Best of: How do we define happiness and why does it matter at work?
In this episode of Here to Help, Indeed CEO, Chris Hyams, speaks to Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a Belgian economist and professor at the University of Oxford.
With Dr. De Neve’s guidance — and research interests in behavioral economics, public policy, and human wellbeing at the Wellbeing Research Centre — Indeed’s ‘Work Happiness Score’ was developed.
The underlying theme throughout Dr. De Neve’s research is the study of human wellbeing. This ongoing research agenda has led to new insights into the relationship between happiness and income, productivity, economic growth, and inequality.
Hyams and De Neve discuss why Indeed’s ‘Happiness Score’ matters, and how it was developed. They also delve into what a world that puts worker well-being first might look like.
- Hello, everyone. I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next episode of Here To Help. At Indeed, our mission is to help people get jobs. And this is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us up at night. And at the center of that mission is our people. Here To Help is a look at how people's experience, strength, and hope inspire them to want to help others. This series started almost two years ago with the intention of sharing how Indeed was navigating the global impact of COVID-19. And we had no idea at the time how fundamentally the pandemic would challenge our collective relationship with work. The debate about what the future of work will look like is dominating the news and opinion cycle right now. And one topic is at the center of this debate, and that is employee wellbeing. My guest today has dedicated his life to understanding and improving human wellbeing. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve is a Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford. His research interests span behavioral economics, public policy, and human wellbeing. He is the Director of the Wellbeing Research Center at Oxford, and has been published in academic journals, such as Science, Nature, The Review of Economics and Statistics, The Journal of Political Economy, Psychological Science, The British Medical Journal, and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jan has also been working with Indeed for the last year, helping us to develop our work happiness initiative and work happiness score, which we launched in the US in November of last year, and just last week in the UK. The work happiness score is the first academically valid measure of work happiness and wellbeing at scale. And we are going to explore that and many other topics today. Jan, thank you so much for joining me today.
- After two and a half years of not muting oneself, still haven't learned the lesson. So Chris, thank you for having me on the show. Thank you.
- Fantastic. Well, before we get started, I'm actually going to just take a quick second and talk about the first question that I ask here. And so, this podcast, as I mentioned, started back in April of 2020, and I've started every single one of these episodes with the question, how are you doing right now? And that was meant, especially when we started, as a real sincere question. And it's really remarkable over the last couple of years, the honesty of the answers that we've gotten. A big part of that, I think, is that, certainly in the US, forever, people have said, "How are you doing?" And the answer is, "I'm doing great." And suddenly, we were all going through something that was completely out of the ordinary. And asking people, "How are you doing?" really sort of opened up something that maybe wasn't there before. So what's interesting to me is, in the context of today's conversation, is that it's really about wellbeing. So it does seem appropriate to start off by asking you, how are you doing right now?
- Thank you, Chris. And whenever somebody asks me that question, I immediately start thinking about it in numerical terms. So, as you know, my bread and butter and Indeed's Work Happiness score very much relies on that same question, with transposal to a scale. In the case of Indeed, 1 to 5. In our research, often sort of on zero to 10. So I probably rank myself, 8, 9, 9 out of 10, I think, on happiness or life satisfaction. But let me return the question to you, Chris. How are you these days, on a scale from 1 to 10?
- It's funny. I really don't think about that normally in numerical terms. I would say, right now, I'm going to put myself at a 7. I'm doing pretty well, but I'll also share. My wife is in a graduate program, and has been doing this for the last two years in New York City, but because of COVID, she's been doing it remotely. She's leaving on Saturday to go out to New York to finish her last semester. And we've been married, in June, it'll be 30 years. This is the first time we will have been apart for this length of time. And especially after the last two years, we've been together more than we have in a long time. I'm trying to be helpful to her. She's getting ready, but I'm a little sad about us being apart.
- This is fascinating. We're going to get into the research at some stage, I'm sure, but I'm not surprised that your social capital, and in particular, your wife being a big chunk of that, her leaving already gets anticipated in a somewhat lower score at this point. I think that's one of the things that will hopefully come out of this conversation, is the importance of social ties, belonging, and organization, belonging with your family, belonging in society at large. That's what the results of this world's largest study really tend to show, frankly, the importance of social capital.
- We'll dive into it. But before I think we start talking about the work itself, I'd love to just start with the word itself. So you study wellbeing, but we're talking about this as a happiness score. When you talk about happiness, I think so many people have a different definition of that. When you talk about happiness, what do you mean by it?
