Are “happy” workforces more productive?
You would be surprised to know that the problem on how to quantify happiness is well known and solved from decades. You can measure your “employee turnover” or attrition rate and infer happiness. You can use a more direct approach, similarly to the way you quantify your customer’s satisfaction with a Net Promoter Score (NPS).
In Scrum, there are more than one “Happiness Metrics” and they all derive from the work done at Toyota by Taiichi Ono about what Kaizen should be, and the best ways to get there.

And I have been there.

I have been lucky enough to be the scrum master of a team that was called by other teams across the organization “the happy team“. It is not common to have such a combination of professionality, synergy of goals and intents, respect, team culture, sense of autonomy, purpose, fulfilment.
The apex was to see the team eating cakes together (or healthier substitutions sometimes) just after passionate retrospectives. The happy team wasn’t living in a sort of ideal or fake happy bubble. Not at all.

The team was working hard, feeling the pressure of aggressive timelines, having difficulties, even some recurring issues. Conflicts were just healthy tensions among different roles. Disagreement was perceived as richness of perspectives, an opportunity to learn and change view.
Even during an intense argument, there was no space for rudeness, toxicity, passive aggressive behaviour, stubbornness, unprofessional attitude. No jerks were allowed in the team and if by any chance someone toxic ended up in the organisation, they didn’t survive a long time.

This ideal environment wasn’t something granted or easy to achieve. Everything was even more interesting from the agile perspective due to the very innovative nature of the project, a hyper-regulated industry, an over-cautious market, intransigent audit processes and strict CMMI policies.
Yet, there was an incredibly joyful atmosphere, developers challenging each other in respectful and friendly ways, very open communication, many smiles.

How was it possible?

A Company culture founded on respect and trust played a crucial role. All executives and managers truly advocating an agile environment was paramount. Great professionals always ready to proactively support each other was essential. Another key of success was the approachability of management, vice president and CEO. They were always available, always supportive, never hierarchical or institutionalised, never distant, never intent to micromanage, always curious, interested and respectful. A combination of ingredients incredibly rare to replicate.

Our setup

We were doing scrum of scrums, we were 3 teams one of which was located in a different country on a different timezone. We have always been respectful of everyone’s time without privileging this or that team. We would have regular actionable retrospectives, and scrum events. We adopted scrum by the book keeping innovating, an open and flexible approach supported by growth mindset and high bias awareness. We would use burn-down and team velocity as main metrics.
During our first release retrospective everyone had to answer a simple question: “How proud are you of your work from 1 to 10?”

Happiness and Agility

As you understood at this point, the Agile metric I am writing about today is Happiness.
Happiness directly relates to the first Agile value “We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” and some principles

– Build projects around motivated individuals.
– Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
– Agile processes promote sustainable development.

Agile Manifesto

What is happiness?

Happiness is personal growth, job satisfaction and fulfilment. Happiness is autonomy, mastery and purpose. Happiness is the feeling of enjoying your day and so your life.

If it sounds “New Agey” or you are thinking about people around a campfire singing “Kumbaya” it’s time you adjourn your business knowledge and readings. Happy people make more money, have better jobs, sell more, cost less, are less likely to leave their jobs, are less likely to burn out, they are healthier, live longer. They make less useless problems, they save everyone’s time. 
Happiness is a predictive measure of success.

If you are thinking that happiness is purely subjective, that cannot be measured, that has nothing to do with business, budget, finance, revenue… then review your naive and antiquate view. Papers, books, empirical researches, reports show and quantify the costs of toxic environments, burnout, lack of wellbeing, absence of trust. 
If you want to read more about it, a good starting point could be the list at the bottom of this article.
You would be surprised to know that the problem on how to quantify job satisfaction is well known and solved from decades. 
Certainly it is not isolated the proposal of using “well-being” as a meaningful measure of a nation’s wealth and economy, in place of GDP. If you can imagine doing it for a nation you may be happy to know that it is easier to measure that in an organization (no matter the size).
You can measure your “employee turnover” or attrition rate and infer happiness. You can use a more direct approach, similarly to the way you quantify your customer’s satisfaction with a Net Promoter Score (NPS). As said, in Scrum, there are more than one “Happiness Metrics” and they all derive from the work done at Toyota by Taiichi Ono about what Kaizen should be, and the best ways to get there.

