Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Columnist criticizes Wells Fargo's happy:grumpy ratio

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported on how Wells Fargo tracks a "happy-to-grumpy" ratio of its employees as part of measuring the bank's culture.

According to the WSJ's story, Wells Fargo's tool for measuring employee satisfaction comes at a time when big banks are emerging from years of large fines, layoffs and losses and, therefore, "are trying more than ever to monitor employee attitudes and values to avoid future problems."

Stumpf (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Lucy Kellaway, a columnist for the Financial Times, took issue with the ratio in a column this week. (Update: Wells Fargo says the ratio is actually a measure of employee engagement versus disengagement, not happiness versus grumpiness.)

Kellaway questions whether workers who claim to be happy are really less likely to do bad things:
There are no numbers to prove it; neither is there any obvious reason it should be so. If what makes bankers happy is taking risks and making money, they will be even happier when they are up to no good — provided it results in lots of money falling into their laps. Furthermore, if you are the sort of person who thinks it fine to diddle your bank out of billions of dollars, you are not going to worry about giving misleading answers on a staff satisfaction survey.
Kellaway also writes that she doesn't buy that Wells Fargo's ratio last year was eight happy employees for every grumpy one.

According to The Wall Street Journal story, Wells Fargo says that's up from 7:1 in 2013 and 3.8:1 in 2010.

"I don’t believe for a moment that the happy outnumber the grumpy by eight to one among Wells Fargo’s 260,000 people, nor is it likely that a ratio could double in such a short time," Kellaway writes.

Here's more from her column:
Underlying it all is something even more basic. Should employers even aim to make their staff happy? I’m with Freud on this one. He said it wasn’t possible to make people happy; the best that could be hoped for was normal unhappiness. 
This should be the goal at work too. Banks, and all other employers, should try to become places where employees are not abnormally unhappy.
One Wells Fargo employee made national headlines last year for his unhappiness with the bank's pay.

That employee was 30-something Tyrel Oates, who in October sent Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf a letter asking him to distribute more of the company's profits to its employees.

Oates, who at the time processed requests from Wells Fargo customers seeking to stop debt-collection calls, pointed out in his letter that the "vast majority" of the company's employees "barely make enough to live comfortably on their own."

At the time, Oates said he was making just more than $15 an hour as a full-time employee.


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