Putting People First: The Future of Workplace Wellbeing


  • Matt Phelan, co-founder and co-CEO, The Happiness Index
  • Lidia Szutkiewicz, Head of People, NetGuru
  • Moderated by Adam Luk, Head of Finance, Level39



On Thursday 8 July, Level39 hosted the latest in its series of virtual events, Putting People First: The Future of Workplace Wellbeing. Joined by Matt Phelan, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of The Happiness Index and Lidia Szutkiewicz, Head of People at NetGuru, the panel discussion focused on happiness and wellbeing in a post-covid workplace. Are tech companies doing enough to keep employees happy and what more will they need to do to retain them?

With restrictions set to ease on the 19 July, employers begin to finalise the preparations for the gradual return to the office. When reflecting on the past 18 months, and looking at lessons learnt, it’s been revealed that there are many more layers to happiness and wellbeing of employees than ever before.

The session kicked off with introductions from the two panelists. Firstly, Matt Phelan, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of The Happiness Index, an employee engagement and happiness platform which allows companies throughout the world to understand how their people think and feel, to improve company culture. The second guest is Lidia Szutkiewicz, Head of People at NetGuru, a software consultancy. Lidia’s key role is to ensure the happiness and wellbeing of employees in the company, creating a more inclusive workplace.

Happiness and remote working – how has this altered people’s mindsets and what do companies need to prioritise before the return to the office?

“Not only did we lose our working environment, but we have also disconnected from our social lives”, Lidia begins by explaining the importance of the NetGuru offices which are a place where you can build community, connections and hang out. Lidia talks about employer responsibility to ensure that, even when working remotely, employees are shown value and engagement through the likes of fun virtual activities, such as online cooking classes and virtual team hangouts.

“We’ve been collecting data in real-time throughout the pandemic and can see that it has impacted people in very different ways, but the thing to remember is, it hasn’t impacted people equally -for example, engineers have generally become happier.” Matt’s research showed two significant things; emotional deficit, “companies need to work harder to communicate with employees in a virtual world.” Secondly, understanding why?

What are the positives and negatives of working from home? How can we keep the best of both worlds?

Lidia agrees with Matt that it’s just personal preference. Positives of remote working include spending less time commuting and the ability to work from various locations. Negative aspects are the lack of social connectivity, making team building harder. Working and living in the same place can also affect work life balance, Lidia encourages employees to shut down when the working day is done.

How can your software play a role in employee wellbeing when they work remotely?

“If you can measure it, you can understand it”. Matt says that if you are going to measure, then do it to understand better, rather than to control. In turn, this will lead to better decisions.

How can employers create a culture of wellbeing in a transparent way, and make people feel comfortable when joining the company remotely?

When it comes to shaping culture, Lidia explains that it’s constant work and not a one task job. At NetGuru, they care about company culture from the very beginning. “This is when we share our values, and how we work”. During onboarding, Lidia makes sure that they don’t only talk about culture and perks, but also the things that are hard to identify, for example burnout and struggles with emotions. Its Lidia’s responsibility to make sure everyone knows where to look for help. “If we are transparent from the very beginning and talk about the struggles, it allows everyone to talk openly about it.”

“Emotions have weirdly been classified as professional or unprofessional”.  Matt believes that there is no such thing as being too emotional, “it’s like saying a parent loves their child too much- It doesn’t exist.” Matt’s research has shown that the emotional state of a company is an indicator of the financial performance. “Today’s emotions are tomorrows financial performance.” Employers need to understand that emotions fluctuate. “Emotional data is more like a weather report than a financial report.”

With the acceleration of tech startups and general success in the tech industry post-pandemic, how are companies retaining and attracting new staff?

“Current and past employees are your best reference point, and you should always trust what they’re saying.” Using MPS, NetGuru measure the likelihood of staff recommending NetGuru as a workplace. In a recent survey, out of 500 people, 300 rated the likelihood 9 or 10 (on a scale of 1-10). NetGuru were also recently awarded a certificate as a wonderful place to work.

How does The Happiness Index showcase to new perspective employers, how they can prioritise staff wellbeing and happiness?

“It is said that people who have affairs, are not happy in their relationship.” Similarly, employees in the tech industry stay in companies for a long time if they are given everything that makes them happy, and if not, they can leave very easily.

“People frequently confuse engagement with happiness. Engagement is what the brain needs, such as clarity in your role. Happiness is what the heart needs such as valuable opportunities to grow. Most of our inbound leads do not come from companies who say they want their employees to be happy, but more so from specific problems.” Engagement metrics are currently high, but people are very unhappy. “We see burnout, wellbeing issues, and unhappiness. Emotions have been banned from the workforce, but by bringing emotions back in, people will be happier.” Retaining staff should cost nothing – appreciation and appraisal.

What type of questions should a candidate ask about employee wellbeing?

“What does wellbeing mean to them? If they have an answer, they should find out if the company offers this and what they do to ensure it.” Lidia also advises doing your research on the company before, including checking their social media channels.

What are genuine perks a company can provide which makes it more appealing?

This generation tends to prioritise culture and employers need to be ethically educated and politically correct, knowing how to carefully communicate with their employees and mitigating DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies.

Lidia adds, “it’s hard to keep up. We must keep educating ourselves to build an amazing workplace.” She explains that perks are everything on top of the basic benefits. For example, flexible benefits platform, sabbatical leave, discounts, and offers.

Is data helping tech companies get insights into how to improve staff morale?

“It gives a company emotional intelligence. Especially for larger companies it’s hard to understand how people feel. Being able to log in and see how your people feel all around the world gives you emotional intelligence.” Matt addresses the heightened challenges for this because of remote working, “CEOs of international companies, especially when working from home, find it hard to ‘read the room.’ The tendency of a CEO is to speak rationally, but if people are in an emotional state, you need to lead with more stories as examples. Data can be extremely negative and leadership fear this. Your employees can handle the truth but cannot handle you not dealing with it.”

The pandemic has changed how we work, but has it changed people’s mindset about going into the office? What do you think the expectation of the future of the office will be?

“It’s a matter of the individual and perceiving their needs”, Lidia believes it has changed people’s mindsets including her own. Lidia elaborates on the importance of offering flexibility and giving people a choice of how they want to work, “This will be the standard in the future. The crucial challenge will be gathering the data and working out employees needs and expectations.”

Although we can see mindsets changing, has the stigma of remote working remained?

“The pandemic was such a big event; everyone has changed fundamentally from that, and employers need to have a customer mindset.” Matt acknowledges that the bigger, more corporate companies are so out of tune with what employees want because they come from a period where they had vast power over employees. “Nowadays, social media and advanced tech has changed the world. It has made it much easier to move job if you are unhappy. Attract and retain employees in a competitive landscape, the same way you would do for customers.”

The session finished off with a virtual Q&A with attendees which you can listen to in the recording below.



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