Worker happiness – Hitachi gets it

When Japanese tech company Hitachi set out to improve organisational productivity and efficiency several years ago, it decided to experiment with an unconventional approach. This approach didn’t involve seeking ways to squeeze more work out of working hours or reinventing processes to shave minutes or seconds from production processes. It didn’t push workers to produce more with less, and it didn’t require leaders to double down on monitoring every movement of their workforce in search of workers who weren’t carrying their weight.

Instead, Hitachi focused on tracking a single, unexpected metric – Worker Happiness.

Using wearables and an accompanying mobile app, Hitachi offered participating workers artificial intelligence–based suggestions for increasing feelings of happiness throughout the day by boosting psychological capital (i.e. self-confidence and motivation), psychological safety, and alignment with management objectives.

The early results were stunning. Workers’ psychological capital rose by 33% — a particularly meaningful improvement, given that increased psychological capital results in increased worker engagement, greater job satisfaction, and lower turnover intention and burnout. Profits increased 10%. Sales per hour at call centres increased 34%, and retail sales increased 15%.

What’s more, the majority of participants said they were “happy” — just one indication that the key to unlocking organisational performance in a rapidly evolving era of work may no longer be tied to traditional productivity metrics.

Hitachi’s focus on measuring and building worker happiness represents a shift away from traditional efforts of gauging and improving worker performance, which tend to focus on activity-centric productivity metrics such as hours worked, time on task, product produced, and revenue per employee.

These traditional ways of measuring worker performance as a series of outputs solely reflect the perspective of the organisation. New approaches, by contrast, can and should consider the worker as a human being, with a more nuanced perspective on how they contribute to the organisation.

The once clear line that linked individual worker activity (e.g. hours worked or calls completed) to tangible outcomes (e.g. customer satisfaction or commercial potential of research and development projects) is now blurred, replaced by a complex network of collaborations and a demand for sophisticated skills that aren’t easily observed by traditional productivity metrics. Even in front-line, logistics, and manufacturing environments where traditional metrics like minutes per call or widgets produced may seem most applicable, technology and AI are being increasingly used to automate such tasks. The workforce can then be free to undertake complex problem-solving that requires skills that are less technical and more abstract, such as creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. In agriculture, for example, autonomous drones can be used to plant seeds, apply fertilisers and pesticides, and check for pests or environmental damage. Workers would then be able to spend time learning new skills that can enable them to manage the technology, optimise processes, deal with exceptions, or develop sustainable strategies for crop health and maintenances

The once clear line that linked individual worker activity to tangible outcomes is now blurred, replaced by a complex network of collaborations and a demand for sophisticated skills that aren’t easily observed by traditional productivity metrics.

At the same time, some organisations are looking beyond traditional metrics such as revenues and profits to consider how they can create shared value — outcomes that benefit individual workers, teams and groups, the organisation, and society as a whole. The organisations that successfully navigate this new environment will likely be the ones who make the shift from old methods of understanding productivity to embracing a new paradigm of human performance.

In Hitachi’s experiment with improving worker happiness, it’s easy to see how creating value at the individual worker level led to value at the enterprise level — increasing both revenues and profits.

This is not a zero-sum game: Organisational initiatives that were originally designed to achieve benefits like higher cost savings or improved quality can also help amplify worker satisfaction and performance.


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