The Happiness Factor – By Taryn Uhlmann, Executive Head: Operations and Marketing
1. How do you define happiness in the workplace?
Happiness at work comes from believing you have the power, no matter what position you hold, to make a difference to the performance of the company you work for. Happiness comes from the belief that you are a part of a machine that works together to ensure a positive outcome no matter how small or big a part you play. This is intrinsically linked to being made to feel appreciated and valued.
The reverse, feeling disempowered and therefore disinterested, I believe is one of the biggest factors leading to frustration and dissatisfaction and ultimately poor performance from both the individual and the company.
Both are self-perpetuating states of being and so a happy workplace is ultimately happy because it focuses on empowering and appreciating its employees first, which in turn ensures the business, and its customers, are taken care of.
Secondly, and again it comes to employee wellbeing, is enabling a work/life balance. Life in general is hard, fast and very full, and managing homes, relationships, work, children, families, our physical health and everything else in between is very challenging. Being autonomous, accountable for your own work and time, and being output driven rather than being micro managed allows for a more balanced life.
The clichés here are true – the health of the one reflects the health of the whole and we are only as strong as our weakest link – as such a happy and successful company is one that is healthy, and good health comes from having balance in one’s own life.
2. Why do you think your workplace fits this bill? What happens there? What makes it happy?
Discover Digital is an innovative, and in some senses, ground breaking company approaching a relatively new video on demand industry in Africa in a bold and different way. This immediately creates a space that is creative and collaborative and being a relatively small team – a start-up – everyone is very involved across the board, working towards common goals. Certainly, we all have our defined roles, but the hierarchical levels are made slight through very open door policies, full team involvement on projects, freedom of expression and opinion and a lot of sharing of information and ideas based on a real mix of experience.
We have a lean team and a fast paced business so boredom is definitely not a factor! Being very busy ensures everyone is accountable, which means people know they have a direct effect on the outcome of any project and their delivery is instrumental to our overall success. We therefore do all we can to enable each person to deliver to the best of their ability. As a business we are brand proud, service-centric and want to have an impact on our society and broader culture.
In terms of work life/balance, there is a wonderful culture of family – most of us have young children and so there is a great acceptance of the need to attend school events, work from home when they are ill or having them at the office whenever needed. This extends to dogs too! We are also quite an exercise focused team and many people will make time to leave a little early or arrive slightly later if it means fitting in exercise. I read once that the biggest factor that enables one to feel they have balance in their life, more than even seeing family or having a personal hobby, is fitting in exercise and we encourage this tremendously.
3. What are some of the cool things you do which bring out the happiness factor?
We celebrate a lot! From staff birthdays to someone beginning studying, to business wins, we champion each other and each other’s causes. This often happens around staff drinks and snacks on a Friday afternoon. We acknowledge little things like people decorating their space – one person has decoupaged their desk with movie memorabilia and another is the self-appointed ‘’head of the creative committee’’, who ensures on spring day everyone has flowers or chocolates on their desk or encourages us to put our suggestions into an anonymous suggestion jar for things like end of year functions. We also occasionally go out the office for lunch or drinks to regroup and clear our heads. I guess what is key is that everyone is involved in the day to day operations and can feel that they contribute.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t tensions and disagreements but challenging each other is encouraged and there is no culture of fear for having an opinion. Like a family we can fight and disagree but we ultimately try not to assign blame. We talk, we resolve and we move on.
4. Can I get some quotes from people with their name and title saying why they think they are happy and what does it for them?
Frederick Erasmus, Senior Developer: “This is a very open environment, very accepting. I feel I can share my opinion even if it is different to what is generally believed.”
Tracy Aberman, Client Services Manager: “I really feel valued and appreciated. The nicest thing that ever happened was when I got a card from everyone saying we know how hard your job is and we appreciate the effort. It meant such a lot.”
Sharon Mould, CRM Manager: “This is the most supportive company I have ever worked for.”
Leon Van der Berg, Chief Technical Officer: “From a technical perspective, the work we do is challenging, ground-breaking and pioneering. And everyone gets stuck in – nothing is below your pay grade. Nothing is too much trouble.“
Tim Cook, Senior Manager Sports Content: “I like the informality of the workspace and the approachability of the exec team and the fact that they encourage engagement and they listen.”
Claire Eke, Content Specialist: “There are great opportunities to grow as an individual in a niche, brand new industry and to be part of the revolution that is digital. I do what I love and we have a fun environment – if you are not having fun while doing it, you are doing it wrong!”
5. If one or two people could also reflect on the reverse – if someone maybe had a toxic job in the past and can talk about how this has really highlighted the difference for them?
Frederick Erasmus, Senior Developer: “I’ve had good and bad work experiences but the worst is when management is aligned to punishment which just cultivates a context of fear. At Discover Digital you can highlight issues and problems and be heard. One needs to be able to highlight problems so they don’t come as a surprise to the company when you least expect it.’
Tim Cook, Senior Manager Sports Content: “Politics, in many forms, in the work space for me is extremely toxic. There are no politics at Discover Digital – everyone is really supportive and down to earth which makes for an awesome work environment.”
Luyanda Nkothe, Junior Application Developer: “I’ve worked in companies before where there was a big divide and difference between juniors and execs. Here it is a lot more open and I can express myself freely in meetings. I am also included in various meetings so my experience is growing. I don’t want to be in a box and here I get to experience different things at all levels.”