There was a time when greed was good, lunch was for wimps, and to be successful in the City one was expected to embody an unstoppable juggernaut fuelled by energy drinks or other less-than-legal substances.
That, at least, was the Gordon Gekko-inspired stereotype. As with all stereotypes, it was partly absurd, yet also contained traces of reality.
In recent years the worlds of business and finance have to some extent embraced philosophical change. Long and arduous hours still exist, especially among young bankers vying to earn their (pin)stripes, as do macho micro-cultures in male-dominated sectors. Yet many workers, perhaps inspired by the likes of Steve Jobs, now argue that success is more likely if one slows down and adopts a balanced, contemplative perspective.
Meditation and mindfulness apps are increasingly popular and have become a business success story in their own right. A former chief researcher at one such app, Headspace, is now turning his attention to a tool named me@mybest that claims to “measure and improve psychological wellbeing in the workplace”. A Seedrs campaign launches today with the aim of lifting its funding to £600,000 and encouraging more employers and employees to take part.
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Its promoters say the platform is already used by several large UK businesses including some financial services firms. Data gathered so far shows enormous productivity gains stemming from a happier, more content workforce. The economy would get a £24bn annual boost if we were all just “one per cent happier”, they claim, with FTSE giants such as BP raking in an extra £702m per annum from a more content workforce.
Whether or not you believe such speculative number-crunching, the growing concern for workplace wellbeing is surely a good thing. Meditation may be a trendy example, but it is no panacea for an unhealthy working environment. Thus it has been encouraging in recent years to see financial companies take measures to tackle over-working and other counterproductive habits.
Nearly 250 years ago philosopher Adam Smith explored the ability of the marketplace to channel self-interest into socially productive work – a phenomenon continually demonstrated in today’s market-orientated economies. Greed, therefore, really can be good. But how we choose to work within those market structures remains entirely up to us.