Happiness Isn’t the Right Metric

 At dinner the other night a colleague implied that money is rarely the reason people leave jobs–if they were happier at their current job, they wouldn't be looking around, or at least they would feel more satisfied with their current salary.

I agree that money is rarely the primary issue. And frankly it's always complicated as to why people leave (it's rarely one issue, no matter what the issue is). But I think we end up distracting ourselves if we look too rigidly to the "happiness" of employees. There's nothing wrong with happiness, of course, but there is a big difference between happy and engaged. Between happy and learning. Between happy and growing. Between happy and challenged. 

If your constantly unhappy, then there's obviously a problem. But I don't expect to be happy all the time, and I expect other people I work with to have times when they are frustrated, when they struggle, or when the operating environment deals them a hand that is just plain hard. Loving your job is not about being happy all the time. 


  1. 20.05.2010 at 1:55 pm

    If your colleague had framed it slightly differently, would you still think happiness is the wrong metric? If he or she had said this:
    “How you answer this question is an excellent predictor of whether or not you plan to stick with the organization: ‘Are you happy with your job?'”
    Taking it from always being happy to being reflective and on balance happy means they’re assessing the things you talk about — are they engaged, do they feel underpaid, are they challenged, is the opportunity for advancement, do they think their work matters — and saying hell yes, or hell no (anything in between is really just one step away from hell no).

  2. 20.05.2010 at 2:28 pm

    If I remember my Herzberg’s Theory of motivation (http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=5&n=110), money is a hygiene factor in motivation, its absence creates dissatisfaction but its presence is not a motivator. Herzberg’s five factors for job satisfaction are achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement which are similar to Dan Pink’s concept of purpose, autonomy and mastery.
    So happiness may not be a motivator. But unhappiness may be an indication of dissatisfaction that if it lasts long enough will impact a person’s job performance. The unhappiness may be an indicator that one of the 3 elements (purpose, autonomy & mastery) is missing. So chronic unhappiness is something to be considered. AS a one point in time unhappiness is not a valuable metric but if the feeling lasts long enough it can become a metric or indicator.

  3. 20.05.2010 at 2:52 pm

    Money in itself can not make you happy, but being poor can make you miserable.

  4. 20.05.2010 at 3:51 pm

    Scott: I think that is my point, though. If you’re thinking of engaged, growing, etc., then let’s use those words, rather than the vague (and variably defined” happy. It’s not that happy is NOT a metric, it’s just not refined enough for me. And I would be concerned if people focused on it too much.