10 Takeaways From the 2017 Happy Workplaces Conference

In: BlogDate: Dec 11, 2023By: Claire Lickman

The fifth annual Happy Workplaces Conference took place in London on June 14, 2017. Representatives from Dutch care company Buurtzorg, industrial maintenance group ATS, digital transformation experts Foundation SP, and several others came along to offer their insights into creating and maintaining happy and engaged workplaces.

The conference looked at how engaged workplaces are more profitable and incur lower costs, as well as the tendency for happy workplaces to have higher staff retention, offer more flexibility and be more productive. 

Here are 10 essential takeaways from the conference.

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1. Replace bureaucracy and hierarchies with trust and freedom

After taking over as his mother’s principal carer, Public World’s Brendan Martin was dismayed by the extent of bureaucracy stymying the UK home-care system. That’s when he learned about Dutch home-care organisation, Buurtzorg, which stands by its aim to provide holistic care for its clients.

Buurtzorg nurse Madelon van Tilburg told the conference that by placing trust in nurses and encouraging them to exercise freedom, everyone at Buurtzorg feels empowered to carry out a range of tasks. There’s no hierarchy – the organisation’s success is founded on the creation of small teams that work within communities and nurses and assistants collaborating on decision-making.

2. The truly human skills are essential for progress

Amid unprecedented technological growth, the fear of becoming obsolete is rising. Peter Cheese, CEO at CIPD, plotted out the essential requirements for humans to stay indispensible in the modern workplace. Technology falls short when it comes to replicating human emotion, said Peter, which is the foundation of creativity and critical thinking. The focus should be on creating jobs that appeal to our humanity instead of treating workers like automatons.

Peter believes the truly human skills are essential for progress and so the discrepancy between the skills and talents of the workforce and the jobs currently being created must be addressed.

3. Great customer service benefits the entire organisation

Sure Petcare has focused on giving great customer service since day one and the company’s global net promoter score has stayed above 95% for seven years running. Head of customer services, Sarah Metcalfe, explained that during this time they’ve also seen zero staff turnover.  

Perfect customer service is about making it easy, said Sarah, and Sure Petcare does this by making little changes that make things either 20 seconds easier for staff or 20 seconds easier for customers to contact them. Staff are happier, customers are happier, and the cycle starts to feed itself.

4. Employee engagement is essential for employee wellbeing

Compared to the rest of the world, the UK workforce is, on average, fairly disengaged. An employee’s sense of wellbeing is lower when they’re disengaged, while overall productivity will improve once engagement develops, allowing organisations to grow.

United Utilities customer services director Louise Beardmore understands workers want to be empowered and find meaning in their work; they want to be respected, valued and listened to; they want to be trusted. When a job delivers on these things, it stimulates confidence, ownership, innovation and efficiency, all of which boost employee wellbeing.

5. Right person, right seat

You can’t make a decision on where to drive the bus until you get the right people on and the wrong people off. This is the lesson ATS’s Gemma Beadle learned from retired mortgage CEO, David Maxwell.

What this did for Gemma and her ATS colleague, Damien O’Neill, was instruct them to stop putting all their energy into resolving business-specific issues and start paying more attention to people.

You can’t adhere to a generic policy for this – everyone is different – so they approach each individual with respect, honesty and integrity, all in an attempt to let them realise their full potential.

6. Prioritise empowerment, autonomy and freedom to increase profits

Foundation SP CEO Simon Grosse is committed to providing great leadership, great employee experience and great client experience. He defined great leadership as demonstrating purpose and vision and making the company values visible to the entire workforce.

Adjacent to this, Simon stressed the importance of being an authentic and approachable leader. He wants his employees to operate like a family or a sports team. They’re all individuals with separate skills, but they’re bound by their loyalty to family, success, and passion.

7. The value of flexibility in the modern workplace

Flexibility is extremely important in the home-care field. At Buurtzorg, the amount of time dedicated to clients isn’t dictated by company protocol and nurses are free to respond accordingly if a client’s condition changes. Buurtzorg provides holistic care for its clients, with each team of nurses fully versed in a client’s needs and ready carry out a range of services.

Job security is one of the core principles of good work, said Peter Cheese. Job security makes us feel valued and this is involves being granted flexibility within the job. In fact, it’s Peter’s view that being flexible with our working hours could be a more human mode of working than a rigid 9-5. It might even break down the stigma of work as something we’d rather avoid doing unless it’s entirely necessary.

8. Trust your people and let them do their jobs

Sarah Metcalfe trusts the Sure Petcare customer service team to do anything. If you’ve hired the right person and given them the appropriate training, then it’s best to just let them do their job, she said.

Trusting the staff also means making them feel empowered to make changes in the business. At Sure Petcare, several product modifications have come about via the customer service representatives speaking to customers and then feeling trusted and empowered enough to go and talk to the CEO and engineers.

9. Seek regular feedback so that you can identify the bad times as soon as they arise

Family, success, and passion are the core values at Foundation SP. Regular requests for feedback are part of the organisation’s commitment to these values – they review and action every piece of feedback, which lets staff know they’re being heard and encourages them to submit more feedback.

By stimulating regular critical discussion, particularly among people who don’t typically work together, suggestions arise that are then subjected to broader assessment before being implemented.

This all ties in with CEO Simon Grosse’s preference for regular probing in order to detect the bad times and challenges as soon as, or possibly even before, they arise.

10. The four behaviours of highly engaged organisations

United Utilities’ Lousie Beardmore outlined the four behaviours of highly engaged organisations. The first is to have a clear strategic narrative, which means everyone knowing where they’re going and where they fit in. The second is about the quality of each employee’s relationship with their line manager. The third is about having a strong employee voice within the organisation, which means taking seriously staff feedback. The fourth is integrity, which crucially means not saying one thing but doing another – the words and the music need to match. 


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Claire Lickman

Claire is Head of Marketing at Happy. She has worked at Happy since 2016, and is responsible for Happy's marketing strategy, website, social media and more. Claire first heard about Happy in 2012 when she attended a mix of IT and personal development courses. These courses were life-changing and she has been a fan of Happy ever since. She has a personal blog at lecari.co.uk.

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Next Conference: 2025 Happy Workplaces Conference

Our Happy Workplaces Conference is our biggest event of the year, and we'd love for you to join us on Wednesday 25th June!

Our 2024 event was our first ever hybrid event, and so we hope to run next year's in the same way. We will host up to 50 people face-to-face at Happy's HQ in Aldgate, London, and we can host up to 200 people online via Zoom. However you choose to join, there will be interaction, discussion, space for reflection and opportunities to network with others.

Stay tuned for full details of our speakers for next year's event. As always, our speakers share practical, hands-on ideas that you can implement to create happy and engaged workplaces.

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