- God, I mean, the question about what is the definition of happiness/wellbeing, or Happiness with capital H? It's a tough question that you're asking. And I mean, Aristotle, over 2000 years ago, already was trying to put his fingers on what is a good life and how do you define it? And ever since, I don't think philosophers have fully agreed on this either. In our world of sort of psychology, behavioral science, economics policy, we've come around with a very generalist notion of wellbeing is how you are feeling about the way your life is going. And so, there's a number of words here. So feeling is ultimately what this comes down to. A subjective element to it. In the workplace, how do you feel about working at Indeed, for example? So that subjective wellbeing does get translated into how you feel about how things are going for you or for your community. Now, where the rubber really hits the road is obviously how you operationalize this then. And that's where definitions have to be met with realistic assumptions. And there, when we think about how you feel about life or how feel about work, we tend to define wellbeing as a composite of sort of an evaluation of your life. Are you satisfied with your life? Are you satisfied with your job? Something much more hedonic in the moment? Are you happy now? And so, when you were responding to my question earlier, Chris, I think it was a shorter term, wellbeing dimension that you were responding to. I mean, the fact that your wife leaves for sometime is not going to impact your evaluation of life as a whole. And then, there's also sort of a third element that doesn't get measured often, but that we do, and especially the old philosophers thought very highly of, which is eudemonia, which is old Greek for sense of meaning and purpose in life. If we wanted to craft a definition that would suit everybody, sort of a consensus definition around wellbeing, you'd probably be asking about satisfaction with life, happy in the moment or the absence of stress, so positive and negative affect hedonics, and then sort of the eudemonia element would need to come in. And if you score high in all of this, then you'd be very, very, I mean, you'd be leading your best possible life, I think.
- Let's get into this collaboration that we've had, and talk a little bit about how did you start to get connected with Indeed and to kick off this process here?
- Yeah, Chris. So I spoke at the Global HR Forum in Seoul, South Korea in 2019, somewhere just after the summer. And next to me on the panel was Sonja Lyubomirsky, who's a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UC Riverside. And she had been working with Indeed before on sort of the starts, the startings, the seeds of the Work Happiness Score. And she put me in touch, or she put Indeed in touch with me, 'cause I'm more on the economics science, so more on the empirics, the data, and the data science behind it. And ever since, it's just been an amazing collaboration. So I started work as an external consultant late 2019, just before the pandemic had hit. And we had the first measures. The first sort of company reviews started coming back in November, December, 2019. Ever since, it's been sort of a collaboration, which has been incredible, both in terms of impact it's having. We have proof of that as well. We can talk about it, the impact it's having on job seekers, the impact it will have on, I think, ESG and policy, more generally. But more to me, personally, and I hope this is the same for my collaborators at Indeed and the many people I've met, Indeedians that I've met over the last two years and a half almost, is just a quality of thinking, and the niceness with which our work gets done. So it's not like we're slacking. Quite the country. It's a lot of pressure, a lot of hard work. But it's done in with a positive vibe and a focus that does not take away from also trying to have fun and enjoying life at the same time. So it's just been, I mean, I have a number of industry partnerships, but Indeed is very special.
- Well, for the folks who are tuning in right now, I'd imagine most are not yet familiar with our work. Can you give a background on what is the Indeed Work Happiness initiative, and what it's trying to achieve?
- Yeah. So the work Happiness Score for Indeed, for those of you who are not yet familiar with it at Indeed, is it's really the world's largest workplace happiness study ever, thanks to 6 million and counting company reviews that have come back, starting, as I said, in late 2019. And what's really cool is these data coming back. So it starts with asking people a question, are you happy at work most of the time? On a scale from one to five. Agreeing to disagreeing, or rather, disagreeing to very much agreeing. So it runs higher score, the better it is. And then we ask other questions as well, around job satisfaction, stress. And then about ten, what we consider drivers of the ultimate outcome of work happiness. And the drivers are being work life balance, do you feel you're being paid fairly? Do you have a supportive manager? Do you have a sense of belonging in the organization? So ten of those. And that together really gives us a really rich picture of how people feel at work. And what's really amazing, and where, frankly, I'm so impressed with Indeed is that these data are then essentially made public as soon as enough company reviews have come in for a specific organization. And so in the US, in Canada, and since last week in the UK, these data made public for organizations that have more than 20 reviews in the US and Canada, more than 10 reviews in the UK, 'cause we're starting with a lower number to begin with, but still robust. And that is starting to change the way that job seekers look for work and change their job seeking behavior in the margins to trying to look for places that will lead to better jobs and good jobs to begin with. And so, it's really rather exciting. It's exciting at the same time though, I have to say. It's also sometimes a bit depressing to see that a lot of people are not necessarily happy at all in their work. So in the UK, I have the numbers close in mind because we did the press briefings only last week. 36% of people in the UK report being very unhappy most of the time. I mean, what's amazing about these data, making them transparent is not just the job seekers will be able to make more informed decisions, they will also, I think, push employers and policy makers, frankly, to start paying more attention to workplace wellbeing, and doing something about it in many instances. And while sometimes there's some depressing statistics coming out, especially in the UK, where the average is lower than the US and Canada, it'd be interesting to dig a bit deeper for why that may be, or may not be. There's also hope because even if you look at the most challenging industries and the most challenging regions of the UK, we find examples of companies, big companies that actually do quite well, and where employees feel that the experience of working there is positive, and they feel happy most of the time. So it's not like there's some sort of deterministic negativity, which the UK press could have a perspective they might have or could have taken. But, in fact, no. I'm glad that the reception was actually very positive and people see it as, okay, there's room for improvement, and we can improve. It's not like it's impossible. And so, it has lead to a positive reception, generally speaking.
