Can “measuring” happiness improve engagement?


A venture capital company has been measuring employees’ happiness levels on a daily basis. How has this changed the organisation’s culture and how does it use the information?

If it is a key company value that teams “enjoy the journey” towards achieving their work goals, then promoting “employee engagement” really isn’t the way forward, argues David Norris, a partner at venture capitalist firm Forward Partners, which specialises in early stage e-commerce companies.

Instead it is all about fostering “happiness”, he believes.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with the word ‘engagement’ – it’s more about what it’s been associated with, which is control-oriented companies trying to find ways to win over the workforce,” he says.

“But if you give people the trust and freedom to get on with it and you can identify the team’s purpose, they’ll be much more whole and happy – things are a lot more rewarding and fulfilling if they’re fun.”

The tool itself won’t change happiness levels, but if they’re consistently red, we’ll ask around to see if we can address the situation.” – David Norris, Forward Partners

Since last December, the start-up has measured the happiness factor among its team of 12 using the Happiness Works’ Moodmap tool, created by Nic Marks, who also devised the first global measure of sustainable wellbeing in the form of the Happy Planet Index.

Each day at 5pm, each member of staff receives an email from the tool asking how happy at work they were that day. They are then given the option to click on one of five emojis depicted in colours spanning from green to red and ranging emotionally from “very happy” to “very unhappy”.

“Canary in a cage”

It is also possible to click through to an online dashboard that shows the aggregated results in graphical form over various periods of time. The average happiness level is 75%, with an 86% response rate.

“We use the tool as a bit of a canary in a cage,” said Norris. “So if it starts to go orange or red, it’s a prompt to make conversations happen. The tool itself won’t change happiness levels, but if they’re consistently red, we’ll ask around to see if we can address the situation.”

Since the start of the year, meanwhile, the firm has also used Moodmap’s “ideas” functionality to enable employees to post suggestions on how to improve the workplace and vote on each other’s ideas.

The top three are discussed as the opener to the firm’s Friday team meeting as “it’s good to break the ice and talk to each other as humans rather than jump straight into business metrics”, Norris says.

Ideas that have been implemented to date include the introduction of “duvet days” and each team member being able to buy any non-fiction book on company expenses. Once they have read it, they share their views before passing it on for others to read too.

“At a high level, you can correlate happiness with productivity, but really it’s about the kind of culture you’re trying to create and using the tool to support that,” Norris said. “You can’t use a tool like this in isolation – it needs some kind of feedback loop. So you may get the data, but it’s what you do with it that matters.”

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