Business Growth & Strategy

Measuring and Maintaining Employee Happiness

Organizations thrive on having happy employees, yet our own actions as leaders constantly serve to compromise that happiness. It is not intentional, mind you. Good leaders introduce strategic transformation in order to evolve and improve the business. We all know that organizations are in a continuous cycle of change and that strategies unfold through corporate initiatives, causing impacts to structure, process and people. What is all to often forgotten in all of this is that strategies and plans themselves do not capture value; value is realized only through the sustained, collective actions of the dozens, hundreds, thousands or perhaps the tens of thousands of committed employees who are responsible for designing, executing, and living with the changed environment. This article offers some practical methods for measuring and maintaining employee happiness.

Be Mindful Of and Measure Employee Happiness

In major transformations of large enterprises, leaders conventionally focus their attention on devising the best strategic and tactical plans, without regard to the changes their plans may mean to the people of the organization. These very employees are the ones bearing the brunt of the emotional impact corporate changes produce. Knowing that in our role as leaders we routinely disrupt employee happiness through the changes we make within our organizations – we should work harder to know how employees are feeling along the way and take appropriate actions to boost morale as it sinks in a sea of uncertainty and fear.

Regardless of how happiness is measured, it must be gauged more frequently than most organizations take time to do. Employee satisfaction and productivity are two of the main ingredients for a successful organization, therefore business performance will be impacted by ebbs in overall morale.

Methods For Measuring Happiness

Tom Gilb, a well know systems engineer, consultant and noted author of software engineering books related to the development of software metrics, software inspection, and evolutionary processes has a measurability principle named for him.

The Gilb Measurability Principle states, “anything you need to quantify can be measured in some way that is superior to not measuring it at all.”

1. Surveys: Measuring employee happiness usually is done by testing satisfaction and productivity levels – requiring the use of employee surveys and measurements of productivity performance indicators such as: timeliness, quality, quantity and yearly performance appraisals. The disadvantage of relying upon surveys and historical performance measures as indicators of employee happiness is twofold. First, survey data is usually collected too infrequently to be of much use in truly managing and improving the overall mood of employees. The data collected has a short shelf-life and is stale by the time management gets its hands on the information. Performance measures are historical in nature and the data does not reveal enough detail on why morale may be suffering. While most companies still use questionnaires and surveys to measure employee satisfaction, there are other more effective means to accomplishing an ongoing understanding of the picture.

2. Walking Around: One of those methods is to have managers get into the habit of walking around to talk to employees. By doing so, managers show interest and can attempt to get candid feedback from their direct reports on how things are going and how they are feeling. The challenge with this approach (where employees are asked to discuss subjective feelings directly with a manager) is that self-censorship is always a risk.  No employee wants to be seen as “whining” by management or by team mates.

A more subtle approach to getting truthful “emotional” feedback on a routine and frequent basis requires an out-of-the box technique.

3. Niko-niko Calendars: The Japanese word “niko” means “smile”. Following a common pattern of word doubling in Japanese, “niko-niko” has a meaning closer to “smiley”.  The Niko-niko Calendar (or Smiley Calendar) is indeed a Japanese creation.  This powerful tool functions as a “ mood board” of sorts and can be used to capture employee or team member’s psychological states for each day, providing up-to-date emotional feedback directly from employees to team leaders and managers. The value of this practice lies in making the factors of motivation and well-being (generally seen as entirely subjective and thus impossible to measure and track) into “somewhat objective” terms which can be measured. When used correctly over time, Niko-niko calendars succeed in elevating motivation and well-being to “front and center” status as important elements of employee / team performance.

Practical Implementation Methods

Niko-niko calendars can be implemented in a variety of ways, ranging from a low-tech / high-touch method to higher-tech software driven approachs.

One low-tech way to implement a Niko-niko system involves installing calendars on a wall of a room where a team is situated. Each team member is asked to record their mood at the end of every workday. This graphic evaluation of their mood during that day can be either a hand-drawn “emoticon” or even a colored sticker following a simple color code (e.g. blue for a bad day, red for neutral, yellow for a good day).

Another approach is to capture the daily emoticon in weekly status reports. Each team member can record their mood daily and include it with other data in their weekly status report submitted to their team leader or manager. Regardless of the method used to implement Niko-niko calendars – over time the data will reveal patterns of change in the moods of the team or of individual members. Managers or team leaders can utilize the trend information to help resolve issues and better affect performance and overall happiness of their employees.


Strategic transformation unfolds through corporate initiatives, causing impacts to structure, process and people. Although organizational changes are made to improve business performance, they can have immediate and sometimes lasting impacts on the employee morale and performance. Employee satisfaction and productivity are essential ingredients for a successful organization, therefore they must be measured to be managed.

There are good alternative approaches to measuring employee happiness beyond simply taking periodic surveys. Niko-niko calendars are one such alternative and can be viewed as an illustration of the Gilb Measurability Principle.

Measurement does not have to be perfect or even very precise, as long as the intent is to get a quantitative handle on something that was previously purely qualitative. The important thing is to take that first step toward quantifying.

Category: Business Growth & Strategy

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About the Author: Joe Evans

Since 2006, Joe Evans has been President & CEO of Method Frameworks, one of the world's leading strategy and operational planning management consultancies. The firm provides services for a diverse field of clients, ranging …

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  1. Great post. Measuring employee happiness is extremely vital. Happy workers usually do the best work. Plus, boosting employee morale and keeping it up doesn’t have to be expensive at all – monetary rewards are not always necessary. Some good rewards to use as incentive for doing good work might be a half day off, a free lunch, and so on. Also, taking the time to let employees know when they’re doing a good job will certainly raise the happiness meter. If office happiness isn’t as high as it could be, or is declining without any attempts to boost it, it could ultimately cause the business to fail. A happy business is a successful business!

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