- So let's talk a little bit about the relationship between happiness and work, and what's the chicken and the egg in there. And then what companies can do to think about making work happier.
- Well, I think what you're referring to, Chris, here is, so there's a lot of reasons why companies should be investing in workplace wellbeing. And I mean, we talked about wellbeing being important, and COVID 19 having put a spotlight on this. And for all good philosophical reasons, we should invest in workplace wellbeing. But a lot of managers still need convincing and need a business case for it. But I'm glad to say that there is a business case. And I've contributed a little bit on that front, if I may say so. And so, there's a business. I mean, the pathways for how and why employee wellbeing and happiness translates into better performance for organizations and productivity at the individual level is, first and foremost, good companies attract better people. And making the data transparent as Indeed is doing will help on that front. And then good workplaces also retain talent longer. And so, that's sort of a macro perspective. But at the individual level, we find, and I'll say a bit more about the chicken and egg distinction there. We've done an amazing piece of research, if I may say so, but it took us five years to get there with British Telecom, which is the UK's largest private employer. And we studied all of their call center employees. We post them every Thursday afternoon at 4:00 PM to see how happy they felt that week. And then we link that to their performance. And performance and productivity of call center employees is measured at an incredibly granular level. So number of seconds on the call with a customer, customer satisfaction coming back, weekly sales, whether they stick to a specific schedule, et cetera. So it's incredibly granular. But the problem with this notion of, well, are happier worker's more productive? is, as you rightly point out, there's a bit of a chicken and egg problem. So while a lot of people, and it's part of management mythology, frankly, to say like, oh, happy workers are more productive, but it's never been shown causally because of that chicken and egg problem. Because the chicken here is happiness, the egg is productivity, and doing well for, say, customers. But the problem is it may not be you being happier driving greater performance in your job. It might well be the fact that you're doing well in your job, customer's responding positively, and that feeds back into your happiness in the first place. I mean, I'm sure if your manager taps you on the shoulder saying, "Great job", or you get a pay rise, or something of that kind, that will feed into your happiness. So that's the return, or what we call the reverse causality. And the way we were able to get around this in our BT study, which, obviously, has gotten a lot of good reception as a result of this, is you have to know the UK for this and understand. But these call centers are spread across 17 different locations around the UK, from up north towards Scotland, down to the south, where it's a lot nicer and sort of a more sort of a climate that's more positive. And we leveraged the weather differences between all of these call centers spread across the UK, and there's large weather differences. Whereas the calls coming into these call centers are spread across the UK, are randomly coming in from around the UK. So the weather that we picked up is specific to these call center locations. And we looked at that to see how that influenced the workers going into the office that morning. And the UK being the UK, just like everywhere else, but specifically in the UK, the weather does impact people's mood. And we leveraged that as sort of, if you will, an "exogenous" experiment to see, okay, if the weather's good this week, do we pick up a change in their wellbeing? Which would not be picked up across the clients and sort of the customer feedback because they're from all across the country. And we found, yes, there's a small, but statistically significant difference in how people feel in light of good or bad weather. We leveraged that little difference to then see whether that would lead to productivity increases, as measured through weekly sales and customer satisfaction. And lo and behold, it did. So, essentially, what we've done is, in that dynamic relationship between feeling good and performing well, and it runs in both direction, we're able to disentangle that relationship. And it took us a lot of time and a lot of effort, as you can imagine. But we got there in the end. And the result, frankly, the headline result was the following, is workers that were happier one week as compared to the previous week, essentially have somewhere between 12 and 15% more weekly sales. So it's incredibly important. So investing in employee wellbeing at the individual level, we're already picking up huge productivity effects.
