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Is everybody happy? Measuring happiness in the workplace

According to recent studies, happiness in the workplace is positively correlated with productivity, so as happiness increases, productivity follows suit, but when unhappiness gains a foothold, productivity and, ultimately, the health of the business, suffer.

To this end (and also because We Care A Lot) we’ve set up a simple “barometer of happiness”, or “happiness index” as we like to call it, that acts as an early warning system to quickly detect any potential outbreak of unhappiness in the team, so we can nip it in the bud. This happiness indicator gives an important perspective on the health of the business, and is arguably as important as any balance sheet, profit and loss statement, or cashflow report.

The first prototype, or version 0.1, has been live for a couple of months now and has provided some illuminating insight into our collective emotional condition (Tuesdays, for instance, are a regular, recurring low point in the week).

So, what’s the ground-breaking technology that makes all this possible?

The answer… A couple of buckets and a few dozen tennis balls. :)

At the end of the day, as we leave the office, we each drop a tennis ball into either the Happy or Unhappy bucket, to capture how we felt, on balance, throughout the day. The following morning, the balls are counted (by either Max, or a band of merry pixies, I’m not sure which) and the totals scrawled on a piece of paper stuck to the door. At the end of each week, Pete, our industrious chairman, tots up the numbers and logs them in a Google spreadsheet. It’s poetry in motion.

To complete the feedback loop, we periodically fetch and process the data from the spreadsheet using Google App Engine, and display it on our internal, Geckoboard-powered dashboard, keeping the data nice and visible, and allowing us to answer the all-important question: over time, as a group, are we becoming more or less happy?

Here’s a screenshot of our Geckoboard instance, which runs continually in the office on a spare monitor, showing the latest results (along with other must-have information, such as rail times, what’s playing on the office stereo and what’s being said about us on Twitter):

Last week was a bad week, but we’re working on it!

(Hat tip: Paddi Lund whose book inspired Pete to start thinking about ways to measure happiness, and Alex Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer at, who suggested the idea to Tom).

This post was filed under Marketing & PR, Not for profit, The future, Training, Working culture and tagged , , Comments are currently closed.


  1. Love this idea you all, thanks for sharing!! :)

    Posted 28th September 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  2. Iain Chambers

    This is a great idea, partly because of the simplicity, but mainly because in our society where our physical needs (food, shelter, warmth) are widely achieved, happiness is often next on the list. Spending 40+ hours a week being unhappy at work is a waste of a lifetime. Employers would benefit hugely on many levels by addressing Happiness, and knowing employees are unhappy is the obvious first step to take.

    Posted 28th September 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  3. This is fab. The kind of thing that some folks talk about, but you lot are actually doing. A couple of questions, though:

    - I’m interested to know how these results are used. You mention “nipping unhappiness in the bud”. What form does this nipping take? This measurement is a really cool first step, but what happens next?

    - Does an awareness of a trend in the happiness index (whether up or down) ever accelerate its change?

    Posted 28th September 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  4. Interesting idea. How do you determine whether the unhappiness index reflects the staff’s happiness at Nixon McInnes vs. their overall happiness in their lives as a whole?

    Posted 28th September 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  5. I’d be interested to know what the others think but…

    @Matt Hill We don’t distinguish those things. One affects the other. Personally, compartmentalising them doesn’t really make sense to me.

    @Clive I think awareness is perhaps one of the most powerful tools we as humans have for changing our behaviour. We’re not measuring this ‘scientifically’ but my guess is that adding this feedback loop to a human system is probably a good thing.

    This is all version 0.1 stuff of course. We wanted to prototype quickly as Steve pointed out. And we’ve already got ideas on how to improve the next version.

    Posted 28th September 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink
  6. great stuff guys – love it!

    @pete – does that mean you’re not ‘happy’ with version 0.1 :)

    keep up the good work NMers


    Posted 28th September 2010 at 10:30 pm | Permalink
  7. @Pete: Yes, one affects the other, that was my point.

    You don’t know if someone’s ball-in-a-bucket reflects how they feel about their work environment, or an unrelated external factor (for example, problems at home.)

    When I worked at NM, I had a lot of stuff going on outside of work that was making me unhappy, but I enjoyed my time at work. If balls in buckets had been in place back then (2007), I’d be throwing balls in the U bucket due to non-work factors.

    How would NM “nip this in the bud”?

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 2:49 am | Permalink
  8. I like your point Matt. And I agree with the dilemma it presents.

    Even so, I think we’d rather track the whole happiness or unhappiness, rather than ask (or pretend?) that we as people can divide up how we feel and not let emotions spread into the facets of our lives.

