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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 January 2007, 11:36 GMT
You've got to laugh
Happy stressed

By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine

Forget salary, location, prospects - happiness is the new weapon in the drive to recruit the best and brightest new workers.

The workers at Fruit Towers in west London are on a mission - to get the world drinking their tasty smoothies, and to have fun doing so. Fruit Towers is the quirkily named headquarters of Innocent Drinks, one of a string of fast-growing companies that sell themselves as happy-go-lucky and people-orientated.

Google is another. So too is Orange - especially now its "togetherness" ads are fronted by a pair of smiling wind-up toys created by Aardmann Animations - and the online bank Smile, and Ocado, the online supermarket partnered with Waitrose. Blazing a trail many years ago were the likes of Ben and Jerry's and Starbucks.

Top 10, in rank order
Friendly supportive colleagues
Enjoyable work
Good boss or manager
Good work/life balance
Varied work
Doing something worthwhile
Making a difference
Part of a successful team
Achievements recognised
Competitive salary
Source: Chiumento's Happiness at Work Index
All eschew the sleek corporate image once associated with success, favouring instead cute hand-drawn logos and chatty spiels about the company ethos.

Not only does this seem to appeal to customers, it proves quite a hook for prospective employees. To be in employment is, for most of us, a given. And Britons work the longest hours in Europe. So why not try to make it sound as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible?

Innocent, with its booming sales and myriad staff benefits, makes much of what a happy place it is to work. And, no doubt helped by the company being named Guardian Employer of the Year in 2005, and being the top food and drink company in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies To Work For list, it has no shortage of applicants.

Established six years ago, it is growing at a rate of 150% a year, a pace the Sunday Times says is only sustainable because of the commitment of its staff - who in the paper's survey overwhelmingly agreed with Innocent's values and said they were proud to work there.

Fruit Towers
Innocent's head office... complete with table football in top-left corner
All of which makes good business sense, as happy staff are said to be productive and motivated. And just as happiness is becoming a marker for governments, which have come to realise economic success, alone, isn't enough, so it is finding its way into corporate speak.

A new survey which set out to understand what makes for happy employees, found the most important factor is having friendly, supportive colleagues. Languishing in 10th place in the Happiness at Work index, conducted by Chiumento, a human resources consultancy, is a competitive salary.

No surprise then that the recruitment section of Orange's website advertises "nicer call centre jobs" and lists a great sense of humour as a key quality for prospective employees.

But happiness comes not just from having a laugh at work. Many employees want to know that they will be looked after, and that their employer has interests beyond the bottom line.

Cottage industry roots

Google, the behemoth that fondly cherishes its cottage industry roots, receives a bewildering 100,000 job applications a month. With that many potential employees beating down its door, it can pick and choose the brightest, best-rounded candidates.

2. Barchester Healthcare
3. Nationwide Building Society
4. RBS Retail Bank
5. Morgan Stanley
Source: Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For 2006, based on staff satisfaction, and benefits such as flexible hours, pension provision etc
Yes, it is a leader in its field and job seekers will flock to such a business. But it makes much of its co-founders' promise to make money "without doing evil", and that philosophy clearly exerts a strong appeal - earlier this month it topped Fortune magazine's list of 100 best US companies to work for.

But the emphasis on happiness extends beyond businesses with metaphorical flowers in their hair.

At RM, an educational software company based in Abingdon, HR director Russell Govan says job seekers are increasingly interested in office atmosphere, extra-curricular activities and company values.

"I've worked in HR for a good quarter of a century, and in the past few years there's been a gradual shift. It's a generational thing. Young people are much fussier about where they work - how friendly it is, green issues, whether the company gives something back."

Pool table
Now you're talking... "work" at the Googleplex, Google's HQ
So as well as an application form, each prospective employee receives a DVD on office life and a chatty, informal spiel about staff satisfaction, eco-friendliness and opportunities to volunteer.

Software developer Chris Munday says that when he was recruited seven years ago, the social aspects of working at RM were emphasised.

"With moving to a new area for the job, the social events and opportunity to work with like-minded people were crucial for me. I remember watching a video of the last summer party and being impressed by the scale of the event being put on to say thanks to the employees for their efforts."

And it was persuasive.

Flexible friends

"I was offered the two graduate jobs I seriously applied for in my final year at university, and the focus on people and the right work/life balance was the thing that tipped the scales in RM's favour. The financial packages were similar but the people I met at RM were obviously enjoying their work."

Howies HQ
Everyday is bring your bike to work day at Howies
In common with employers up and down the land - and with the blessing of politicians of all colours who claim to have our happiness (and productivity) at heart - RM has further loosened its flexible working options, knowing the benefits of giving staff the space for their lives outside work.

