How to measure happiness in companies and organizations?

How to measure Happiness at work? We’ve explore the different alternatives to measuring happiness in companies from the acceptance of the subjectivity of our state of mind.

| “Happiness cannot be measured.”

Although we have been measuring happiness in companies for more than 5 years now, I hear this phrase relatively often.

I disagree with it.

What is interesting is that in general, teachers, physicians, psychologists and the general public accept that depression, anxiety or stress can be measured (or better said, diagnosed). But then at the same time, we find it hard to accept that happiness can be measured.

Last week a client asked me: “What scientific model do you use to measure happiness in Happyforce?”

To answer this question, I have gathered different approaches that researchers have used to try and measure happiness:

  1. Biological. Scientists have been looking for years for biological indicators (hormones and neurotransmitters) for happiness. But the success of these studies has been very low. In the same way that low levels of serotonin indicate a depressed state, high levels of serotonin are not related to a state of happiness. Even if this method were reliable for measuring happiness, I can’t imagine taking blood and saliva samples from my work colleagues to measure their happiness 🙂
  2. For behaviors. These mechanisms aim to estimate the level of happiness by observing factors such as how often a person smiles, the use of emoticons in messages, or the type of words used to communicate, both in writing and speaking. I know of a geek company that has placed a camera at the entrance to the office and by recognizing gestures it generates a report of happiness as people pass by.
  3. Through other people. This mechanism consists of evaluating a person’s happiness through how others perceive it. For example, when parents are asked if their children are happy. This mechanism is very limited, since it has been demonstrated that people are extremely bad at evaluating and recognizing these emotions in others. We cannot avoid introducing a bias based on our way of living emotions (more info in this article). Can you imagine evaluating the level of happiness of each member of your team by yourself?

So what is the mechanism for measuring happiness in my team, department or company?

The best way to measure happiness is self-evaluation

| The only domain in which we humans have absolute truth is in our own feelings and experiences.

Physicians have known this for a long time. When you’ve had an operation or are in pain, the physician will ask you, «On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most, how much pain do you feel? »

If you say «six», your physician will adjust your treatment to that answer. At no time will he or she question your assessment by saying, «Well, I see that you’ re closer to a 4…»

No matter how many of the same operations he/she has performed before. It will not try to understand what your «six» means, or see if by any cultural difference your «six» is not actually a «six». Nor does it make sense to do calibration sessions with other physicians to make sure that your «six» is the same as other «six» in the same hospital.

Your physician knows that you are the best judge of your pain and that things will be better when you assess your pain below a 6. The assessment of your pain is yours, not the physician’s.

Just as your physician doesn’t have the truth about your pain, your colleagues, family members, or facial recognition algorithms don’t have the truth about your level of happiness.

|This is why the system that works best is the self-evaluation of happiness.

However, the subjective and personal evaluation of our state of mind or happiness presents some challenges: the main problem stems from our goldfish memory, which makes the most recent emotion prevail.

happiness at work

The question most commonly used to evaluate our level of happiness is similar to this:

«Taking into consideration all aspects, how satisfied are you with your life on a scale of 0 to 10? »

How would you answer this question if you just got promoted at work? What if you just came from a traffic jam where you got into a fight with another driver?

Our perception of happiness is very transitory and subjective. So it is inevitable that recent events will produce a bias in our assessment.

This is why in many companies the annual business climate survey is suspiciously launched right after salary increases are reported.

How can we reduce the noise introduced by this subjectivity?

Frequent self-evaluation reduces the noise generated by our subjectivity

In statistics, two main mechanisms are used to reduce random error: increasing the number of samples and/or averaging.

| Instead of asking once a year about an employee’s satisfaction, we should do it often and add the result of all these samples.

This allows us to have a measurement that we call Happiness Index for a given period of time.

Measuring happiness in the company by grouping individual results: The Happiness Index

Finally, we can add the Happiness Index of several people to calculate the level of happiness or satisfaction of an entire group.

This is done for a team, a department or an entire organization. It is even done at country level as you can see in the World Happiness Report that is published every year.

Initially you can use a simple arithmetic average to add up the measurements. In our case, we have made this formula more sophisticated so that we give more weight to the most recent measurements and cushion the extremes.

Happiness formula
Here you can see the draft of the original formula that our friend Nando proposed to us at the beginning of Happyforce

In short: measuring happiness in business is possible

  • There are many models and theories to measure happiness in organizations, we can complicate the search as much as we want, but in the end we realize that the simplest solution is the most effective: self-evaluation of our state of mind.
  • Since our perception of happiness depends a lot on our last events or experiences, we should evaluate our state of mind frequently and average it to get a reliable metric.
  • To measure happiness in companies and organizations we can obtain the Happiness Index of a collective by adding the metrics of individuals.

Asking often also has a very important side effect: the simple fact that we are asked «How happy are you today? » increases our level of awareness of our state of mind, which is the first step in improving it.

Being aware of how the day-to-day affects our state of mind is the first step to improving it.