- Yeah. That is an amazing finding, and thank you for sharing it. When you first explained it to me, I think I was the skeptical one saying, "Isn't it really the other way around?" And I imagine there's probably truth on both sides of it, but it is. It certainly seems like even for the hard-hearted that there's some good data to suggest that focusing on this is going to be good for your business. What I would love to do is then pick up a conversation we also had last week around this, which is your use of the word productivity. And as an economist, I think you are obligated to use that word. But in the world of work, productivity often has a negative employer centric view, and it is a harsh standard that workers are held to. We see all these charts about productivity going up and earnings going down. At Indeed, we think a lot about the choice of language. And we're a business that from our very founding, one of our core values was we put job seekers first. And so, we think about the words that we use. So we don't talk about low quality job seekers because there's no such thing as a low quality person, whereas an employer might view things that way when they're looking at applicants to their jobs, that it's a low quality applicant. So we focus on the quality of the match, which is on us. Are we doing a good job at matching job seekers to employer? Can you talk about the word productivity? And I know what we think it means, and are there other ways to sort of think about that from a worker perspective, and the importance of language in this discussion?
- Well, Chris, I couldn't agree more with you, the importance of language on this. And I'll give you another example, which is even worse on productivity. But you're right. It's drilled into us to be using productivity because then you measure productivity on an hour to hour basis, or on a week basis. But what is a good alternative? I was thinking maybe sort of sense of performance. To backtrack, productivity has that connotation that is sort of the company squeezing you like a lemon, trying to get as much out of you. And so, maybe we can start shifting more towards words. I mean, I'm open for suggestions, but I think performance sounds good because everybody likes to perform well. And that's both good for yourself and for the organization you're working for. So maybe that's a bit more neutral. But I'll tell you one word that they use here in the UK that whenever I hear it, it drives me mad, is to be made redundant. That is the actual language that they use here in the UK as if nothing. When they say, "Oh, we have redundancies," or "You're being made redundant." That's the language they use when they actually have to fire people. And so, it's horrible, that language. My first studies in workplace wellbeing were actually something very simple. It was just looking at people that were just been made redundant, and seeing how their general wellbeing, their life satisfaction dropped. And lo and behold, needless to say, 20%, 25% drops in their life satisfaction from being made redundant. And they never recovered from it. So there's a scarring effect that we pick up years after, even if they've regained a job later. So the language matters. And so, the reason why it's such a big drop in one's life satisfaction from losing your job is the language around it, the psychological impact of "being made redundant". And so, I couldn't agree more with you, the use of language. I mean, economists never paid much attention to this. And I think the data, once you start looking at wellbeing data and how work relates to wellbeing, you start realizing that these words matter. And so yes, we should change. We should start using something else than productivity, 'cause we care not just about the employer getting every last inch of productivity out of you, but we're more thinking about your success. Maybe we can call it our performance as an alternative, Maybe not great. And definitely we should stop using redundancies 'cause that's the exact thing we shouldn't be saying.
- So let's talk a little bit about the pandemic and its impact on the world of work, which we are so certainly not on the far enough end of it to say we can conclusively say what is going to be the lasting change from this. But in terms of what we've seen, you mentioned at the start, and it's really amazing that we started collecting this data right before the pandemic hit, at least in the US. And so, we have a little bit of a view of what happiness looked like, maybe even at a regional or a company basis, and then what has happened throughout the last couple of years. Can you talk about the impact of the pandemic on happiness?
- Chris, thank you. And so, first of all, thank you to Indeed, because it wasn't necessarily part of my bio, but on of the editors of the UN World Happiness Report, the World Happiness that was published during the pandemic, had a whole chapter on workplace happiness and how the pandemic had impacted it. And the only good dataset that we could get our hands on and that we had the privilege of being able to work with is yours. Because we had these data, these surveys, these company reviews coming back from before and after. So what we've done is we ran a driver analysis, which we've done generally to see what are the key drivers of people's responses to whether they're happy or not at work. And then we split that between the months before the pandemic hits. So from November, December, January, Feb. We took out March, and then we looked at a driver analysis that only looked from April onwards. And I think the first thing you need to know is the driver analysis revealed that it was sort of a sense of belonging, feeling energized, flexibility, sense of purpose. So a lot of these items were coming out stronger, actually more, much more strongly than are you being compensated fairly? Which is what most people think matters most. But it's the sense of belonging, and some of these social capital items come out strongest. When we ran the analysis splitting between the pre COVID and post/during COVID, or during/post COVID one day, what we found is that the top ones became even more important. So sense of belonging became stronger as a driver of workplace happiness. Flexibility, perhaps no surprise there, became somewhat stronger as well. And it's the ones about learning, sense of purpose, get lost a little bit in this game. But, remember, when we did the analysis, it was the height of the pandemic, the fist big lockdowns, et cetera. So people were more concerned with sort of having their job and having the flexibility to continue to keep their job, than it was about learning and purpose at that point. So I think that also plays a role. But, if anything, those companies who did well on workplace wellbeing and the drivers of workplace wellbeing would've shown more resilience during the pandemic as well. Because if you did well on generating sense of belonging before COVID hit, and provided degrees of flexibility before COVID hit, you will have done better for your employees, and they will have experienced it as such during the pandemic. So that is something I think to focus on. And then, obviously, we can talk about flexibility and the working from home revolution, 'cause there is a lot to be said on that front.
- Yeah. And I want to get to that in a minute. But before we dive into that, I am curious, what do you think is the thing that employers are missing in terms of their understanding of what they could do to contribute to better wellbeing and happiness?
- First thing is measure. Measure what you treasure because what gets measured, gets done. We should put this on repeat in front of every CEO. If you honestly care about wellbeing, you should be measuring it properly. Now, Indeed, is helping a lot of companies do this, at this point, for them. So that's exciting, and we'll have lots of spillovers. I think beyond measuring, it then means a proper analysis, an anonymous analysis of how you benchmark against others. Then seeing what the drivers are of workplace wellbeing in your organization. 'Cause we do find analyzing the Indeed work happiness data, we find that drivers may differ in terms of relative importance from one industry to another. And that will differ, in turn, by organizations. I mean, we've done some of these custom made reports for some of the big corporate clients of Indeed. It's really fascinating to see how that works out, and then relative to their industry. So if you measure, you analyze, but then you haven't actually changed anything yet, you can measure all you want. I mean, you do need to, at some point, then translate this into action and interventions. But the good news is, a proper driver analysis, giving you a sense of the relative importance of which drivers are relatively most important in your organization will then feed into specific interventions that will be most effective in actually changing. And so, the general driver analysis, using and leveraging the Indeed data, really puts lots of onus on generating a sense of belonging. So people feeling cared about in their organization, people having friends at work, knowing how they impact other people in their organization, et cetera, these are the items that come through on the sense of belonging. So what are then the big interventions that work? And so, there's a lot of research out there. Some good, some not so good. And we're trying to map this out in sort of a menu of interventions that link to each one of the Indeed driver variables to see what are some of the best evidence based interventions out there through randomized control trials to see what has had most impact on generating that sense of belonging, which then generates higher workplace happiness. What generates more flexibility, and has worked? And then in terms of generating more wellbeing. And so, there's a number of interventions, and we can talk about them. And so, we're building that menu of interventions linked to the Indeed drivers. And the hope is then that the data and the insights get translated into action, evidence based action, based on these evidence based interventions studies. So there's a number. Maybe for the sake of making a bit more concrete, let me give you one. There's something called peer recognition schemes. I'm not actually sure of if this is the case or is live at Indeed, but you'll find some companies will have a scheme in place, either incentivized or not incentivized for workers to be able to recognize others who've gone beyond the call duty for them. So peer recognition, but by peers, for peers. And some companies have put a pot of a million dollars on the side, and there's points, and they can be distributed during the year, or it's just symbolic. So there's ways of trying to generate sort of social capital. But, admittedly, while sense of belonging is really, really important, it's also the hardest to really grapple with and intervene upon, because it's that corporate culture, that sense of belonging. Whereas other elements like pay, fair pay, paying a living wage, flexibility, are more obvious. There's more obvious interventions there. So, if anything, the Indeed Work Happiness data has really revealed the importance of generating a sense of belonging, which should then force us academics and organizations to do more work on, so what can drive a sense of belonging in the organization? What are the interventions that work best? 'Cause it's one of the pillars where there's least research, even though as it turns out, it's one of the most important ones in driving workplace wellbeing.
- So one question, I guess, that that comes up, 'cause we haven't hit on this yet. Obviously, we're focused on the world of work as Indeed and this joint research is, but what is the impact on someone's overall happiness and wellbeing of their happiness at work? And is that something that you have specific research that you've done that says, this is how it contributes.
- Thank you, Chris. Huge contributor. Well, obviously, aligns with intuition. I mean, we have 24 hours in the day. We sleep, hopefully, eight, more likely six or seven. Then we probably spend about eight hours at work, if not more. And so, whatever is left in between is also very, very heavily impacted by the time we spend at work. So in survey after survey, when you ask people more qualitative sort of surveys about how does your work potentially impede with the quality of relationships outside of work, we find, it's huge impact. It really sort of spills over in positive or negative ways on people's life satisfaction. So job satisfaction is a huge contributor to life satisfaction. For me, the first time this became really, really obvious is when we simply looked at, we split the world's population and how they felt about life into those that had a job versus those that did not have a job. And what you found is sort of the average life satisfaction in the world is about five and a half out of 10. This is part of our world happiness report. But if you split the world's population into two, those with a job and those without a job, you see that there's a 25% gap between them. And as I'm speaking, I'm thinking about Indeed and Indeed's mission. Could not be more important in light of what I'm saying now. So getting people into jobs is, by far, the most secure. Like, the most well trotted path to try to improve their wellbeing in general. And that's because it's not just pay that you receive, it's not just a paycheck, or being able to put bread on the table because of having a job, it's also because a job gives you identity, it gives you social ties, it gives you a routine during the day, and it gives you lifelong learning. 'Cause after school, there's nothing, if it isn't through work. Or very little for people available. And mostly, actually, the non pecuniary reasons, work is so critically important in driving general wellbeing, as measured in their life satisfaction metrics that we have thanks to the Gallup World Poll. And so, yeah, what can I say? Hardly anything is more important. And maybe one last point to really emphasize this is when we look at other important life events, like, even losing a partner, we find that people, and it's almost horrible to say this, but we find in the data, that people adapt more swiftly to losing a partner than they do to losing their job. So that scar that we pick up in the data from, like, a negative life event, like losing a partner, or losing your job, being made "redundant", we see the redundancy has longer lasting statistical effects that we pick up later still, as do the life events that are sort of around your family life. So I'm not sure how I feel about that result, but that's what the data seems to suggest. But it suggests, again, the importance of work, generally, for both the monetary and non monetary reasons.
- So when we look towards the future, I think there's a lot of different opinions out there right now about what this, quote, future of work will look like, and how much of what's happened during the pandemic is a radical change to that, or is just accelerating maybe some of these trends that were already happening. When you look through the lens of your research and the elements that contribute to work happiness and overall wellbeing, the acceleration of some type of hybrid or remote work starts to come into play. What do you see in your research that suggests what some of the impacts might be, and then we can get to what can we do about those maybe afterwards. What's your perspective on how this will change, people's relationship to each other and work?
- So Chris, I'm completely with you. The one element of the future work has been clearly accelerated because of the pandemic is the adoption of ICT, allowing us to work remotely, and meeting just like we're doing now. And there's some mega obvious positives out of this, but also some downsides. I mean, one thing that has been very helpful for me is to think about the positives and the negatives of working from home over time in short run benefits and then longer term negatives, and that people don't necessarily think about those when they're sort of enjoying potentially working from home. And also, by the way, let's put some numbers on this also. Like, what it actually means working from home. So pre pandemic, 5% of the workforce was working from home. At the height of the pandemic, close to 50%, essentially all white collar work was done from home. And my colleagues at McKinsey, I'm close to the Research Director at McKinsey, they've calculated that moving forward, 30% of all work could be done from home without a loss of productivity. And I apologize for the use of productivity. So we are probably looking at moving towards about 30%, 25, 30% of the workforce starting to work remotely a lot of time. Now, the first thing to notice, most of you on this call are probably thinking, "Only 25, 30%?" Well, we tend to forget that a large chunk of the workforce aren't why white collar folks who can sit behind a desk. And so, most work has to be is done on site. And so, that, I think, is one big lesson to learn right away for any chief executive like yourself, is these one size fits all policies on how to do hybrid are difficult and could really backfire for some constituencies in your workforce. And maybe that's less the case for Indeed 'cause it's obviously mostly desk work. But if you look at sort of traditional corporations with sort of a production scene and production lines, that becomes really, really, really, really concrete. Boy, boy, there's so much should be said. Let me just go back to my split between short term versus long term. When the pandemic hit and people that could work from home were starting to work from home, there was a bit of euphoria. And you'll remember the Facebooks of this world sort of coming out and saying