Is this the formula for the perfect job?

·7-min read
For 95 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed, the atmosphere in their workplace was as important as the job they are doing - Igor Emmerich/ Image Source
For 95 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed, the atmosphere in their workplace was as important as the job they are doing - Igor Emmerich/ Image Source

When asked about the perfect job, you’d think people would want a six-figure salary, smart company car or a gold-plated expenses account. But, according to a new survey, it turns out we’d be happy with the simpler things.

The pandemic, it seems, has made us more demanding about our working conditions. According to a survey by Raja Workplace, employees now require lifestyle perks, including a comfortable chair, a nice view and a day off on their birthday. For 95 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed, the atmosphere in their workplace was as important as the job they are doing.

“People are looking for more from their workspace and have become picky after spending so long working from home with all the comforts,” says Eugenio Proto, professor of applied economics at the University of Glasgow.

“We develop habits quite quickly,” he says. “If you’ve been working in a relaxed environment at home without long, tiring commutes then it makes sense you want to replicate that when going back to the office.” Stress hormones such as cortisol can slow down our productivity. “Studies show that happy people are more productive, so employers do need to think about this,” says Pronto.

So, what’s the ideal office equation?

A 17-minute commute

Commuters walking to work - ImageGap/ iStockphoto
Commuters walking to work - ImageGap/ iStockphoto

According to a recent UCL study into attitudes to commuting, around half of the 3,000 people surveyed said taking in the scenery by train was the “best part” of heading into the office. One in four enjoyed personal time to read, listen to a podcast or catch up on messages from friends.

But why is 17 minutes the optimum time? “This period is short enough that it creates an essential boundary between work and home where you can decompress and have a ‘gap of thoughts’, but not a vast amount of time which can be tiring and draining – especially if you’re doing it day after day,” says psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo.

Experts also point to the benefits of “active commuting” – walking to the station or yomping up escalators. A 2020 paper published in the Lancet found that those who cycled to work had a 24 per cent reduced rate of cardiovascular disease compared to those who commuted by car. Even for those who got the train, the risk was reduced by 21 per cent.

“Ideally, your commute would involve doing something where you’re moving your body outside, so you’re getting your endorphins and metabolism going and also getting Vitamin D from the natural sunlight. Both are crucial for your body and mind,” adds Dr Quinn-Cirillo.

A ‘mid-level’ salary

Happy at work - Caiaimage/Tom Merton
Happy at work - Caiaimage/Tom Merton

A 2010 US study from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School found a money does not necessarily make people happier day-to-day. Of course, what makes a good salary is subjective, but that survey found $75,000 (about £56,000) was the “happiness tipping point.” After that, money didn't buy more (or less) happiness.

The Raja Workplace survey indicates the tipping point may be a little lower here; people would be happy earning at £44,00 a year in the UK. But the same principle applies – a bigger paycheque does not make for a happier worker.

“In today’s climate, people are much more about quality of life now versus salary,” says Dr Quinn-Cirillo. “People would rather work a four-day week and earn less and preserve their mental and physical health.

“This amount is more than enough in terms of outgoings, especially if you’re a dual income family, but not so much that it will require overworking and compromising on our downtime. Our priorities have changed and this salary reflects that.”

“The four-day week movement is a protest to our culture of overwork and is desperately needed,” says Annie Auerbach, author of FLEX: Reinventing Work for a Smarter, Happier Life. “The World Health Organisation released a shocking report in May 2021 which showed that long working hours are killing us, with 745,000 people dying globally in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to long hours. The pandemic hasn’t helped either as the number of meetings have increased and the average working day has got longer by an average of two hours.

But what the pandemic has done is made us reconsider our relationship with work. “The four-day week ensures we don’t simply trade the 9-to-5 for the 24/7,” adds Auerbach. “We realise we need boundaries at work and, for our wellbeing, we need to stop, rest and look after ourselves and our loved ones. No amount of money is worth this attack on our wellbeing."

A comfy chair and free drinks

Happy at work - Frank and Helena/ Cultura RF
Happy at work - Frank and Helena/ Cultura RF

After nearly two years of working in pyjama bottoms, returning to the hard-backed chairs of the office no longer appeals. We want comfort.

“The ideal office chair is one which moves with your body rather than being static as it will give support to your muscles, discs and joints,” says physiotherapist, Nell Mead. “It should be at a height so that your desk is just 1cm below your elbow height. The middle of your monitor should be the height of your chin, so make sure you adjust the height of your chair or your computer accordingly. Slouching or crunching are not good for your shoulder or neck muscles.”

Free tea and coffee also spread goodwill. “We want to be seen and valued and included,” says Chance Marshall, psychotherapist and founder of Self Space. “We want to make friends and connect with people. Post-pandemic, work is now expected to be a community which extends further than just a pay cheque. It speaks into our deeper need for connectivity at a time when we’re feeling lonelier than ever – and chatting over tea and coffee is where it can happen.”

An office with a view

An office with a view - OJO Images RF
An office with a view - OJO Images RF

There are significant benefits to working with a view of nature and access to natural light. One study by the Baker Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, in 2002 found that people had higher levels of serotonin – the hormone responsible for mood – on bright sunny days than cloudy ones. If you can’t actually be outside, second-best is a window-seat.

“Looking out onto a view impacts wakefulness, which in turn increases our cognitive abilities and makes it easier to be more productive and creative,” says psychologist Lee Chambers. “A view of nature can inspire awe and be grounding, taking the edge of stress and providing harmony and increased attention. Seeing the world makes us part of something much bigger than ourselves.”

Sitting by a window also takes on extra significance in the winter when there are shorter days and less natural light – something which can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). With longer nights, we produce more melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep, and this can affect our mood and appetite so we crave stodgy foods more, feel sleepier and also lose concentration and focus,” says Dr Quinn-Cirillo. “Sitting by a window bathed in natural light will help to address that imbalance.”

A boss you can have a pint with

Happy office - OJO Images RF/ Paul Bradbury
Happy office - OJO Images RF/ Paul Bradbury

According to the survey, an open-door policy to approachable managers is key, says Dr Máire Kerrin from the Work Psychology Group. Especially after the pandemic, which temporarily put an end to casual by-the-kettle encounters.

“People need to know they can broach important conversations with their line managers, whether about work or their personal circumstances,” says Dr Kerrin. “Since the pandemic, managers have had to develop a heightened sense of responsibility towards their employees’ wellbeing and the watercooler experience – or having a pint with your boss away from the desk – is all part of developing that sense of wellbeing and connectivity.”

What’s the most important thing for you to be happy at work? Let us know in the comments

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