15 Jun Positive Psychology and Happiness at work
How do you create a positive organization? What’s the formula? In previous articles I have focused on the leader’s role in creating a positive work environment. In this article I will focus on a few other factors – Physical Location, High Quality Relationships, and Meaningful Work – using specific examples from a company I recently visited in northern Italy.
This past spring my daughter Maegan took a semester off from college and moved to Italy after accepting a position at H-Farm.* During phone conversations she gushed not only about the fabulous Italian food, wine and friends she has made, but the company she works for. “Mom, H-Farm is such a unique and positive place to work. It embodies what you teach your clients about positive work places.” I got curious. What exactly is this company doing? We decided that when I came to visit in May, she would arrange a tour of H-Farm and interviews with some of its employees.
*A special thank you goes out to fellow University of Pennsylvania alumni David J. Pollay who introduced Maegan to the organization that brought her to H-Farm – AIESEC.
H-Farm is an Italian hi-tech think-tank. It funds new initiatives by supplying skills, services and capital for start-ups. It has incubated six businesses since its formation in 2005. According to their website (www.h-farm.it) the “H” in H-Farm stands for human, “meaning that man is at the center of every project and technology is only a tool serving us.” H-Farm is built around the concept of an agricultural model where the daily work of more people working together yields a greater contribution.
It was a warm, glorious day when my daughter and I hopped the bus from a suburb of Venice (Treviso) to the rural countryside of Tenuta Ca” Tron where H-Farm is located on 1,100 hectares. “A reverse commute,” I thought. The bus deposited us in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. As we walked down the one-lane road Maegan pointed to the yellow “rustica” surrounded by fields.
“That’s where I work,” she said proudly, “in that old converted farmhouse.” “A high tech firm in a low tech building,” I thought, “now that’s different.”
Before entering the building I passed under a large portico. There two men sat sipping caffêÑÔ© obviously engaged in a business meeting. “How nice,” I thought, “to have a meeting outside versus in a typical conference room.” A foosball table was set up behind them. “This is where we have our lunch-time tournaments,” Maegan informed me, “after we have our catered lunch.”
As I entered the building I was expecting it to be stifling as Maegan told me the building rarely uses the air-conditioning. Instead, I was struck by how cool it was – the first floor was cement and the lights were turned off.
The Physical Location
My first interview was with the Human Resource Manager, Francesca Voltarel. I began by asking her what made H-Farm so special. Although she said Italy has a lot of technology incubator companies, what makes H-Farm unique is “we have created an environment that is very human and informal. Our CEO, Riccardo Donadon, chose this place in the middle of the countryside because he wanted to link high tech thinking with the slow life of the country. In the city it is rush, rush, rush. Everything is grey and you lose contact with the human aspect. [Here] we don”t have the stress and we believe there is a link to innovation. To be creative you need time to relax and work around beauty and nature.” (See Emma Judge’s May article on how “providing distractions at work in terms of the physical environment” can actually facilitate better decision making, too.)
“You work as your want. There is an ease to it,” says Thomas Barazza, H-Farm’s New Venture Director. “I believe a nice, relaxed place can improve productivity. People work better in a nice environment. Somebody should conduct a study and see if that is in fact true,” says Barazza. (Hey, Positive Psychology students – sounds like a great MAPP Capstone).
As I made my way inside H-Farm, I noticed a small alcove with cushy couches, a stereo system, and racks of magazines and coffee table-like books. When I peeked my head into one of the rooms, I noticed four people seated around a large table typing away on their lap tops. Later on I learned from one of the teammates that the open spaces facilitate more interaction and collaboration.
High Quality Relationships
The people H-Farm has recruited have come from other Italian cities, as well as from Spain, Portugal and the United States. Moving to a new place requires making new friends. The connections made at H-Farm have formed many new friendships. Working with people from other countries and cities also provides a rich learning experience that may be difficult to find in other companies.
“Although we”re from different geographical areas,” says Andrea Negrini, a Project Manager who moved from Rome in January to accept this position, “we share similar interests like music. We probably would have met on-line through a music group or something.”
Several people I interviewed joined H-Farm on the recommendation of a friend or former colleague who now works for the company. This is in keeping with Gallup’s research that having a best friend at work is a predictor of employee engagement. “This place has a magical power. It attracts people of the same type who have a high probability to be close friends,” says Alvise SpanêÑÔ_, a Developer. Several people I interviewed joined H-Farm on the recommendation of a friend or former colleague who now works for the company. This is in keeping with Gallup’s research that having a best friend at work is a predictor of employee engagement. “This place has a magical power. It attracts people of the same type who have a high probability to be close friends,” says Alvise SpanêÑÔ_, a Developer.
Several people I interviewed joined H-Farm on the recommendation of a friend or former colleague who now works for the company. This is in keeping with Gallup’s research that having a best friend at work is a predictor of employee engagement. “This place has a magical power. It attracts people of the same type who have a high probability to be close friends,” says Alvise SpanêÑÔ_, a Developer.
Do you want to read more about the applications of positive psychology and happiness at work? Click here.