Employee satisfaction, employee engagement, employee loyalty … what’s at the heart of all of these terms? For me, there’s a simple theme running through each: happiness. So when companies talk about measuring employee satisfaction and so on, perhaps what they should really be asking is, “How happy are our employees?”
In this article, we’ll take a look at what makes employees happy, and discover practical ways to gauge just how happy your people are at work.
What makes people happy in the workplace?
I can confidently say I’m very happy in my work. But why? What are the factors that make my job enjoyable, engaging and satisfying? Several factors spring immediately to mind: I can be myself; I have a pleasant working environment; I like the people I work with; I feel valued; and there’s a strong sense of contributing to something greater.
That’s not a bad list for starters! And while different people respond positively to different things, I bet most of the above would strike a chord with happy employees everywhere.
A while ago, I read a fascinating New York Times article about happiness in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The article centred on Dasho Karma Ura, a leading expert on happiness, who developed Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness indicator as a measure of the country’s development (as opposed to, or alongside, GDP as an indicator of development).
In one of his team’s studies, conducted in 2015, an astonishing 91.2% of Bhutanese reported that they felt narrowly, extensively or deeply happy – an impressive figure in itself, but one that represented a 1.8% increase on the 2010 figures.
So what makes the people of Bhutan happy? In technical terms, there are four pillars of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan (which are even referred to in the kingdom’s Constitution). They are:
- Good governance
- Sustainable socioeconomic development
- Preservation and promotion of culture
- Environmental conservation
Ura himself puts it this way, “People feel happy when they see something ethical. When you think you have done something right and brave and courageous, when you can constantly recharge yourself as a meaningful actor.”
It’s not that hard to see how these pillars, and the concept of being a “meaningful actor”, translate into the workplace. Good governance, for instance, for most employees would mean ethical, transparent leadership that values those who work for the company. Environmental conservation, from an employee perspective, could mean that the business is minimising the environmental impact and maybe maintaining a pleasant, uplifting and inspiring working environment. (Consider Google’s famed nap pods and employee vegetable gardens as an example of this in action.)
Why happiness should matter a lot more to organisations
It amazes me that employee happiness isn’t a more important consideration for businesses. We hear so much about employee satisfaction, engagement and loyalty but, as yet, comparatively little about employee happiness. Yet, happy employees are clearly more engaged and satisfied with the organisation. And if they’re engaged and satisfied, it stands to reason that they’ll be more loyal to the business. This has a positive impact on the company’s bottom line, too. One study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than not-so-happy employees. In some business areas, the difference was up to 37%.
So, if I was running an organisation, I’d want to know the people in the business were happy. Because when people are happy, businesses benefit. It’s as simple as that.
How to measure happiness in the workplace
This all sounds great, but how easy is it to actually measure happiness? The science around measuring happiness has been hotly debated (with some arguing it’s impossible to measure), and is still evolving. Currently, two of the most successful ways to measure happiness are:
- Behavioural measures such as smiling, laughing, the language we use, and tone of voice can give a glimpse of how happy we are.
- Self-reporting, i.e. The simple act of asking people how happy they are.
In a workplace context, this leads to measures such as:
- Employee surveys. I don’t mean the bloated 50-question annual employee surveys of the past, but shorter, more regular employee surveys. Pulse surveys, which can be as short as one question, are very quick and easy to deploy, which means they can be issued much more frequently. This allows you to track trends and gather much faster insights into employee happiness.
- Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). This incredibly useful and simple tool involves asking employees “How likely would you be to recommend us as an employer?” It’s typically used as a measure of employee loyalty, but it stands to reason that happy employees are loyal employees. So if your eNPS score is low, that speaks to low levels of happiness in the workplace.
- Employee interviews. We’ve all heard of exit interviews, but why wait until people are leaving the company to ask them how happy they are (answer: probably not very)? Why not interview people a year after they join the company to find out how happy they are? Why not interview those who have been with the company for five years to find out how happiness levels change over time, and so on?
- Artificial intelligence (AI) tools. A whole raft of new tools and systems have come onto the market in recent years that harness AI capabilities to better understand employee behaviour. For example, image analytics can be used to analyse facial expressions to understand how people are feeling (as opposed to how they say they’re feeling), and smart badges can monitor people’s tone of voice.
By measuring and tracking employee happiness over time, and then taking action based on what you learn, both employees and the business as a whole will benefit. Here’s hoping happiness will become a more pressing issue for companies in the not-too-distant future.
Where to go from here
If you would like to know more about strategy, KPIs and performance management, cheque out my articles on:
Or browse the KPI Library to find the metrics that matter most to you.