like, oh, from now on, everybody can work from home. Actually, sort of, like, two, three months into the pandemic. And that, I think, is frankly, is a big mistake. Big, big, big mistake. And the reason being is in the short run, there's some clear benefits to working from home, even fully remotely, which is no commute, you have more autonomy, more flexibility, you can organize your work life balance a bit more. But it's only the longer term consequences of working from home that are now hitting home. And we find that it can erode social capital. It erodes intellectual capital. And the studies are coming through on that front. Actually, I'll give you an example on intellectual capital, a major corporation, Microsoft. The biggest study came out in Nature three, four months ago. It studied 67,000 of Microsoft employees during the height of the pandemic when everybody was working from home, and they have causal evidence. So they were able to disentangle the chicken and the egg problem on this. Have causal evidence for the fact that it undermine creativity, ideation, et cetera. So a very important part of everybody's business, and especially also Indeed, 'cause it's all creative and intelligent work. And why? Because silos being formed and exacerbated from working from home. So there's no room for serendipity, connecting with others, walking in, walking through the corridors, hearing somewhat a seminar, and overhearing stuff that you didn't plan to actually hear, et cetera, et cetera. So that's on the undermining of intellectual capital. But I think the real risk, and we notice from the Indeed study. So belonging, social capital being critical for workplace wellbeing. And working from home, especially if it's working from home all the time, undermines that because we do get a lot of social ties and friendships through work. And a lot of that is absolutely critical. We don't get this when we work from home all the time. Now, obviously, we were moving to sort of, like, a hybrid world, and I think that's a given at this point. But the question is, how do we do it? And it could completely backfire if done poorly. Imagine Chris and your team, senior management team of, say, 10 people, for the sake of simplicity, half of whom come in on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half would come in on Thursday and Friday. That'd be a complete disaster for the types of tasks that you need to do together, both the social capital and the intellectual capital building. So we need to move towards a world of hybrid, but one that is coordinated or smart. And if we do, if we get hybrid right, then I do think there will be gains in both wellbeing and performance. I'm not going to use the word productivity anymore. So it's an exciting future of work. And so, if we do hybrid well, it'll be very interesting. But we need to do it well. And again, let me reemphasize, we cannot disenfranchise certain people. Because some people, like younger workers, really prefer to work in the office, 'cause they need to build that social capital and generate their sense of belonging. Or new workers. So people that you've recently recruited on Indeed, you don't want them to work from home all the time or most of the time. Like, they probably want themselves to be able to be in the office and connect with their colleagues. It'd be a real shame that if most of the staff is at home. So it's a very complex matter, and different constituencies will want different things. So there needs to be some flexibility. There's also probably some flexibility needed between teams. So again, if you say the whole company needs to be there Thursday, Friday, it's not going to work well either for some teams. So it's a very complex matter. And I see, and I feel the pain of a lot of HR managers and chief execs, 'cause this is top of mind, and it's very complex, and they have to get it right, because if the don't get it right, it's backfiring. Hey, just an idea that came up last week, actually, on this front. For big corporations with their own buildings, the also have office space, what do you do? Is it sort of like a whole desk thing, or is everybody his own desk? And one, my wife is an architect, and she's actually, one of her students in the studio that she's leading had this assignment of sort of what do the big corporations do with their office space? How do they remodel their office? And the idea that came up is, how about pods, like sleeping pods? So if you have 10 floors at Indeed, and you maybe only need eight anymore, or seven, because there's more space efficiencies because of not everybody being in all the time. But a lot of people will want to be there, say, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And so, these architects are now rethinking, so like, office space. And one thing that will be needed is people living elsewhere coming in for, say, three days a week, but then they need a place to stay in the evenings. And so, who knows? Some of these office spaces can be used for that. I don't know, I'm just brainstorming, but I just thought that was a clever idea. And who knows the future of work will be an extreme future where you'll be spending two, three days a week literally in the office, including sleeping on the top floor in the evening.
- To follow up on this discussion of hybrid work, one of the things that we spoke about last week is some new research that is suggesting that when you ask management why they want people back in an office, the answer is productivity. When you ask workers why they want to be in an office, the answer is social connection. So it seems pretty clear that from a happiness perspective, getting alignment between the two sides will be important. What are your thoughts on how, I mean, there's probably benefits to seeing both sides of the argument. And what would you say to management and/or workers to try to understand those two sides?
