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photo: Bartolini Professor Stefano Bartolini
Professor of Economics at the University of Sienna, Italy

Understanding the effect of policy on national wellbeing

March 2017
Despite dozens of years of research, we still know precious little about what policies increase national wellbeing.Response
Decades of happiness research have provided precious knowledge about policies able to increase subjective well-being. We know that the quality of social and intimate relationships is critical to well-being and that some policies could enhance relationships. Urban policies. Cities always had relationships at the centre of their organisation. Crucial for creating relations was the common space, symbolized by the city square, where citizens of all ranks could meet. Cities were built for people; all streets were pedestrian. Then, the advent of automobiles transformed cities into places dangerous for humans. Cars have invaded common spaces, destroying the social fabric. We should create "relational" cities based on a reorganization of space and mobility. Private cars must be drastically restricted as a structural measure in order to encourage residents to use public transport. There must be a great number of squares, parks, quality pedestrian areas, sports centres, etc. These areas must criss-cross a city to form a pedestrian and cycling network. Advertising has a profoundly negative influence on people's well-being, outlook and relationships. This influence is greater in children than in adults (Schor, 2005). The amount of advertising we are exposed to should be reduced, especially that targeting children. A high tax on advertising and a ban on television ads targeting children should be seriously considered. Health care and schooling. Schooling is narrowly focused on cognitive capacities. It should be reshaped in order to provide emotional education, which it currently discourages. Health: studies show that happiness heavily affects health and longevity. Thus, healthcare systems are the end stations of distress. Unhappiness tends to turn into health problems, creating pressure on healthcare systems, whose costs grow increasingly unsustainable. We may spend too much on health care, when we could obtain better results through policies aimed at increasing well-being.Disagree strongly

In order to find out what raises national wellbeing, we need to have thousands of randomised controlled trials in all major areas of national policy.Response
Randomized control trials are the basis to build evidence-based policiesAgree strongly

Organisational structures on workers' wellbeing

January 2017
Employees in more hierarchical organisations have higher levels of wellbeing than those of flatter organisations.Response
Flat organizations promote well-being in the workplace. Indeed, the way companies are organized affects some crucial determinants of satisfaction for one’s job, such as the quality of relations with colleagues. The latter increases when the level of trust between people who work together increases and when relations with bosses are perceived as based on respect, cooperation and support. The most satisfying jobs are those in companies where the communication style of managers is based on these criteria and where interpersonal contacts are more frequent. Flat structures heighten trust because they tend to shift the focus of the organization from competition to cooperation. Responsible and empowered individuals find it easier to cooperate. Besides the quality of relations, job satisfaction increases also with the perception of having control over one’s work, with the opportunity of expressing one’s skills and with the diversity of the tasks to be performed. These features – related to the needs of autonomy and self-expression – are typical of flat structures. Apart from having happier employees, flat organizations are also more flexible, creative and effective in problem solving. Their employees show higher levels of engagement compared to those of hierarchical structures. This explains why these organizations are spreading. As digital technologies make it easier to work in a distributed manner, flat structures are likely to become increasingly common. There are not only reasons relating to well-being suggesting that it is more advantageous to treat people with dignity and to provide them with autonomy, organizing small teams rather than large hierarchies. There are in fact sound business reasons as well. Disagree strongly

Tilting the tax and subsidy mix in favour of more hierarchical organisations (in a revenue neutral manner) would probably improve the wellbeing of employees.Response
For the reasons I mentioned before, incentives should be provided to the develop flat organizations, rather than hierarchical.Disagree strongly