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Can happiness in the enterprise be engineered?

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Keeping staff happy and motivated within the enterprise can be tricky -- but could technology provide the right recipe for success?

A recent article on ieee Spectrum suggests that far from Thanksgiving and the forced cheer of red suits, Santa, turkey and Christmas carols, happiness can be engineered through computer technology -- by monitoring people.

It all started a decade ago, when computer scientists, psychologists, engineers and researchers began monitoring people with primitive biometric trackers. Specifically, the publication says that these devices would "monitor and analyze a person's sleep patterns, exercise and dietary habits, and vital statistics like body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate," which can then be used to pinpoint problems within a daily routine, and the ultimate goal is to improve a person's well-being.

Now, with the continued expansion of mobile technology, discreet and tiny devices are on the market which aim to achieve the same goal. It is this type of technology that could potentially be used to boost morale in the workplace, the publication argues.

In particular, Hitachi's Business Micrososcope collects employee data through a device no bigger than a name tag. It "weighs a mere 33 grams," Spectrum says, explaining:

"You wear it around your neck on a lanyard, as you would a name badge at a conference. Inside its plastic case are six infrared transceivers, an accelerometer, a flash memory chip, a microphone, a wireless transceiver, and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that allows the badge to operate for up to two days at a time."

Once worn, the device monitors staff body movements, voice pitch and other non-verbal forms of communication. This, over time, translates in to a value which tells an organisation how "happy" their employees are, and how they interact with each other.

The authors of the article, one of which was involved in the earliest form of this kind of research, say that "You might think that happiness is something ineffable, an elusive state of being that defies quantification and analysis. But over the past decade [scientists] have conducted many studies that demonstrate that happiness can, in fact, be systematically measured."

In short, the article argues that circumstance, rather than idealism, is the key to happiness -- and enterprises can jump on this by providing "a state of full engagement" to boost well-being and increase productivity.

Behavioral indicators and monitoring may be ambiguous and remind you of Big Brother, but potentially "happiness sensors" may be useful when measuring new business practices and procedures. Spectrum argues that the best -- and most profitable -- outcome for businesses using this technology is to create environments that increase worker satisfaction, which would then in turn make workplaces more efficient in the long-run.

Image credit: Flickr

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— By on December 2, 2012, 7:50 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure