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The Role of the Chief Happiness Officer

Before we discuss the role of the Chief Happiness Officer (CHO), we should ask why the role is needed. Being happier can help to improve all areas of our lives, including at work, at home and with friends and socialising.

The Role of the Chief Happiness Officer

Published on:

9 Mar 2023

Before we discuss the role of the Chief Happiness Officer (CHO), we should ask why the role is needed.

Being happier can help to improve all areas of our lives, including at work, at home and with friends and socialising.

Companies and governments both recognise the benefits of being happier, too. There’s even a World Happiness Report that measures happiness across 150 countries.

Attitudes toward happiness are changing. Not fast, but inexorably towards a world where we can talk about it as a serious business benefit. Noting the shift in attitudes, the happiness report says that over the last decade policymakers around the world are seeing the public mood on happiness as an important objective of public policy.

GDP is not a good measure of progress

One way of measuring a country’s progress and success is by reference to its gross domestic product (GDP), which is basically the monetary value of everything it makes (goods and services). But that’s no longer acceptable. The World Happiness Report found that in the last 10 years, the focus on income and GDP has waned, with words like GDP appearing less often than the word happiness.

Other measures are coming to the fore. As the Harvard Business Review (HBR) says, GDP wasn’t designed to assess the welfare or wellbeing of citizens. The mistake by policymakers, according to the HBR, is to treat GDP as all-encompassing. Economic prosperity measured on GDP alone allows no scope for the effects (positive and negative) on people.

In fact, economic growth does not guarantee an increase in happiness at all. Even if you only associate happiness with having money, the Institute for Management Development points out that GDP ignores the relationship between economic growth and income inequality.

The benefits of being happy

So, the role of a CHO would seem to be a very important position indeed. The CHO is responsible for ensuring all of the multiple benefits of being happy are delivered in the workplace – and wider. There’s no shortage of academic research on the benefits of being happy.

The general benefits of being happy include:

  1. Improved health

  2. Combat stress

  3. Stronger immune system

  4. Healthier lifestyle

  5. Reduced aches and pains

  6. Live longer

And at work:

  1. Improved decision making

  2. Increased creativity

  3. Improved personal and professional productivity

  4. Increased customer satisfaction

  5. Higher earnings

It may seem obvious to say that happiness and good health go hand in hand but it’s a life lesson many of us ignore. Ironically, we’d probably claim we’re too busy, stressed or ‘under the weather’ to find the time to sort out our happiness level.

In the workplace, greater happiness equates to more successful businesses. There’s a direct link between the two. It’s no surprise that so many organisations now focus on wellbeing, mental health, inclusivity. They are taking a long, hard look at their business culture and questioning whether it is fit for purpose.

What is happiness?

Happiness can be defined in many different ways but how we look at it here is when a person is in a state of ‘flow’ – they are so immersed in their work and the world that they feel as one with it.

Think of it like the way athletes go ‘into the zone’ in preparing to excel. It’s a well-studied mental state that helps us understand how we can reach our happiness zone. We can identify the many signs and types of happiness to take us in the right direction.

Happiness and having money are often lumped together. But most people today would recognise that more money doesn’t always make you happier. Yes, you need enough to love well, but more won’t necessarily make you much happier.

Happiness in a Regenerative, Ethical, Mindful (REM) world is when individuals feel that their work and life contribute towards not just a better life for themselves but their company and peers, family, community, society and planet. When you feel so connected, you can achieve high levels of self-esteem, self-respect and respect for others.

It’s best to see happiness as a journey, something to aspire to be. When you do this, when you make it the goal itself, you’ll always be focusing on being happier, rather than only experiencing happiness in the moment.

Maslow and happiness

Abraham Maslow famously created the Hierarchy of Needs. To start, we need to feel safe, secure and needed, that we belong and have good connections with people.

Maslow’s final two stages – self-esteem and self-actualisation – are where work comes to play an important part. These are stages where we realise the potential of our passions and skills. Where these passions and skills combine to create value for others. This helps to move us into a state of happiness and a state of flow, too.

What makes for a good CHO?

You need to be both a people person but also a big picture person; to see the implications for improved happiness to your business and wider society.

Take a look at some of today’s mega-businesses – like Amazon, Google, Airbnb and SAP – and you’ll find they all have a CHO. While such an appointment is an altruistic move, there is clearly sound business logic for the role in terms of increased productivity, employee engagement and efficiency, Law firm Allsop’s CHO sees her role as being a ‘people person’ who is a conduit for communications from the top down and responsible for developing its culture. Human Resources and employee engagement specialist Hppy’s CHO sees their role as giving colleagues a voice, offering them freedom and supporting their growth.

What does a CHO do?

Most companies perhaps focus too much on Friday pizzas, away days and free medical and health care in their efforts to boost employee happiness. But they are missing the point. These actions, while probably appreciated, won’t necessarily make people happier. Valued, yes, but real happiness is found in the work we do.

Happiness comes when the work we do truly engages us and makes us feel alive every day we do it. This is realising self-esteem actualisation. Pizzas, on the other hand, belong more to the ‘love and longing’ level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

A CHO should:

  1. Provide feedback to their board on employee engagement and motivation issues

  2. Create programmes that increase employee satisfaction

  3. Create awareness around human-related issues of communication, motivation and leadership

  4. Devise and run workshops to improve personal and professional productivity

  5. Ensure employees’ opinions and voices are heard

  6. Ensure company values are known, understood and are a central part of each employee’s own belief system and values

  7. See that staff have the right traits and skills for the work they are doing and provide both business and social skills development where needed

  8. Check that staff aren’t overwhelmed and merely ‘fire-fighting’ problems and issues every day as this can become demotivating

  9. Ensure there is a good positive culture that boosts personal, professional and business productivity

Online workspace management company Yarooms points out that the growing importance of the CHO is a sign of the times we live in. The post-Covid world of hybrid working and an emphasis on getting our work/life balance right give the role huge relevance for businesses trying to map their way to a successful future.

It’s time for every business and employee to get happy.

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