- Yeah. Oh, boy. Chris, there's a few things to be said on this, but I think you were and you are spot on, I think with your analysis. Maybe one piece of research that could speak to both these arguments and help resolve it is when people move to work from home at the height of the pandemic when it started in March 2020, there was quick studies were coming up saying like, oh, people are as productive as they were before in the office. But as soon as you start zooming in a little bit into the granularity of what was really going on, people weren't actually as "productive", if you don't mind me still using that word. Because what happened is the time that they would normally be commuting, they already started work. And so, they started earlier, which was measured through, like, email traffic starting earlier than it would normally do. And email traffic ending later than it would normally do. So the benefits of working from home, which you think, well, I no longer have a commute. I can do something else in the morning, go for a jog, walk my dog, not at 6:00 AM, but at 7:30AM instead, I don't know, something like that. All those benefits actually sort of evaporated quite quickly. And people were actually less productive at home, but were compensating for it by stretching out the day more. And in the long run, it was starting to really lead to frustration and burnout as well, in addition to social ties. So all this is to say that there is something to be said for going back into the office to some extent, and that some of the short term benefits that people thought were there from working from home are perhaps oversold early on in the pandemic, and people are coming back on that front. But the real solution to the problem and challenge you're posing, Chris, is hybrid. So neither all the time in the office, neither all the time at home, and some productive, no pun intended, mixed in between is probably the way to go. But again, it's about getting it right. And, actually, as I'm saying this, one thing that I think all of you and the corporate world will have to do is an analysis within your teams of synchronous versus asynchronous tasks. I should have mentioned this earlier. But to get hybrid right and solve that tension, that challenge in a productive way that suits both the boss and the employee in a way that suits them both will be to analyze as groups, as teams. What are the synchronous tasks, the tasks that you need to be together and do better together, like brainstorming, speaking with clients, learning together, et cetera, versus those tasks that are asynchronous, that you actually are better off doing by yourself, like email writing, report writing, whatever it is. And then to start mapping those tasks into these two baskets and putting them on the calendar, saying, look, we're going to coordinate so that we do our synchronous tasks together on, say, Monday, Tuesday, and then we'll do the other two, three days at home for more asynchronous task. So I think there's a lot. I think a good analysis of that and getting hybrid right will help resolve the tension that you rightly put your fingers on.
- Well, there's so much to talk about here. I could go on, really, all day. But as we come to a close, actually, where I'd like to wrap up is just with the work that we're doing here, and again, the acknowledgement that we're still at the early stages of this collaboration and being able to provide data at this scale. What do you see as sort of the future for the work happiness score and where we can go with this?
- Oh, thank you for asking. If you would've asked me that question three years ago, I would've said, wow. Just imagine having comparable data across most organizations, and having them made public. And here we are, thanks to Indeed. That's essentially what's going on, and it's helping job seekers. And, ultimately, will help all employers too, whether they're above or below average. But what I do see is a big step forward. So in the next three to five years, something that I would love to see, and I think that the Indeed Work Happiness Score will really contribute to, is making employee wellbeing part of ESG, the social impact metrics, the S in ESG, 'cause I know a lot of your guys, a lot of you are talking about this and thinking about this. But when you look at E, S, and G, the environmental, social, and governance standards, and impact that companies and organizations have, you find that the E and the G are well defined and well metricized, but the S, social impact, is incredibly a low bar. It's completely irrelevant, by the way, to Indeed because the standard classifications, because its how many fatalities you have on the work floor, or do you have child labor in your supply chain? That's kind of the level. But we need something more aspirational, like employee wellbeing. And that's also more relevant to companies, like Indeed themselves. And my sense is that your data is the missing piece that could fit within the S. And so, my hope is that in the future, that these data, crowdsource data, this powerfully comparable and all over the place could fill in a big chunk of the S of organizations. I hope you don't mind me saying, but we're launching the world wellbeing movement this year, and Indeed is one of the founding partners, and so is SMP Global, and Unilever, and HSBC. And we're 12 founding partners. Exemplary corporates like yourself and some big foundations. And then us at the University of Oxford as the academic partner. And the aim is to put together a small team that will work really hard in trying to get employee wellbeing metrics at the core, at the heart of ESG. And so, having SMP Global join this group as well, it's very powerful because they're one of the major indices in this front. So just imagine having the Indeed data for work happiness, that score fill in, say, the SMP Global sort of ESG indices, which case, then all the fund industry needs to pay attention to this. And in turn, all the CEOs need to pay attention, 'cause otherwise they don't get the investors they want and need. And so, you see where I'm heading with this. So I think that's something, that's a future I really am looking forward to. And I'm very keen because all the pieces of the puzzle are in play. And if we can bring the puzzle together, we can have a lot of impact at scale thanks to the Work Happiness Score.
- It's a beautiful vision. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, thank you so much for joining me today. But thank you so much for the partnership and the amazing work that you do.
- Thank you, Chris. Thank you to everyone at Indeed.
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