Why we need to measure worker happiness now and not later

Bena textiles

We work in the field of responsible sourcing and responsible supply. And some would say that hey, we haven’t yet managed to ensure that minimum standards in terms of decent working conditions have been met so why raise the bar now? Within this argument we hear that we should grapple with worker wellbeing and worker happiness later. Well, thank the gods (and the UN) that we didn’t apply this argument to human rights. We were born with them. Why not treat the entitlement for all workers to experience workplace conditions that encourage worker happiness in the same way?

“Worker happiness indicators simply focus on dimensions of a working day which would render all of us content and motivated to be, and to stay, working in that environment.”


But let’s backtrack a little. Let’s start with what we mean by the term. Worker happiness isn’t about feeling blissed out every hour of every day. No. Worker happiness indicators simply focus on dimensions of a working day which would render all of us content and motivated to be, and to stay, working in that environment. This could include clusters of indicators covering themes like: changing tasks and challenges, being mentally and physically fit enough to do the work you are given, respectful communication, a supportive supervisor, clarity on the health and future of the business.

Then worker wellbeing metrics like these are not merely relevant, but crucial if you want your business to survive in the present labour climate.


These are themes that go beyond the bare basics like a living wage, working hours, and whether workers are locked in or beaten. These themes offer insight into whether workers are treated like beings who need to be motivated, have clear information, and mental wellbeing, to participate and perform at their best. Do they perhaps constitute ‘nice-to-haves’? Not if you are running a business where competition is tough and worker retention is a challenge. Then worker wellbeing metrics like these are not merely relevant, but crucial if you want your business to survive in the present labour climate.

Historically we have used metrics for employee satisfaction, for workplace stress, for career mobility in the field of employee satisfaction, which frankly is applied to office workers, and has not been applied to workers in more labour intensive environments such as factories, mines, or plantations. Why? Because there is a class system when it comes to metrics applied to “white versus blue collar” employees. Yup. Amazing but true. And we are not in favour of perpetuating that.

So let’s start to apply some rigour when we measure worker happiness. Perhaps even more rigour than has been applied to measuring employee satisfaction? Let’s be picky when we engage a survey provider to deliver these insights. Let’s demand that we don’t ever ask workers if they are satisfied with their jobs (is this really still going on????). No, we need to apply more sophistication by developing behavioural proxies (by measuring what we typically do when we are satisfied, stimulated and happy at work) that correlate with worker happiness or wellbeing. This is preferable to allowing providers to ask simply about worker happiness or job satisfaction as this effectively passes the responsibility to disentangle the complex phenomenon of wellbeing on to the worker. And that isn’t fair. Providers should know what they are doing with developing indicators for worker happiness and worker wellbeing.

Let’s ensure that we always use wellbeing or happiness metrics alongside the old school compliance set (yes, they are still needed too), when we engage with workers, with all workers.


We all know that happy workers are productive workers. However, let’s be frank, responsible sourcing has been driven more strongly by risk management in recent years, and unhappy workers pose a risk. They sew messages in garments, jump out of windows, rebel against their supervisors, disrupt supply, and take the abuse they suffer at work home. So let’s get this right, starting now. Let’s ensure that we always use wellbeing or happiness metrics alongside the old school compliance set (yes, they are still needed too), when we engage with workers, with all workers.

So we wish to end this blog entry by wishing all us workers, regardless of the colour of our collars, a happy working day.

PS some extraordinary auditors in our LISTENING TO AUDITORS interviews have also flagged the need to measure worker happiness, which is more than interesting. We will be sharing more on their insights and suggestions shortly. 

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