How important is ‘happiness’ at work?

How important is happiness at work?

It’s Monday morning, the alarm rings and you wake up for work. As you lie in bed your mind wanders to the day ahead …

You’re looking forward to catching up with your colleagues, working on interesting problems together, having a laugh and learning something new this week.

Eagerly you start to mentally prepare for your one-on-one meeting with your boss – a person who you truly admire for their skills and ability to bring out the best in others.

Jumping into the shower, you’re feeling energised and genuinely excited about the work week ahead, believing you’re making a positive difference doing work that you’re proud of.

… Can you imagine your organisation’s productivity and performance if all employees felt this way?


The importance of employee wellbeing

Recently, Virgin Pulse Global Challenge (formerly known as GCC) released their third annual State of the Industry survey – based on results from over 600 HR and benefits leaders.

Findings showed that in 2017, organisations that put wellbeing at the core of their workplace cultures will continue to enjoy a significant competitive advantage in terms of higher employee engagement, increased productivity and stronger business performance.

The survey reported that employee wellbeing is a key component to improving an organisation’s bottom line, explaining that ‘happier employees’ are more likely to be engaged in all aspects of their lives, both personally and professionally.

There’s ample evidence and success stories on the benefits associated with happy employees. Of course, happiness is by its very nature, subjective. Different people feel happiness for different reasons, and a team member’s happiness level is not a task or team oriented measurement.

So as a manager, how helpful is employee happiness?

Consider, for a moment, a more practical approach that involves moving away from happiness as a measure, and instead examining team morale.


Why measuring morale makes sense

Employee engagement can be described as the enthusiasm and persistence with which a team member is involved with the organisation and its goals.

It recognises that high productivity relates in part to employee’s state of mind, and often there’s the assumption that employees who are happy and positive at work are said to be ‘engaged’.

Conversely, companies that maintain employees who are dissatisfied and negative about their work environment are said to have ‘low’ engagement.

Team morale is a better way to gauge the feeling of your team because it’s:

  • More task and team-oriented
  • Less susceptible to mood
  • Related to results and relationships
  • Less biased
  • Inclusive of happiness – but a broader measure

Measuring team morale

Christiaan Verwijs, Founder Of Agilistic in the Netherlands, has drawn on his extensive research into modern military operations to create an easy survey that measures team morale.

I’ve added five questions of my own, based on my experience as an agile coach in leading organisations. Follow these steps, to get started:

Step One

Ask each team member to respond to the statements below on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is strongly disagree and 10 is strongly agree. Note: I find this activity is most effective if answers are anonymous, but you may want to do it publicly if that’s your team’s preference.

Intrinsic motivations

– I am enthusiastic about the work that I do for my team
– I find the work that I do for my team of meaning and purpose
– I am proud of the work that I do for my team
– To me, the work that I do for my team is challenging
– In my team, I feel bursting with energy
– In my team, I feel fit and strong
– In my team, I quickly recover from setbacks
– In my team, I can keep going for a long time

Extrinsic motivations

– I respect and trust my boss
– I think the leadership of this organisation is moving us in the right direction
– I feel valued in this company
– I have a chance to grow
– I am compensated fairly for my work

Step Two

To calculate individual morale, average the scores per person (add each individual’s total score and divide by the number of questions).

To calculate team morale, average the individual averages (add each person’s averages and divide by the number of people who responded to the survey).

Step Three

Play these results back to the team. Discuss and identify causes of low and high scores. Per-question averages will allow you to pinpoint any specific pain points.

Try to identify one or two opportunities to improve team morale but be realistic – a team can’t work effectively on ten changes at once.

Step Four

Define an action plan to address each opportunity. The Who-What-When Steps To Action technique connects people with clear actions they have defined and committed to.

Most importantly, it makes it visible to the whole group WHO is going to do WHAT by WHEN.

Note: If your team’s primary concerns are with extrinsic motivators such as compensation and opportunities for development, you as team leader may need to work with partners across the organisation to create and implement an action plan together.

Step Five

Measure results again after an agreed period of time. I ask my team to answer the first eight questions every two weeks and to complete the full version each quarter.


Quick tips to build morale

In addition to the action plan you’ve defined above, here are ten ideas for improving team morale:

  • Review employee workloads and work distribution – don’t punish the most competent team member by piling work on them.
  • Have a “stop strategy” – when people are overloaded, managers should identify low-priority tasks they can stop doing.
  • Increase positive feedback – it should be sincere and specific.
  • Let ’em vent – make it safe for people to talk about their frustrations or fears.
  • Listen – the time managers spend with employees costs nothing, however it can have great value to your people.
  • Neutralise – now’s the time to confront bullies, divas, and slackers about the toll they take on teammates.
  • Endorse fun – play and laughter (including laughing at the boss) are free. Be a good sport.
  • Share information – in challenging times, people are hungry for information on plans and changes.
  • Talk about what matters – never miss a chance to inspire.
  • Aim high – many staffers still crave “stretch” assignments, the kind that makes them feel trusted and successful.


Further reading:

If you’re interested in reading more about the benefits of team morale, I came across some really great books during my research. Have you read these or do you have any others to recommend?

  • Agile Teams: Don’t Use Happiness Metrics, Measure Team Morale, blog, Christiaan Verwijs, published 7 November 2016
  • Happy Hour is 9 to 5, How to Love your Job, Love your Life and Kick Butt at Work, Alexander Kjerulf, 2013
  • Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, James Macanufo & Sunni Brown, 2010
  • Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, Jurgen Appelo, 2011
  • Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team, Jurgen Appelo, 2016


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