Experts Talk: Happiness and Performance at Work

 As companies evolve over time, so do the employees. While leading companies are working towards transforming their work culture in order to gain, retain and engage talent, employees also put more and more effort into finding a workplace that fits their personality and expectations.

Today, we bring together Laurence Vanhée of Happyformance and David Boon of Adgility, to talk about what employees need from their workplace and how companies are responding to that need.


Good morning Laurence, good morning David. It’s good to have you with us.
Let’s cut to the chase – have you noticed a change over the past years in how employees relate to their work?

David Boon: Definitely. Generations Y and Z are changing the way we look at work today. They are all about being mobile and hyper-connected, they expect to be able to work from any place, at any time. Having grown up with many of the social platforms that we know today, they are used to sharing with each other, expressing opinions, and developing their interests.

When I started working 17 years ago, I was happy to have a job. If I got a company car, I was really thrilled. Today, younger people expect much more than that. They want to be empowered, to enjoy the time they spend at work, to grow and feel recognized for it.

Laurence Vanhée: The more mature employees who have been working for 10-15 years or more are also looking for meaning. All that they have been hearing until recently is ‘do more with less,’ ‘optimize performance,’ ‘review processes,’ and ‘achieve KPI targets.’ It’s the processes that were in the center of the attention, not the people.

Employers are looking for performance even more than in the past. They have gone through so many tools trying to optimize that performance, like Agile or Lean methodology, that they cannot progress any further using the same methods. On the other hand we have employees who are not prepared to work in unfulfilling conditions anymore. They are exhausted, and this exhaustion is taking many forms. We talk not only about burnout, but also about brownout, boreout...

What do you think companies can do to give more satisfaction to the employees?

DB: Ten years ago we thought that what really motivated people was money and a better package. Obviously that is important, but it’s not really what engages and motivates people. Intrinsic motivation is what matters the most. If I want my employees to feel engaged, the first thing I need to do is to make sure they find meaning in what they do and see the value it brings.

Second of all, they need to have challenges to keep them interested at work. It’s about hitting the sweet spot between where your comfort zone ends and before the anxiety begins. This is what we call Flow—the optimal state of performance and happiness.

And third of all, they need to do what they love. If I feel I am not using my talent, I will probably take it somewhere else.

LV: Companies should first of all treat their employees as adults. We are all adults in our private lives, we manage budgets, we raise children, and we have responsibilities. In the office, we are told at what time to arrive, where to sit, how to work, when to leave. Companies can start by giving their employees the freedom to choose the elements that contribute to their happiness and result in higher engagement. In exchange for this freedom, employees are expected to assume their responsibilities. The equation we see here is: FREEDOM + RESPONSIBILITY leads to people’s HAPPINESS and the organization’s PERFORMANCE.


What are these elements that companies can let their employees decide about?

LV: There are quite a few we can play with. There is flexible time—the possibility to come to the office outside of peak traffic hours, or to work from home entirely.

There are flexible tools—some organizations have a ‘bring your own device’ policy, where employees can work with their own laptops which they like and are used to, as long as they follow the data security rules.

Then we have flexible place—there are companies now who don’t give their employees a fixed desk. Instead, they offer task-based work posts, which you can use depending on what you do: a cocoon if you need to focus, Agile rooms for project meetings, specific desks for making phone calls, etc. People can choose a place they like and either rotate or stay there every day, as long as the team has no objections to that.

Finally, there are also flexible roles, where companies do not assign people to work on projects, but they offer the possibility to everybody and ask for volunteers, which is a great way to find new talent within the organization and relieve those who have too much on their plate.

DB: As a manager, if you want people to feel engaged, you need to give them freedom and trust. It’s a paradox, because in a way you need to let them go to make them more engaged. A lot of managers don’t feel comfortable with that, it feels to them as if they were losing control. It’s like walking on a tightrope, and Flow is the force that gives you balance. It’s the insurance that in the long run the performance will be there.


That sounds like quite a shift in the organization. Are there types of companies who are more likely to adopt it successfully?

LV: Among our companies there are small companies like ClearSource with their current team of 20 people, and there giants like the Sanofi office campus in Paris, with its 3,000 employees. We have worked with public organizations, such as the Socialists and Democrats political group in the European Parliament, and with industrial companies, like this Swedish enterprise with a mill in Belgium where they make sanitary paper products. We have customers that are small, big, national, international, who are on the stock market or not… It’s not a question of size or market, it’s a question of mindset, culture, and vision.

DB: One question that I get a lot is—‘This is all great, David, but where do I find budget for that?’ The great thing is, companies can start to create motivating conditions without any additional investments. You don’t need to invest any money to give constructive feedback, to set clear objectives, to have a transparent job description. You just need to do it.

If on top of that people can work from various places, using various tools, that’s great. Those are additional benefits which you may need to invest in, but it doesn’t cost any money to make the start.


How do you think this new dynamic will continue, what changes can we expect in the next few years?

LV: The big trend is that we will automate all that we can. We will have driverless cars, deliveries done by drones, we will have chatbots, and writebots—already now a third of Wikipedia and 10,000 press articles a day in the US are written by writebots.

We need to give people a purpose in their job, and we need to create a strong emotional link between the employees and the companies. Because all products will be the same, all jobs will be the same, so what will make you stay in the company is the strong emotional link with your colleagues, with your boss, and also the feelings of pride and even love towards the brand you are working for.

DB: The emotional link between the employee and the company is vital. If we look at countries that are generally ahead of us, such as the United States, Canada, the Nordics, we will see that what they do is create an employee experience. Nowadays, employees can work from anywhere and anytime, and with the growing number of freelancers, many are not even employees. The binding element will no longer be the place or time, but the culture of the company.


It sounds like a difficult task. How do you think this link can be created?

LV: People are asking for more honesty and for genuine relationships. We are fed up with promises that are not kept, with fake engagements. I think there will be a huge shift in the managerial culture and the way we lead people. We have to create several career paths inside an organization, to give people a chance to develop into experts, people managers, project managers or into commercial positions. A people manager should be someone who loves people, and not someone who ends up with a team to manage because it is the only way to climb the career ladder.

Also, you can connect people and emotions together. In the past, happiness was perceived as something that we could have in our private lives, potentially, but at work we needed to be performant. Now we know that there is a correlation between being happy at work and being performant, so we are creating conditions in which people can reconnect with their emotions and be both.

Thank you for the inspiring interview and for talking to My Next Company.


Laurence Vanhée is Chief Happiness Officer at Happyformance and author of Happy RH. In 2012 she was granted the HR Manager of the Year award. She has founded and co-founded multiple services and initiatives, eg.,,, HappyLunch© and Laurence is the author of the blog


David Boon is managing partner at Adgility and a certified coach/expert in Flow, the theory of creating the optimal experience at work and other areas of life. With 17 years of work experience, among others in the Mentally Fit Institute, David is also a consultant in HR talent management. He holds numerous other certifications – in NLP, Insights and DISC, to name but a few.


Maja Fiołek

Written by Maja Fiołek

Maja is a Communication Ambassador at MyNextCompany and a passionate advocate of translating the inbound tools into the world of recruitment. Outside of work, you will find her training for the next triathlon or nose-deep in house renovation.