
There should be no shame in stepping away from an open-plan space for deep-focus work.
Got to be me
Work in an environment that lets you be yourself and celebrates that.
40 hours is enough
Don’t exceed 40 hours of work in a week – it’s more than enough.
Outside of work hours, work email and notifications should be minimised or switched off entirely.
The only way is ethics
A reminder to check a current or potential workplace for codes of conduct, considering their approach to diversity, equality and respect for everyone.
It reduces stress levels and bonds a team!
This interview is taken from our Insight Report into Creative Careers and Starting out. Read an introduction here, or if you’re a Lecture in Progress member, download the full report here.
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