A happy workforce is a productive workforce. But maintaining a happy workforce is easier said than done, with a number of threats and uncontrollable variables that can destabilise a harmonious atmosphere.

One such danger is the increasingly competitive nature of employee ‘work ethic’ that is fast becoming a staple of this current generation of workers. Particularly in an economy in which job security is perhaps more volatile than ever, many are choosing to work more and more unpaid overtime, in the hope of garnering a reputation for being a hard, committed worker in the eyes of their superiors.

Amongst their fellow employees, it can be both frustrating and threatening. Those keen to put on a superficial show for their bosses by sending late night e-mails and insisting on being the last in the office can cause fractures within the workplace, while also making others feel guilty for ‘not working hard enough’.

It’s a worrying trend, as a whole host of research has shown the wide array of negatives that come with spending too much time in the office. A study from Loughborough University, for example, clearly showed more time sitting at work having a direct correlation with a decrease in mental wellbeing, whilst others have found it can also affect productivity, morale, effectiveness and the ability to problem-solve.

Despite this, it can be a difficult cycle to break. These negatives often pale in comparison to the fear of job security weakening, or a burning ambition to impress and get ahead. It doesn’t help either that the idea of ‘hard work’ is so closely linked to working long hours, and it’s continually reinforced to us that ‘hard work’ and dedication above and beyond what’s expected is a key factor in success stories.

However, the onus is on employers to make a change and instigate a shift away from this culture. The habits stem from a perception that this is what will impress – and unless that line of thinking is rejected clearly, it will continue to happen. While workers may think working late consistently is a necessary evil, if productivity and creativity are down, then surely employers should look to remedy that.

Creativity is something that I’m a large proponent of, as it has so many benefits. Allowing employees to break out of their shell, forget about work for a short while and put their minds to task on something completely different and largely inconsequential, can be of tremendous benefit.

Increasingly companies are placing a larger emphasis on stimulating their employees with activities and experiences, away days and initiatives. Google for example run a twenty percent program, where workers get to spend a fifth of their time on side projects.

It’s something we take seriously too at The Brand Union.  I believe we put them into practice at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity earlier this month. In a week full of conferences and seminars, we hosted (in conjunction with Lambie Nairn) the second annual ‘Cannes Also’ event, with workshops from clay animation experts Aardman, balloon artists Airigami and Lego sculptors Bright Bricks – encouraging the media’s finest to take some time out and create something amazing. At times it was a surreal experience seeing CEOs and 5-year-olds sitting together and playing with Lego!

Giving workers the opportunity to take some time out and get a bit creative is not only refreshing, but it also gets their mind working in different ways. Designing something out of clay may not seem relevant, but by engaging different problem-solving faculties, it can lead to new ways of thinking in the workplace, resulting in broader and faster solutions.

I fervently believe that change can only be truly achieved if it is reflected at all levels – critically this includes what is euphemistically called “the top”.

Seeing unexpected but supportive behaviour form leaders is vital to achieving culture shift – we need to see behaviour changes beyond strategy, to truly reinforce the idea that change will happen.

If this is seen by the organisation as a whole it will reinforce the belief that everyone is headed in the same direction and there is a better chance that people will commit more of their energy (outside ‘normal’ office hours) to positively support and advocate the business.