What does the boss of Twitter think about workplace wellbeing?

Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s EMEA vice president, is on a mission to make today’s workplace a more creative and productive space. He’s passionate about work culture and working smarter rather than harder, so much so he’s created the New Work Manifesto, eight simple changes you can make for a better work environment.  I caught up with Bruce to get his take on workplace wellbeing.

What does good workplace wellbeing mean to you?

For me it’s trying to achieve a balance of the demands on people.  My personal feeling is if you start with 40hrs being enough work for anyone to do and treat it like that then you’ll achieve happiness.  The problems we’ve faced over the past 20 years is as works become more demanding and email has added an extra two hours a day to the average working day we’ve allowed it to expand work.  That’s why people feel overwhelmed because they are doing more work than before.  If you look at the output of that UK productivity is in decline – it’s almost flat.  Working extra isn’t actually achieving more and that’s the challenge we’ve got.  We’ve tried working that way, adding more to work and working longer and the output is lower productivity worse results.  I think the best thing we can do is treat 40 hours as the amount that we are setting out to do and it will force you to make decisions.  If you are doing 16 hours a week meetings – the average British boss is doing 23hrs of meetings a week – then hopefully you start to appraise that as an opportunity cost.  If you are doing 23 hours a week there, then that means you have 17 hours a week to do your job.  As soon as you start thinking about work being finite then it forces you to make decisions about what you do.  So for me a healthy balance at work is thinking about what you can take out of it, how can you leave yourself some gaps for thought.  There used to be a saying ‘beware of the busy manager’, so beware of someone who has too much in their diary as it prevents you from doing the creative a productive parts of the job.

What small changes do you think companies can make to ensure their staff are happier at work?

Myself and a friend created the New Work Manifesto which is a free resource of eight changes anyone can make.  The number one thing that anyone can do to be happier at work is take the email notifications off your phone, stop being alerted when emails come in.  Stop prioritising immediate over important.  Make sure you take a lunch break, there’s strong evidence that everyone from school kids to the most seasoned worker can benefit from a 30 minute pause and taking a break.  The best way to do it is to take a break with someone – have a chat, stimulate yourself or even if you want to have a pause, read a book.  What you tend to find is the sense of renewal you feel from taking a break is really powerful.  We improve work by taking things out of it, we’ve added more and more bricks to the wall and what’s happened is the cement that was holding them bricks has actually been squeezed out and a wall with no cement falls over.

Who do you think has got it right and what are they doing?

Increasingly individuals are finding a balance, but I don’t think companies have yet got it right.  I love what people like Arianna Huffington are doing. 

Ariana Huffington has reached this epiphany when she had a breakdown.  She was working so hard, doing this fetishized 100 hours a week of work and she realised productivity and happiness aren’t created by working longer, they are created by reflectively just doing a correct amount of work.  So people like Arianna Huffington are a really inspiring example.  What I’ve found is there is no shortage of evidence for people who are looking for it.  There’s a great book by Dan Pink called ‘When’ which talks about chrono biology and when is the best time to do things and what he found was taking breaks is really important, renewing ourselves and finding out when is the best time of the day for you – some people find their most productive time is the morning and the afternoon is their most creative time.  Knowing that, then you might say the morning is when I write my document and the afternoon is when I’ll brainstorm ideas and understanding those things is really powerful.

What changes have you introduced at Twitter to help with staff wellbeing?

The number one thing we’ve done is presume permission.  Someone come up to me and said I’m not sure what I’m allowed to do so I explored this further.

One guy came to me – he lives two hours away and he found himself battling everyday to get on the 7’o’clock train because if he got that train, even though it was a crush he’d get into the office around quarter past nine.  He said ‘am I allowed to get the eight o clock because if I get that train I get a table and I can work for two hours?’ and the difference is he gets to work at quarter past ten but with an empty inbox and he said he arrives in a state where he’s ready to chat and engage with people rather than arrive at the mandated 9.15am time but in an agitated state with a full inbox with lots to do.  Presuming permission was the first thing we put on our manifesto, the idea that until they are told otherwise people should presume they have the permission to do things.

Tell me a bit about your plans for the New Work Manifesto?

The intention is the more it can be prized from our hands and become something people can change, edit and adapt, the better.  I would love nothing more than if someone said we got rid of idea six and replaced it with something else.  The more it becomes this organic thing that people improve the better.  When we set about doing it we put some things on there we felt passionate about – point number eight is laugh – the more we can optimise our offices to laugh more it makes the whole of work more enjoyable.  It might well be that people come to us and say there are other things that are far more important than that and I’d be delighted to hear those things.

Bruce Daisley is EMEA vice president at Twitter. He also runs the top Business podcast, Eat Sleep Work Repeat. His first book about improving work and our work cultures will be published by Penguin Random House in spring 2018.You can listen to Bruce’s podcast Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat here