Is the Pursuit of Employee Happiness an Employer’s Responsibility?

Is the Pursuit of Employee Happiness an Employer’s Responsibility?

In a piece at Fast Company adapted from his forthcoming book The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzik insists that employers should not be in the business of making employees happy:

For starters, the notion that organizations should be interested in making their employees happy puts the cart before the horse. What employers truly care about (and this includes nonprofits and public agencies) is productivity, performance, and organizational effectiveness—and rightly so. It’s only because employees’ so-called engagement or job satisfaction enhances these outcomes that employers have a stake in boosting them. In fact, “engagement” is shorthand for a set of factors that are often mistaken as synonyms for “happiness. Unlike engagement, however, happiness doesn’t translate into higher levels of performance or productivity, and a relative degree of dissatisfaction will boost productivity and performance more than happiness does.

In fact, nothing of value would ever be created unless people are somewhat unhappy and therefore motivated to change their state of affairs. Long before the first Chief Happiness Officer was appointed, achievements large and small in art, science, and industry have resulted from people who’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to address their dissatisfaction with some aspect of reality. For example, successful innovators and entrepreneurs are energized by their annoyance with the status quo, and they channel their productive dissatisfaction into creating progress and change. Anyone who’s entirely contented is unlikely to innovate. With no imbalance to address, they grow complacent.

Chamorro-Premuzik’s argument here puts a fresh spin on the case against organizations attempting to maximize their employees’ happiness.

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What HR Needs to Know About Sentiment Analysis

What HR Needs to Know About Sentiment Analysis

In the brave new world of employee monitoring technology, one of the most fascinating developments is the refinement of sentiment analysis, which promises to give employers timely and accurate data about how their employees are feeling. The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell gives an overview of where this technology came from and where it is going:

The field—known as sentiment analysis—got its start in market research. As online reviews started to gather steam in the mid-2000s, companies who wanted to understand how their products—or their competitors’ offerings—were being received began to use algorithms to aggregate reviews, says Bing Liu, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has written extensively about the history of sentiment analysis. The algorithmic approach could reveal broader insights than a focus groups or surveys, the thinking went. …

More recently, the corporate world has turned these same tools inward. Large companies like Accenture, Intel, IBM, and Twitter have started using the software to understand how their own employees feel about their jobs, and identify problems that might escape a harried supervisor during annual-review time. …

Sentiment analysis is far from a polished technology. “The computer’s understanding of natural language is still bad,” says Liu. “Accuracy is not very easy.” A research project that tested basic analysis tools on a trove of emails sent between developers of an open-source server software suite only had a maximum accuracy rate of 30 percent. (Interestingly, when two people tried to determine the emotions expressed in 50 emails, they could only agree on three-quarters of them, says Tourani Parastou, the main author of the research paper at Polytechnique Montréal.)

Indeed, we’re seeing a boom in start-ups and corporate analytics teams offering real-time sentiment tracking tools as part of the digital transformation of HR. Employee engagement teams, for example, are moving away from large, annual or semi-annual engagement surveys that are arduous and backward looking. Tools ranging from pulse surveys and mood trackers, to social network analysis and health monitoring, now provide a wide variety of new, on-the-go sources of data for companies to better gauge employee engagement. HR is transforming into a data and tech-savvy function, but better data is not enough for HR practitioners to fully adopt these innovations.

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