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Chief Happiness Officer “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof…”
Executive coaches meet a raft of usual C-Suite suspects: CEO, CFO, IRO, COO, CTO, HRO… have you bumped into the CHO yet? If happiness = more productivity, virtue should increase the value of the stock, right? Chief Happiness Officer?? Are you kidding me? Well I’m writing my next Company Doctors (www.companydoctors.fr) piece on the relationship between joy and smiling in the workplace and the bottom line … I will share in the news page when it’s published by Les Echos in May 2019.
From Google’s Chade-Meng Tan, first chief happiness officer equivalent, officially known as the Jolly Good Fellow, to Zappos (whose CEO Tony Hsieh released a best-selling book, Delivering Happiness, which covers strategies to increase happiness in corporate culture), or IKEA or Lego, all of a sudden, the Happiness Officer has cropped up in corporate organigrammes and LinkedIn searches across continents. Studies and surveys on employee engagement and staff relationship to work are pointing in one direction: there is place for a full-time role dedicated to employees’ well-being and positive experience in the workplace.
Surveys in larges businesses show their employees think a work environment should facilitate happiness at work, more than any other single aspect. Not surprising to see the evolution of workplace architecture to include sleep pods, meditation studios, yoga mats, wellness suites, organic food bars as well as ergonomically engineered desk areas; or cultural practices like 20% time, Results-Only-Work-Environment (ROWE), or even Agile. Corporate headquarters have become corporate campuses. Corporate culture focuses on creating happiness. Some companies use the Happiness Business Index, a survey based off of “well-being researcher” Nic Marks’s Happy Planet Index that scores how motivated and engaged employees feel in their workplace.
At the macro level, the smiling side of life also emerges alongside traditional economic indicators: countries look at performance through the lens of a ‘happiness index’–just look at the OECD’s ‘Better Life Index’ –right alongside the GDP and financial measures. In our ever-changing, short-term, highly volatile world we have to deal with uncertainty and ‘stress’ each day, so actively working on what makes us happy creates a premium environment.
The correlation between happiness and productivity is no longer in dispute. Statistics to support this abound. Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends study reports that “productive, positive employee experience has emerged as the new contract between employer and employee.” The problems of employee engagement and productivity continue to grow. Nearly 80 percent of executives rated “employee experience” very important (42%) or important (38%). 25% of US companies’ workforces are actively dis-engaged and the cost of employee attrition is high. In the UK, for example, the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) estimated that 16 million days are lost to ill health from stress, with a £26bn cost to employers. Leveraging employee motivation and advocacy, where the engagement translates in better ideas, creative fun, extra hours problem-solving, better customer and staff interactions, going that extra mile, clearly impacts the bottom line.
What does the CHO do? ‘Promoting happiness’ requires high emotional intelligence, ability to identify very specific needs in teams in complex structures and influencing the C-Suite. Is this job for you? Well, the New Republic called it the “latest, creepiest job in corporate America”. HR Directors in Europe say it has to re re-christened, because the term CHO doesn’t wash. Is the CHO just a hipster version of the ‘Head of People’? The jury’s out. Some take their CHO quite literally.
Whilst there is no denying that happiness fosters harmony, an abundance-mindset, enhanced problem-solving and better productivity, it is also one of the most elusive notions philosophers have grappled with since the beginning of time. The CHO faces big questions, and needs to tap into serious organisational behaviour, management and influencing skills, as well as a deep-rooted understanding of the company values and strategic vision, to keep the measure meaningful and serving the bottom line. There are other issues: does your company have the right to intrude on what is largely a very personal experience? In her PhD thesis, executive coach Lucia Ceja highlights a most surprising fact: happiness, in fact, thrives in chaos. Worrying about being happy could be the best antidote to happiness itself. CHO today CEO tomorrow? Hey, 15 years ago Facebook didn’t exist….