Does 'how we feel' influence 'how we feel about work'? - Lessons from measuring happiness at work

November 22, 2019   ·  

Continuing our story, this time sharing another interesting relationship that we’ve seen in the data… 

As I explained previously (in Part 2), the way we track happiness is with a single daily question “How do you feel?” using a rating scale of 0–100. This gives us greater understanding of how people feel in that moment (as a reflection of their experience on that day) rather than an evaluation of how happy they feel in overall terms (life satisfaction) that you might find in things like the World Happiness Report. 

Aside from asking how people feel and collecting associated narrative, we also conduct ongoing ‘pulse’ surveys — whilst the questions asked, frequency and intensity (number of questions) is entirely flexible — typically, we’re asking three questions, once per week, with the questions themselves being similar in nature to those found in employee surveys. Pulse questions are asked immediately after someone has rated their happiness, and only after they’ve captured a rating. This means that every answer to a Pulse question will have a corresponding happiness rating that was offered immediately before answering that question.  

‘How I feel’ and ‘How I feel about…’ appeared to be related 

Pretty quickly we could see that these two data points “how I feel” and “how I feel about…” repeatedly seemed to be showing a relationship… 

I’ve included a few examples below… what each shows, is distribution of responses to typical survey questions, the blue line that runs across each one is the average happiness rating offered by the people represented. By way of example, looking at the first question “Do you believe that the leadership team takes your feedback seriously?” approximately 10% of the responses were “Absolutely”… the average happiness rating offered by those people at the time they answered the question was ‘72   

The relationship appears to be pretty clear, doesn’t it? 

What further exploration showed us… 

Being curious types, we wondered whether this relationship could be observed at a more macro level, beyond the individual questions… explained in the image below. 

The relationship between how we feel and how we feel about our environment or our conditions would appear to be pretty strong. 

Happiness, it would seem, not only influences our ability to think, and our behaviour, but also how we perceive things around us.  

What might this mean for you in practical terms? 

Perhaps it might change the way you think about employee surveys in general terms, and whilst we probably don’t need any additional reason to post-rationalise results, what this kind of perspective might offer is greater context. For example, some functions like project teams, or customer services teams, can be subject to huge variations in workload at different times and perhaps experience associated pressures as a consequence. It stands to reason that if asked to provide their views on work at times like these, their responses will be to some extent reflective of their current context. 

Of course, the opposite is also true… just had a good bonus… a prolonged period of barbecue weather… and perhaps you’ll enjoy a super positive reflection of these things by way of the sentiment expressed in your survey results. It doesn’t make them any less valuable, but if you’re looking for an understanding of reality, context matters. It might also encourage a change of emphasis in your efforts to improve the workplace. Regardless of what we do in our attempts to make work better (thinking here of perks, office refurbs, etc.), will anyone notice or appreciate them if the balance of their experiences at work is not positive? 

The bottom line is probably this… 

A culture that promotes positive behaviours — kindness, respect, growth, optimism, trust, freedom, balance (amongst others) — will likely be rewarded not only in the way your people perform but in the way they tell you they feel about work when asked… that’s arguably a wonderfully virtuous circle.

David Bellamy
David Bellamy

Founder and CEO, Connect with David on LinkedIn

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