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The value of being happy at work

Marketplace Staff Dec 16, 2010

The value of being happy at work

Marketplace Staff Dec 16, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: There’s a philosophy of the workplace that goes — if I might borrow a well known corporate slogan — “Just Do It.” Put your head down and get things done. That’s why they call it work, right? So I was intrigued by a company, a successful company, that has put 5,000 employees through a program that sounded a little touchy-feely.

Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton are co-studio heads at Sony Pictures Entertainment here in L.A. They’re doing pretty well, 22 Golden Globe nominations just this week. We met over lunch, on the patio outside the studio commissary.

Michael Lynton: There was an executive dining room, which only executives could eat in. And there were all these sort of crummy places for people to eat all over the lot, and it was a real class system. So we said, “OK, here’s what we should do, we should build a commissary that’s completely open.” Yes, there’s a part that you get served and a part you don’t get, but anyone can eat in either part.

Amy Pascal: And they do.

Lynton: And on top of that, we subsidize one of the meals.

Ryssdal: In fact, you subsidize the healthy meal.

Pascal: Yes.

Lynton: Yes, we do not subsidize the triple hamburger with extra mayonnaise.

The commissary and the open lawn and the free gym nearby are part of Pascal and Linton’s goal of building community and sustaining their employees.

Tony Schwartz: They’re in line with what science tells us that you actually have to do physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually to be able to perform at their best.

Tony Schwartz and his company The Energy Project helped Sony Pictures figure out how to work smarter.

Schwartz: We’ve looked at it with athletes for many years, but it’s only recently that we begun to look at that in the organizational world. And that’s because now, the urgency they’re feeling is high or higher than athletes feel.

Amy Pascal puts it another way.

Pascal: It was management speak that didn’t sound prissy, it didn’t sound touchy feely, it didn’t sound, forgive me, girly. It was really hard-nosed smart stuff.

Like actual science that shows we don’t do our best work when we’re constantly being interrupted by e-mail, or when we’re expected to work flat out all the time.

Andrew Gumpert: I was first a litigator.

Andrew Gumpert is president of business affairs at Sony Pictures.

Gumpert: I was trained to basically sit at my desk, I mean, literally six or seven hours, I hate to say this without going to the men’s room. I thought I was being effective. I didn’t feel good.

To help Gumpert unlearn those habits, Tony Schwartz created some new rituals for him, so his day is a series of sprints instead of one long slog.

Gumpert: Working for 45 minutes really hard and then breaking.

Ryssdal: How do you take a break, you work 45 minutes and then what do you do?

Gumpert: I guess I’m somewhat blessed, there’s a television, I’ll watch ESPN for 10 or 15 minutes. We have a beautiful lot here, I take a walk down main street, I can go meet a friend. Getting away from Blackberry, cellphone, so you really feel there’s a true physical break.

It’s one thing, though, when your boss says you can take a TV break in the middle of the day or a nap or ignore your e-mail after 8 o’clock at night. It’s another thing entirely to really believe that. Michael Lynton gets it.

Lynton: I grew up in the Netherlands, and you have a pretty Calvinist work ethic, and the idea that you take breaks, or the idea that you relax, is not part of the bargain of what you get paid for every day.

About that bargain, the part where the company pays you and you work, you don’t watch television: After all the soul-searching and habit breaking, has any of what Sony’s done translated into profit?

Here’s Amy Pascal.

Pascal: I think it will be too soon to see tangible things, but what for sure we’ve seen are the different divisions of the company working together in a way that they never had before, us being able to get, wring more money out of all the things we do. Because people are working together, everybody works hard to do the same thing.

There are, says Tony Schwartz, more than 100 studies that link engagement and corporate profitability. He also thinks, by the way, that I need to take apart my routine if I want be more productive.

You can hear what he has to say and get a link to an assessment of your own routine.

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