International Week of Happiness at Work Freshwalks work life balance


    What is international week of happiness at work?

    The week is the International Week of Happiness at Work, a Dutch initiative by Maartje Wolff and Fennande van der Meulen. The pair launched the first official campaign only two years ago in 2018, calling on organisations to create working environments that stimulate appreciation, trust and positive feedback.

    The manifesto for Happiness at Work suggests that this is all about meaningful work, healthy relationships, development and having fun with the aim of making ‘happiness at work the norm and not the exception’.

    We spend a third of our lives at work, so it is bound to have a major impact on our happiness levels. Plus, it’s been proven that when we are happy at work, we’re also more likely to be happier in the other elements within our life.

    Meet: Freshwalks

    To help people create a better work life balance and to stimulate their mental performance and wellbeing, Michael Di Paola set up Freshwalks, an initiative bringing business people together, taking them out of the city and into the countryside for hikes.

    “Whatever I’ve done, whether it’s a business networking event or a purely social occasion, I always want to provide a sense of community, for people to feel part of something and feel they’ve got a support network,” explains Michael. “Freshwalks offers people the opportunity to properly think and get away from their day jobs.”

    After the first walk, Michael says that he saw something he hadn’t seen before through other organised events. “I was seeing genuine contentment in people’s faces; a shared sense of achievement because they’d all done this thing together.”

    It was clear the first hike had been a success and it has grown organically ever since. “People come for different reasons, but for me, Freshwalks is genuinely my own therapy; it was my own self preservation mechanism to face challenges I was facing in both business and my personal life.”

    Getting out on walks and into nature is a great way of improving your mental wellbeing and performance. “When you’re outside and you don’t have any distractions, it gives your brain a chance to find gears that it doesn’t normally do,” says Michael. “Science backs up that you think more creatively outdoors and in nature.”

    The importance of community to our happiness

    One of the main things people associate with Freshwalks, and the reason it links so heavily with our happiness in our working life, is the networking side of the trips. But it’s not just about that. It’s about the wider sense of community that brings.

    “Networking isn’t something that I think a lot of people like doing, but I think Freshwalks has created an enjoyable way of doing this business necessity,” Michael says. “It comes about in a way that people forge friendships first and then the work chat comes in after. Trust is the next step in that relationship and that’s when I’ve seen really good business relationships ensued.”

    Coming together through events like this is especially important for people who work alone, such as freelancers and contractors. But it’s also beneficial for many of us in the current climate, where we find ourselves working from home much more, if not full time.

    “I think the last six months, more so than anything in my lifetime, has demonstrated how important it is that we have people around us,” explains Michael. “In terms of work, I think a realistic vision is a blend of office and home working, where people are trusted to take a day or two to work at home, without distraction, and support a healthy, happy, flexible work/life balance. But you also need the community that the office brings. We all need that social interaction.”

    What can employers do to help their employees’ happiness?

    Having happy employees is good for everyone - it’s undoubtedly beneficial to your colleagues, but it’s also good for business, too. Studies show that happy employees are more productive, flexible, resilient and creative. So it really does pay to invest in the happiness of your workplace. And, really, wouldn’t we all just enjoy having happy colleagues?

    Michael believes that trust plays a large part in employee happiness. “Especially in the last six months, employers have had to trust employees a lot more. But they’re also realising that people will work. They’re not just going to skive and watch TV. People want to do a job. They want to crack on and achieve things and get stuff done.”

    And, of course, working from home has been the key catalyst for this focus on trust. But we must also look at whether, long-term, this is conducive to employee happiness. “Many of the people having the conversations about working from home are senior leaders who have big homes and lots of space to work in,” says Michael “I think they need to understand how much junior members of staff need that space to work and how much they learn on the job day to day, being in the same room as somebody more senior and seeing how they handle things.”

    What impacts your happiness at work? Let us know.


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