Mar 23

A “Chief Happiness Officer” for workplace wellness?

About a month ago, one of London’s oldest law firms, Clifford Chance, made headlines when a prospective managing partner suggested that he would appoint a “Chief Happiness Officer”

Among the innovations proposed at Clifford Chance were “micro-retreats” for employees and paid time to pursue “passion projects”.

The idea is based on research that shows happy, supported workers are more productive, are more engaged, and generally get on better with each other and customers and clients.   Although the idea of a Chief Happiness Officer was mocked by some commentators, the idea is not new, and a number of companies already have one, usually someone in HR whose job is to listen to employee concerns and explore ways to make them feel more valued and supported.  Workplace wellness is also not new, with many companies promoting yoga, meditation or other strategies to help employees deal with workplace stress and promote good mental health, particularly once the link to productivity was established.

One positive development of the Covid-19 pandemic and employer responses was an increased emphasis on worker’s mental health.  Workplace wellness is nothing new, although the emphasis has changed in more recent decades to include mental as well as physical wellbeing, with many companies promoting yoga, meditation or other strategies to help employees deal with workplace stress and promote good mental health.

Employers who supported workers’ mental health during the pandemic were rewarded with greater loyalty and productivity.  Extended periods of working from home since early 2020 also meant that for people who were able to work from home, more of our lives than ever were on show to colleagues – giving new meaning to bringing your “whole self” to work!

Do you need a Chief Happiness Officer?

NO

If your workplace culture is problematic, a Happiness Officer is really just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.  A better solution is to put up guardrails — create and support a positive workplace culture.  The suggestion made by a partner at Clifford Chance may have met with some scepticism, as law firms have been more traditionally associated with long hours and pushing through at whatever the cost, than promoting happiness and employee wellbeing.  Calling someone a Chief Happiness Officer may signal that your organisation values its people and their wellbeing, but a position without action is meaningless.

Rather than creating a new position to promote happiness, most workplaces would be better off looking at where they are now and where they want to go.  It’s useful to open a discussion about happiness at work and review your culture each year, even if all seem to be going well.  Appointing a Chief Happiness Officer is really no different than having someone assess your workplace culture, evaluate what’s working, and identify areas for improvement:

  1. Is your organisation living and breathing its values?

Organisational values reflect what is important in a workplace and define for leaders and employees what is acceptable behaviour at work.  Values also provide useful guidelines for decision-making, and communicating values forms a basis for discussing and shaping a positive culture.  However, values have to be accepted and role modelled throughout an organisation, particularly by leaders.

  • Is your organisation promoting employee autonomy?

Autonomy – the feeling that we have some ability to determine or influence what happens to us – is also important. *Employees who feel autonomy have higher job satisfaction (+10%), perform better (+5%), and are more innovative (+8%). Employees’ engagement with the workplace is another indicator of productivity. Organisations with a high level of engagement report 22% higher productivity, and group cohesion is positively related to the overall performance of the organisation.

  • Do you recognise employees?

Not all employees want to be recognised in the same way, but everyone likes to have their efforts acknowledged. Creating a culture of recognition though regular constructive feedback conversations, as well as giving employees extra appreciation for going above and beyond.

  • Do you create opportunities for joy?

Particularly after the last few years, people are uncertain and a bit battered.  The readjustment to new ways of working and how we come together in and out of workplaces is a moveable feast.  It’s important to create ways to reconnect, acknowledge challenges and celebrate our collective strength and resilience in the face of challenges.

Joy has been in short supply for many people – make space to find it again!

Worklogic is off to reconnect and create some joy in our Annual Retreat, no Happiness Officer required. We’ll report back next week with The Retreat Report, about how we work to support and appreciate our exceptional team.

*Gensler (2013), 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey: Key Findings, Inspired vs satisfied employeesHarvard Business Review (2015)

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