I’m Not in the Mood: Measuring Employee Happiness

“Feelings….nothing more than feelings…” 

The song “Feelings”, written in 1974 and performed by many artists since that time, is running through my head as I pen this post. And now, with the addition of some new “human capital emotional monitoring tools” that have recently hit the market, perhaps HR professionals and business owners will soon be singing the same tune.

As the world continues to capitalize on the explosive use of mobile devices by building apps that make you look pretty or help you make your friends look fat, innovation in the HR space is no different. Two recent
tools to hit the scene, emooter.com and morale.me, are hoping to help HR professionals better gauge the mood of their employees.  A third, called happi.ly, is rumored to be coming out later this year. 

Basically, the way these tools work is pretty simple. As an HR administrator, just download the app or log in to the web site, set up the administrator account, and invite your employees to participate. Employees then can click a smiley face or frowny face, or use a slider bar and tell the app how their feeling about their job. Your employees can do this real time and as many times a day as they desire. This data is then aggregated from all of the participating employees across the company and can be used to get a real time pulse on how your employees are feeling. Think of it as an electronic mood ring for your employees. Clever.

John Sumser, HR technology & recruiting expert, in a recent blog post discussing emooter, said “the upshot of the whole big data thing is that static measures will be replaced with ongoing constant streams of data.  Everywhere you see something that takes a periodic measurement, expect it to be replaced with something that measures continuously”.  I agree.  The question is, are HR departments–who are traditionally behind the 8-ball to adopt change–ready to handle the onslaught of real-time data that these tools could provide for their organization?

“Annual face-to-face reviews are obsolete,” says Joel Cheesman, mobile & online recruiting expert, and founder of Morale.me.  Joel sees his mood monitoring apps as a way for HR folks to get deeper demographic information about their staff.  As user adoption within the organization increases, eventually you’ll be able to use the data to determine that women employees are more happy than men, or that the the Dallas office isn’t happy, but the employees in the New York office love their jobs.   As more people begin to use his app, Joel plans to build out new features like heat maps and data reporting that would be accessible via a freemium\premium model.  Pretty cool. 

Joel goes on to say, “If you don’t want to replace your workers every quarter, tools like Morale.me can help Human Resources better gauge employee happiness and demonstrate that the employer cares about their workers.”  There’s no doubt that retention of key employees is important in every company.  More consistent and systemic monitoring of employee mood –as well as making changes based on the data–can help curb attrition. 

Most employees don’t just decide to up and quit. Every job has its ups and downs.  Some days, we leave work feeling like a rock star because we accomplished some goal or got complimented for a job well done.  Other times, after a clash with a boss or a stupid management decision that we don’t agree with, we leave the office saying “I’ve got to find a new job”.  When employees start thinking this way, they’ve crossed an invisible demarcification line.  It’s only after crossing the line consistently over a period of time that the employee finally makes that firm commitment to start looking, and moves from passive to active job search mode.  Tools like emooter and morale.me could curb this attrition by tracking the negative and positive ebb and flow of a company, helping management to recognize troublesome trends–and hopefully nip them in the bud before they grow.

Still, something doesn’t sit right.  I’m all for more communication between employer and employee.  Are these types of tools simply yet another way that technology replaces real human interaction?  Shouldn’t a good manager already know how his or her direct reports are feeling?  Work is work, and few of us are lucky enough to have a job that leaves us in a constant state of happiness.  By communicating frequently and face-to-face with the people they manage and asking direct questions like “are you happy here” or “is there anything that would make this role more enjoyable for you” can uncover deeper emotions about how employees feel than pushing a smiley face on an app. 

User adoption.  Will employees use it? Experience would suggest that those feeling negative will be more likely to consistently participate, but perhaps that is okay–after all, you can benchmark and react to the trend, not to the specific votes. But, given how difficult it can be to get people to fill out the once-a-year “How are we Doing” HR survey — can we expect the same employees to open a mood monitoring app throughout the day?

Impetus for change.  Will HR departments and companies act on the data they’ve collected in a productive way? The major challenge with big data is that we sometimes confuse a lot of data with intelligence.  We may have the data, but it still needs to be interpreted and applied to the business.  If HR departments are slow to drive change with the current model of once-a-year reviews and surveys, how will they be able to handle a constant flow of real-time information?  If nothing changes, employees will stop voting, and morale will be worse off.

I like the innovation.  Just thinking realistically.

To step back for a second…is there a bigger picture for apps like these outside of HR?  Definitely.  Could restaurant owners get a real-time snapshot of how their patrons are feeling while they’re eating their meal?  Would psychologists or therapists benefit by the use of this type of data collection method to keep an eye on their patient’s emotional state in real time?

This first wave of online & mobile mood management tools is only the beginning of a new evolution of how HR can use mobile and technology to improve the organization.  I applaud the entrepreneurs who are focused on doing things better.  As Tim Berners Lee once said, “innovation is serendipity, so you don’t know what people will make.”

OK, I’m done with my diatribe.  And in the words of James Brown, “I feel good!”

Nexxt is a recruitment media company that uses today’s most effective marketing tactics to reach the full spectrum of talent – from active to passive, and everything in between. Learn more about hiring with Nexxt.

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