    The other related point which sort of comments on what you’re saying but doesn’t address it is that I’ve noticed how dropping the balls in the buckets does a consciousness-raising thing – you sort of go ‘oh, was i happy or unhappy today’ – and that in itself creates an awareness that is useful, even if the ball went into the unhappy bucket.

    So I guess at the end of it all, the real questions are not ‘were we’ but ‘WHY?’.

    Now that would be an interesting thing to aim for :)

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 8:11 am | Permalink
  9. For my part, I think that if someone is willing to admit they’re unhappy, then presumably they’re also willing to talk about why they’re unhappy. If the cause of the unhappiness is something that’s within our control, e.g. caused by a stressful situation at NM, then we should do our utmost to change it.

    I think it would be weird if we were trying to make everybody happy, in every area of their life, all of the time. Clearly there are some things that, as a company, are out of our control. Also i think it’s fairly ‘normal’ for a few of us to be unhappy at some point in our lives, we are after all only human, and infinitely more complex then a simple binary on/off/hot/cold measuring system could ever capture. Even so, I think there is tremendous value (to both the individual and the company as a whole) in having this system in place.

    To me, that’s also what this experiment is about – identifying ‘abnormal’ levels of unhappiness in the team, by bringing happiness levels into the open, identifying the root cause, and then doing something about it. It’s a journey, and this is the latest iteration in that journey.

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 8:48 am | Permalink
  10. Steve, I really like your point about unhappiness being normal.

    There are whole industries built up around creating happiness in our lives (the self-help industry, the well-being industry etc).

    Much of this seems to me to be based on an unrealistic expectation about life – that we ‘should’ be happy more (or even all) of the time.

    Even wonderful and useful ideas such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow have limited scope, in my view – personally I think a life chock full of Flow would be dire.

    Life is about the richness of unhappiness and happiness, boredom and flow. Without these distinctions how would we ever know what we were experiencing?

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  11. I think it would be an interesting and possibly valuable experiment to record my own happiness level every hour say. But that would be a private record. Not something I’d like to share publicly.

    Do you make sure that the ball-droppers are anonymous? Without anonymity there is considerable peer pressure to say that you’re happy even if you’re not. Especially if happiness is a stated aim of your employer.

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  12. I think this also illustrates that in order to make something like this work it’s important to consider the system as a whole.

    As Steve points out, people have to be willing to admit whether they are unhappy or happy; so we are creating a culture where people are as honest as they can be with each other.

    People also need to be able to express clearly what they mean by “happy” or “unhappy” – so we are also encouraging (and developing I think) a lot of emotional literacy.

    We do a lot of other things that we hope will “nip unhappiness in the bud”. Measurement of happiness is just one small piece of the whole.

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  13. @Alex yes it is as anonymous as is reasonably practical.

    And personally I don’t think “happiness” should be a stated aim. Something more like “developing and growing” seems more appropriate.

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  14. Have to say- this is Fab, straight forward and just plain great!

    good luck this this weeks stats :)

    Thanks for sharing

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  15. A nice idea but if I’d a bad day then a bucket of tennis balls could be a workplace hazard!

    Posted 29th September 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  16. @Julie good job we didn’t use cricket balls then! :)

    Posted 30th September 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  17. Pete

    A good place to start on happiness in the work place if you haven’t already come across him is the Australian dentist Paddi Lund.

    You may also have seen Jessica Pryce-Jones, Philippa Chapman and Richard Reeves (now of Demos) in Making Slough Happy a few years back.

    Jessica and Philippa founded a consultancy called iOpener specialising in happiness at work.

    Two other great sources: Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman – a great starter. And possibly the best book I have read on happiness: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.

    But the whole of positive psychology is probably relevant plus a lot of ancient wisdom.

    Posted 4th October 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  18. Hi,
    Interesting approach. Is it mandatory or voluntary? Also, what sort of benchmark are you looking to achieve? Bit like the question in economics, what constitutes full employment?


    Posted 4th October 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  19. Pete

    Definitely voluntary. Like much else at NM.

    Benchmark – we are setting our own benchmark at the moment – comparing our current results with previous ones.

    But would be interested in other companies doing similar things.

    And I guess we could look at a variant of Gross National Happiness – restructured for a company :) doesn’t seem to cover companies…. :(

    Posted 5th October 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  20. Interactive tool measuring happiness of Top 50 world cities. Vilnius started to use it and broadcast results live on digital screens of the city

    Posted 9th July 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
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    Posted 13th June 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

26 Trackbacks

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