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Employee Happiness? Who Cares?

VillaincI’m not suggesting that employees should be made to be miserable. Ultimately, that’s up to all of us individually. The point I’ve been trying to make for ages and this recent article captures nicely is that employee happiness and employee engagement are quite separate and different things. If you want to gift chocolate fish and back rubs (no non-consensual touching!) that’s up to you and your spare time and resources. Happy employees can be unproductive and unhappy ones can be productive. Engagement is about the observable application of discretionary effort at work that on average leads to greater productivity, revenue and profitability. Who knows how happy people are? (Including themselves.)

Here’s an extract. Note that happiness is cited as one of many components of engagement, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I don’t think they’re in order so don’t get excited that happiness is “number 1.” The article talks about a dashboard which also is an interesting idea. It’s all about trending.

Here are the 10 metrics that are proven to have the biggest impact on employee engagement:

  1. Happiness

    How happy are employees at work and at home?

  2. Wellness

    How much energy do employees have at work?

  3. Feedback

    Are employees getting feedback frequently enough?

  4. Recognition

    Are employees being recognized for their hard work?

  5. Career Satisfaction

    Are employees satisfied with their work environment?

  6. Relationships with Managers

    Do employees and their managers get along well?

  7. Relationships with Colleagues

    Do the employees get along with each other?

  8. Company Alignment

    Do employees’ values align with the company values?

  9. Ambassadorship

    Are employees proud of where they work?

  10. Personal Growth

    Do employees have opportunities for career growth?


‘Live Work Love’ – Free For A Day

My new book in Kindle format is free for a day and that clock is ticking. Normally $US9.99. #Add10Years

live work love Terry Williams kindle cover 150

Christmas The Season For Layoffs? Ho Ho No!


Let’s compare and contrast two recent New Zealand newspaper articles about bosses. (Do they still call them ‘newspapers’? Other than crumpling them up to pack into boxes of crockery when shifting house, I haven’t touched news in paper form for years.)

They’re both good articles. One notices that a disproportionate number of redundancies occur nearing the end of the calendar year. This might possibly be due to planning schedules and so forth but it also has the double-whammy effect of being at the same time some tribalistic ritual and consumer frenzy called Christmas occurs. Have a read. It’s position is probably that New Zealand employers are not that much concerned about employee engagement or being tarred with a Grinchiness brush.

Contrasting that is this article from a competing newspaper. It says that gone are the days of splashing talented employees with status trinkets and disposable goods and experiences and they’re being gradually replaced with things of meaning to nurture a culture that talent will want to belong to and stick around with. It does lament that New Zealand is a bit behind but the trend is positive.

The only criticism of the 2nd article is my usual one – they have all the right research but make a sloppy observation that employee engagement equals happiness. It doesn’t. Engagement is the choice to apply discretionary effort. Happiness is just nice.

My Christmas shopping this year is easy. Everyone’s getting my new book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’. I have yet to to hear how my teenage kids feel about that. Luckily I”m not relying on them for reviews…

10 Things Economics Can Teach Us About Happiness


This article in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson makes lots of interesting research-based correlations between wealth and happiness, for individuals and countries. Have a read. In short the answers are, “Kinda”, “Up to a point” and “It depends.”

From my interest area of employee engagement, some key comments were that its not so much the lack of wealth that makes unemployed people unhappy. Its the unemployment. And the self employed are happier than the jobbed (until they’re not.) Work (or ‘jobs’, if you prefer to use that similar but not totally synonymous word) provides us humans with more than money. We’ll take the money we need, and the lack of it up to a point will make us unhappy, but past a further point, more won’t make us happier. Those points are different for different people and change with time and circumstance. The unemployed get sick and depressed partly from a lack of money but mostly from a lack of a sense of self worth, inclusion, contribution and development. Plenty of people in sucky jobs get the same negatives even if they have an income. That negatively impacts on health, attendance and productivity.

To me, the overwhelming theme of the findings is that people are different. Average findings about wealth and how it relates to happiness (if wealth really is any kind of an indicator about employee motivation) might be interesting but it isn’t useful. People are different. That’s the level of research that becomes useful. And that is the level when you as a leader observe and investigate the individual people you lead. What works for them?

Happiness is a staggeringly shifty set of goalposts to aim for and really isn’t the same as engagement. But if you grow a workplace culture that supports self awareness, movement towards skill mastery, increasing autonomy, some sense of purpose and the ability to influence others, then you’ll engage your people. If they’ve got that, they won’t be unhappy.

A lot of my blog readers come from countries celebrating a public holiday today – Queen’s Birthday. It’s a bit anachronistic but a holiday is a holiday and in the southern hemisphere, there’s a long, cold and dark winter until the next Monday off in the Spring. The definition of employee engagement is when an employee chooses to do some work they don’t have to do. They engage in a discretionary activity and that activity happens to be some work. That occurs at the workplace and these days the workplace is very hard for many to pin to a single location. (Wherever your smartphone is, there you are!) So, on a public holiday, people are getting all discretionarily active all over the place. What are you doing? What do you get out of that activity? Are there aspects of your work where you get the same jollies? If not, you could be one of the three quarters or so of workers who are either disengaged or merely present at work. Maybe spend some of your holiday thinking about that and make a change?

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