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blog: Don Marti

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measuring happiness

13 October 2018

Another one of those employee happiness reports is out. This kind of thing always makes me wonder: what are these numbers really measuring?

It seems like happiness ratings by employees would depend on:

  • expected cost of retaliation for low scores

  • expected benefit of management response to low scores

The expected cost of retaliation is the probability that an employee's ratings will be exposed to management, multiplied by the negative impact that the employee will suffer in the event of disclosure. An employee who believes that the survey's security has problems, that management will retaliate severely in the event of disclosure, or both, is likely to assign high scores to management.

Some employers make changes in compensation or working conditions when they fail to achieve well on happiness (or employee engagement) surveys. If an employee believes that management is likely to make changes, then the employee is likely to assign low scores in areas where improvement would have the greatest impact. An employee might choose to vote honestly except in a specific area where they believe improvement is possible.

An evil company where management makes an effort to de-anonymize the happiness survey results, retaliates against employees who give low scores, and will not make changes to improve scores, will appear to have high employee happiness.

A good company where management does not retaliate, and will make changes in response to low scores, will appear to have low employee happiness.

Of course, this all changes the more that people figure out that getting low happiness scores means that you have responsive management.

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