In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph staff in Downing Street have accused Boris Johnson’s new top team of “patronising them” by installing so-called ‘happy machines’ around No 10 to monitor how aides are feeling. Are such measures futile or worthwhile when it comes to improving workplace productivity?
What’s a happy machine?
I’m sure you’ve seen “happy machines” in motorway service areas, or airports; where you’re asked if you’ve had a good or bad experience by pressing a happy or sad face.
Do you think this is a good approach to measuring happiness, if it even measures anything? One route to increased staff happiness might be more parties, but perhaps we won’t go there, especially considering the issues of introversion and the work social event (click here for more on that).
Who would you rather promote (recruit, or retain) a happy or non happy person?
Using a “happy machine” is an attempt to collect lots of data points, although each has little depth. The assumption seems to be that more shallow data points is better than fewer deeper insights. Perhaps with thousands of people at an airport toilet, considering something as simple as “were the toilets clean” that might work, but in the office?
What is workplace happiness?
The idea of happiness at work is that if staff enjoy their work, are proud of themselves, enjoy working for their leader and with their colleagues; performance will improve. This seems like “motherhood and apple pie” as a friend of mine would say.
Does workplace happiness improve productivity?
The idea of happiness at work is that if staff enjoy their work, are proud of themselves, enjoy working for their leader and with their colleagues; performance will improve. A recent study by the University of Warwick showed that happy workers are up to 12% more productive than unhappy professionals.
Add this happiness to career progression plans and personal growth opportunities, then staff retention should increase. Given the high cost of recruitment, this seems desirable too.
One of the authors of the study, Dr Sgroi, said “The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”
Dr Proto (a co-author) said “We have shown that happier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in four different experiments.”
Who would you rather promote (recruit, or retain) a happy or non happy person? If this is followed through this could have implications for promotion policies, and there’s another problem.
Happiness and introversion.
There is no connection between introversion and a lack of happiness, at work or play. Although the myth often raises its head “why don’t you ever look happy”. Some people are more expressive of their feelings than others, some change their (shallower?) feelings more than others and some reflect more on their situation.
Is measuring happiness dangerous?
If workplace happiness is important, how long is it before we get given happiness KPIs and only want to retain happy workers?
Given that many people struggle to interpret happiness at an individual level I worry about this idea, especially as related to introverts who often get interpreted as not being happy.
Back to the happy machines.
At a high level using happy machines to “test” something as important and complex as workplace happiness seems ridiculous.
When it comes to collecting any data and understanding it, the issue is what can you do with it?
High level happy machine output doesn’t allow much action to be taken, as it doesn’t explain the issues, so why collect it (like happy sheets after a training course).
One place a simple measure can be useful.
The happy machine is quite different to a technique I recommend when it comes to team, or board meetings.
Getting each person to commit to a score at the end of the meeting, as part of the wrap up helps improve regular meetings.
It’s simple, but…. works because you ask anybody scoring less than 80% what would have made the meeting better for them. That also gives them a focus to speak and does thus work well for introverts too. Do it at every meeting, and remind people at the beginning of the meeting, so you don’t create issues with internal processing introverts not wanting to create an answer out of thin air.