But few companies are quite so loose as the likes of Howies, a small company making eco-friendly clothes in Cardigan, west Wales, where staff can take "too nice to be here" days.

"We spend a lot of time at work so if you can make it as fun as possible, that's important," says co-founder Dave Hieatt, a former advertising copyrighter who left the London rat race for west Wales. "From a business point of view, people enjoying themselves are going to come up with better ideas, so it's common sense."

The company's website, catalogue and labels espouse these ideals, and Mr Hieatt says he's surprised at the calibre of person who asks to join the 20-strong team.

"When I get people from Patagonia and Apple asking - companies I put right up there - I think, 'great, do I take a pay cut to get them on board?' But there's not much to do in Cardigan, it's not Seattle."

Your comments

I may be being cynical, but I remember similar articles about advertising agencies a few years ago. That was when there was lots of money in advertising and those companies could afford to be 'wacky'. Now that the market for smoothies is growing dramatically and companies like Innocent are benefiting from that growth, it is their turn to be trendy innovators in the workplace.
Richard, Stratford

I completely agree with the idea that to be happy in your work place is far more important than the remuneration and also that having support from your colleagues/friends is vital. I work in Leigh Library in Lancashire and though the pay isn't great, everything else is.
Sara Coree, St Helens

One of the reasons why the young appear to be more interested in how they will be treated is because they/we need to worry about that now. When I started work at ICI in the middle 1970's treating your colleagues (in fact everyone you met in life) with respect was a given. No one doubted that that was a standard. We have lost that so people have to be much more careful about they (working) environment. The big companies also gave huge opportunities in many fields and social clubs and activities. All this was lost in the 1980s and 1990s when profit became the only driver. Outsourcing and using your companies' contract with another company as a way to beat up employees became common. So working life became much less fun and much more pressured.
Frank Strange, Northwich, England

I worked for RM a few years ago. Yes the parties were amazing, but it was one of the most singularly miserable places I've ever worked.
Janine, Abingdon

I'd send this to our HR director - if I thought he would get anything done to make us happier.
Robert, Reading, England

I'd rather take a less "fun" workplace in favour of a higher salary and good bonus. That way I can better enjoy my life outside of work, live in a better environment and look forward to a fat pension when I retire early. My banking job may not be as fun as other workplaces but the benefits are good and I can look forward to times that aren't spent in the office and a future with less financial constraints. Horses for courses but that's my view.
John, London

If this was ever tried in the public sector, we would be accused of wasting money!
John Carter, Bath, Somerset

Competitive salary's still at the top of my list. Sorry!

I completely agree with this. Having recently had my second child I have re-evaluated priorities and found myself no longer yearning for the highest salary, but instead opted to change my work/life balance and returned to a company I had left 12 months previously for a higher salary, better car etc, for a much reduced salary etc, but where I know the managers willingly accommodate the flexibility and much reduced hours I now want to ensure that I can optimise the time I spend with my children. I think any future decisions regarding changes to my work will be happiness related rather than for financial gain. I think the highest payers tend to want the most from their employees and demonstrate the least flexibility for employees to accommodate their personal lives and they will not be able to retain employees, while they may still be able to attract them in the first place.
Sally Roberts, Doncaster

Our table football is one of the best areas for networking with new people as well as often being a venue for quick meetings! I think the business atmosphere is better for such relaxation areas and my employer certainly benefits in the long run. The same could said for the smoking areas though...
Marc Carter

I've nothing against being happy at work, but I read recently that studies show little correlation between happiness and productivity. Once corporations twig that, you can kiss goodbye to the perks!
Jason Mills, Accrington, UK

If you live to work then having a "wacky" or "cool" workplace is great. However, I would argue most people work to live. The ability to live within a capitalist society is determined by income and therefore as attractive a work place may be, salaries remain the most important factor.
Olly, London

I can well believe that having happy and communicative people about you is top of the list. I once worked in a team of three moody, bad mannered and hostile people. I hated that job and couldn't wait to get out. When redundancy was offered, I jumped at it. I now have a job that scores in every one of your top ten points and I love it. P
Pete, Maidenhead

Per John Carters comments, if a private company wants to spend money on this sort of thing it's fine. After all, it's their money. For a public concern? Well now you're talking about spending my money - and I get precious little for it as it is. Now get your nose back to the grindstone.
Beaklington, London

What a crock.... I, like almost everyone I have ever met come to work to earn a living to pay for the things they like/need. If they did not need to work they would be sat at home watching the footy.......
Dean, Peterborough

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