The Downside of Measuring Happiness

Everyone wants their employees to be happy.

The reasons are obvious. It’s no fun to be around people who aren’t happy — they can bring others down and generally make everything unpleasant. But we also aim for employee happiness because people tend to shy away from uncomfortable emotions, and we believe that if everyone would just be happy, work would go smoothly and productivity would go through the roof … right?

The trouble is, happiness isn’t the marker you should be measuring at your company. Here’s why.

‘Happy’ Doesn’t Mean Productive

It isn’t hard to imagine a scenario where a happy employee isn’t necessarily productive. For example, an employee who doesn’t like dealing with expectations or consequences may prefer a job where they don’t have to work toward goals. Their happiness may come from the fact that there’s little oversight from a manager and no one is following up on any projects. The employee is happy — but not productive.

While that doesn’t mean employees have to be unhappy to be productive, productivity does take effort and work. Someone who isn’t putting forth any effort or work isn’t going to be changing the rating on productivity, no matter how happy they are.

‘Happy’ Doesn’t Mean Loyal

You may think that happy employees are going to stay where they are. But it’s important to remember that any employee may move elsewhere if the conditions are right.

Happy employees may be less likely to look for a new job, but something could come along and surprise them into leaving. If your happy employees are also productive, losing them could be a blow to your bottom line. Don’t assume that happy employees are happy to stay where they are.

‘Happy’ Doesn’t Mean Engaged

Happy employees may be happily disengaged from your organization. It’s rare, but it can happen. If they don’t feel like their work contributes to the mission of the company or they don’t trust leaders but still score high on happiness, you’re probably paying them very well or they don’t really care about what they’re doing — and that means trouble for your organization.

If you measure anything, it should be engagement. Engaged employees are productive, and they are loyal to your organization because they feel like they have a stake in it. If they’re unhappy, it may be because they just faced a team failure, or are wrestling with a frustrating chore.

But engaged employees know their managers have their backs. They know their work ties to leaders’ vision of where the company should go — and that creates the resiliency so many organizations crave.

You can measure happiness, but keep in mind that the definition of happy is going to vary widely among employees, managers, leaders — and even your survey-writer. If you feel the need to ask about their emotions, be sure to also rely on scientific questions proven to determine the level of their engagement, too.

Download the employee engagement road map


Talmetrix is a software company that measures and facilitates employee engagement, captures team feedback and maps relationships between employees. Organizations use that data to improve retention, build a better culture and boost performance and productivity. Contact us to learn more about our solutions.

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