Why happiness is more engaging than engagement

The companies who have an engagement strategy know where they want to get to. The companies who measure their progress with happiness know the best way of getting there.

When you look at the questions we use to measure happiness at work, there is a lot of overlap with the sorts of topics traditional staff engagement and satisfaction surveys cover. This is not too surprising given the ingredients of engaged work and happy work are much the same.

So… clients quite rightly ask me, “What sets happiness apart?” Why does HW feel so strongly that happiness at work is a better people metric than engagement at work?

1) Happiness is easy

Happiness is an emotion we feel and communicate from birth. We don’t have to work hard to understand what it means or imagine what it looks like. This instantly makes happiness an initiative everyone can be a part of. It is an inclusive concept employees outside of people operations, HR and senior management teams understand.

2) Happiness is honest

Questions on happiness seek peoples pure experience of the work they do and the colleagues they spend time with. We have used the best from the social sciences to word our questions carefully so they unearth how people really feel without leading or exposing them. This helps employees answer honestly. Consider how differently you might answer a question like “Do you feel you have made good progress with your work?” vs “When at work, I am completely focussed on my job duties”.

3) Happiness is something we share

Happiness is important to everyone - across cultures, professions, gender and age - and it is contagious, spreading from one person to another. A good engagement score is something the business or a manager benefits from. A good happiness score is something we all benefit from.

4) It drives us

Data about happiness is difficult to ignore. We are hard-wired to learn from what makes us happy so we can go on creating rewarding situations. For individuals it tells us that more of the same would be a good thing, so it directs our attention and loyalty towards the work, people and brands that make us feel this way. For the business it acts as a forward-looking metric to anticipate risk and ameliorate people problems before they become too messy or ugly to fix.

In practice:

Rather than collect, analyse, and disseminate an annual engagement strategy, HR functions across our client base are giving power over to teams to understand and improve their happiness. The introduction of the Moodmap platform with its easy to use data displays and ideas boards is helping businesses change from the inside out. HR support with the design of regular question sets and offer guidance to employees to act on trends in their team data. But it is managers who are having a different quality of conversation with their employees, and with each other. Simple actions are being taken to remove small frustrations and wider people trends across offices and countries are being provided to decision makers on a quarterly basis to enable responsive strategic action.

Engagement is not such a carrot as happiness. But it is not a stick either. It occupies a space in between which falls short of being inspiring, socially relevant or personally motivating. It is not that engagement initiatives are bad. They just lack the human energy to change things for the better. And this makes improvement an uphill struggle, because you can’t move whole organisations without moving people. With happiness, employees are more easily excited and eager to help. So whether my clients take a ‘minimum workplace standards’ perspective to lessen business risk or an ‘optimum performance’ perspective to model industry excellence, I always tell them the trick to having engaged employees is to get off to a happy start.

Jody AkedJody has been improving lives with applied behavioural science for over twelve years and helps our clients kick-start positive change from the boardroom to the factory floor. Jody has vast experience consulting with a diverse range of organizations both public and private, and developed the Five Ways to Well-being alongside Nic, which went on to form the foundation of public health advice across the globe.

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