How to measure it?

Here are a few examples on how to get some Happiness metrics:

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10, how happy do you feel about your role in the company?
  2. On the same scale how do you feel about the company as a whole?
  3. On the same scale how likely is it that you would recommend to work in this team/project to a friend?

If you score less than 7 your organization may have cultural or process issues and is paying a toll for that. Every day. Does your CFO know about it?

Benefits & costs

Some executives ignore these metrics or categorise them as naive or nice-to-have. They probably don’t even know their organization scores poorly on Glassdoor, RateMyEmployer, TheJobCrowd, Jobeehive, Jobadvisor, Kununu, or similar services. Guess what Mr. Money? Companies with poor scoring needs to pay a higher salary to attract the same candidate. Stop BS around and start caring about happiness metrics.

Happy people don’t waste company-paid time in conducting office politics or personal crusades, or in hiding issues under the carpet, or running hidden agendas, or talking behind one’s back, or other office primate behaviours.
Happiness helps make smarter decisions. 
Happy teams are more creative, more open, braver, more confident, more comfortable in accepting challenges and responding to changes. 
Happy people are more resilient and engaged, more likely to accomplish far more than anticipated.
They accelerate time to market, deployment, time to recovery.
Happy workers are the best company and branding advocates. 
Happy people are more loyal and more likely to care for the company’s success. 

Prove it and improve it!

At the same time it’s not enough to feel good or claim to be the happiest team. You need to measure that feeling, over time and compare it to actual performance.
Almost all metrics look backwards. Happiness is a future-looking metric.
As for any other metrics you can get better at it through small continuous improvements (Kaizen) and you can prove benefits.

According to DORA’s State of DevOps research program -which represents over six years of research and data from over 31,000 professionals-
organizational performance is driven by cultural and technical capabilities related to happiness, job satisfaction, well-being and generative culture.
More specifically: Reducing risk of burnout, reducing deployment pain, reducing rework, enhancing purpose and identity, enhancing trust, voice, inclusion, autonomy, implementing a Westrum generative culture, improving retrospectives have all together a huge impact on driving organizational performance.

What makes for sustainable individual and organizational performance?
Employees who are thriving—not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future.

These people demonstrated 16% better overall performance (as reported by their managers) and 125% less burnout (self-­reported) than their peers. They were 32% more committed to the organization and 46% more satisfied with their jobs. They also missed much less work and reported significantly fewer doctor visits, which meant health care savings and less lost time for the company.

Some references:

  1. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?
  2. Tal Ben-Shahar (2012). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment
  3. Adi Ignatius, HBR (2012). Be Happy. Be Audacious
  4. Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath, HBR (2012). Creating Sustainable Performance.
  5. Tony Hsieh (2010). Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
  6. J. Sutherland (2014). Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
  7. Daniel H. Pink (2011). Drive The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

* * *

I write about organizational patterns, transformational leadership, healthy businesses, high-performing teams, future of workplace, culture, mindset, biases and more. My focus is in leading, training, and coaching teams and organizations in improving their agile adoption. Articles are the result of my ideas, studies, reading, research, courses, and learning. 
The postings on this site and any social profile are my own and do not represent or relate to the postings, strategies, opinions, events, situations of any current or former employer.

This article has been published for the first time on by the author Daniele Davi’.
© Daniele Davi’, 2021. No part of this article or the materials available through this website may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published, broadcast or reduced to any electronic medium, human or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of the author, Daniele Davi’.