Happiness - The missing KPI

November 18, 2016   ·  

There is almost nothing left to argue about when it comes to the benefits of being happier - we know from study after study that as human beings we perform dramatically better in almost every respect when we are happier.

“your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed"
Shawn Achor - The Happiness Advantage

It’s hard not to have noticed the huge numbers of articles and advice pieces about happiness, whether that’s at work, at school, or how to lead a happier life in general. “How to be Happier” is just about everywhere and yet despite all of this attention, we seem to find happiness at work a difficult goal for companies to pursue.

So why is it that? Naturally, I think about this question a lot… as for conclusions... well, a few, but more a set of hypotheses or hunches really and I'll share a few in this post.

Do we really care about happiness at work?

How much do you care about the happiness of your colleagues? My guess is that your answer is something along the lines of… “well I don’t want them to be unhappy, but when it comes to work, happiness doesn't really matter as long as they do their job” - Right?

And how far does that statement extend? To your immediate team? To other teams? Upwards to the executive? All the way down to the entry levels of your firm? The further it moves away from your direct team, the more difficult it is to care deeply about the feelings of others.

Yet, we all want to be happy at work ourselves, don’t we?

This is where I think we have the greatest opportunity to make a change - we know that happier people result in better performance (across virtually all KPIs)… but it all starts with measurement… and we don’t measure happiness.

Hardly anybody asks about it and fewer gather data about it. Yet how happy a person is probably the most powerful indicator of how he or she is likely to perform.

There is a big hang up about asking how happy people are in case they give us a response that isn’t work related… but it doesn’t matter.

We all know that stuff outside work affects us, let’s stop pretending it doesn’t. If you are feeling amazing because of something that happened outside work, you will be benefitting from the positive effects of happiness on your performance. The same thing is true about things that make us unhappy. If you choose to only be interested in measuring mood associated with work related stuff you are missing the point of what drives our performance.

The data we gather at work about how people feel at work is almost exclusively limited to a measure of engagement delivered through monthly or annual surveys.

We know that engagement confuses people, partly because it's a made up business expression of how committed people are - I suspect few of us could say easily whether we were or weren't engaged because it isn't really a thing.

We know that many employees consider it an opportunity to reinforce their commitment to their firm and their desire for a career by telling their superiors what they believe they want to hear - it doesn't help.

And we know that many engagement surveys and the analysis process that surround them confuse dissatisfaction or unhappiness with disengagement - if you happen to be the employee who cares enough to answer the 50 or 60 questions in the engagement survey but that chooses to respond in a way that reflects dissatisfaction with aspects of work - the analysis will likely put you in the disengaged box... that doesn't sound or feel like a good or accurate portrayal of your relationship with work.

Either way, our current measures seem inadequate reflections of mood, sentiment or indeed (and most importantly) indicators of likely performance.

That's why we believe there is a missing metric, a happiness KPI. It could be a replacement for engagement, but equally, it could sit alongside it, adding an additional level of insight to what you already gather from your employees.

And there are other reasons why happiness is a good thing to measure:

What gets measured gets done" is a well-used expression… Peter Drucker even improved it to “what gets measured gets improved”… and that’s a fantastic statement when applied to happiness given what we know about the effect of happiness on performance (if you don’t know what happens when we focus on happiness, watch the video below as a quick explainer...)

We believe that the introduction of a happiness metric could be the start of a cultural revolution inside many businesses and not one they should be afraid of.

Companies need to create the conditions for happiness (and I won’t go over that ground again right now) but it shouldn't just be about the company needing to fix things, it’s equally important when we think about happiness that we each take some personal responsibility for it… and whilst what follows may sound challenging, it is absolutely something that every single one of us can start, on our own, without permission, just get on and do something to make work better than yesterday.

Be nicer to people - work on building a culture of civility…

You’ll probably recall being told a thousand times during your childhood, treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself… well it’s not rocket science but it is true that when we treat people with incivility - and lots of workplaces do (shouting, blaming, bullying, humiliating etc..) - you get plenty of incivility in return. And incivility needn’t be overtly aggressive behaviours either, it can be as simple as being disrespectful of other people's time, not responding to a colleague's request, complaining, gossiping… I'm sure we could all write a long list of everday incivilities that don't help us feel good at work.

Kindness breeds kindness, and whilst things like 'acts of kindness' are proven to be effective in boosting the happiness of both giver and receiver, I’m talking here about fundamentally basic behaviours - treating people with respect, demonstrating empathy, managing conflict, and taking a deliberately more considerate and courteous approach to our dealings with others at work.

This is likely to be the subject of a future post so I won't go into it too much here, but building on the theme of this particular post, the introduction of a happiness KPI, along with some focus upon it, is likely to result in an increased awareness of our personal responsibility for happiness (our own and that of others).

This is, in essence, what companies have been chasing for many years with their employee engagement programmes - the idea that when we are connected and engaged we are capable of performing at a much higher level. I agree with the sentiment but not the means of getting at it.

There are deep challenges with maintaining the relationship between strategy and engagement (which is what a lot of engagement activity has become about), but I believe that if we spend more time on the "soft tissue" inside our businesses we'll be better equipped to deal with required changes to the infrastructure.

I’ve said this many times before but I will say it again - we cannot create culture, we can only create the conditions in which culture develops… if that culture is to be about doing the right thing, about acting with integrity, about being decent human beings, then we need to start thinking about how that manifests in behaviours of people and teams inside our workplaces. If we want our cultures to be about innovation, proactivity and creativity, then we need to think about the conditions in which humans are most likely to bring those aspects of themselves.

Without an effective measure, I don’t believe that either will happen. Happiness, might not be the perfect measure, but it's as good a measure as we have right now and if you're not measuring it, you're almost certainly not managing for it either.

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”

Roy T. Bennett - The Light in the Heart
David Bellamy
David Bellamy

Founder and CEO, Connect with David on LinkedIn

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