Would you like to work for a company that lists making its employees happy as one of its goals? According to a recent report in The Guardian, a new wave is rolling over workplaces in the US, the UK and other European countries. Among the CEOs, CFOs and CPOs, a new executive has emerged. Meet the CHO, or Chief Happiness Officer, who is responsible for the contentment of individual employees.
“The CHO’s job is to spearhead different initiatives to make people happier, like celebrations, training, events and similar activities in the workplace that help people do great work and see the purpose of what they do,” Alexander Kjerulf, co-founder at Woohoo Inc in Denmark, told The Guardian. Kjerulf conducts speeches and workshops worldwide to help companies such as Lego and Ikea create happier workplaces.
Why do companies care about whether their employees are happy or not? The theory goes that happy workers are more productive, so happiness turns out to be in the company’s best interest. After all, no boss wants bored and unmotivated workers.
What does the CHO do? According to a story in US magazine The New Republic, a CHO’s daily duties include diagnosing the emotional well-being of their coworkers and the office atmosphere. They adjust workplace policy and culture in order to create the conditions for happiness. To achieve this, CHOs put out surveys that measure contentment. They also lead workshops on everything from communication skills to mindfulness meditation.
It seems that happiness is no longer a philosophical and romantic concept. The pursuit of happiness has become a business itself. And CHOs may not be enough for some companies. In order to make themselves more productive and profitable, some businesses now use digital technology to monitor their workers’ well-being. A recent New York Times article reported that more than 20 US companies in banking, technology, pharmaceutical and health care industries use a kind of sensor-rich ID badge developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to monitor and analyze workers’ communication behaviors including tone of voice, posture and body language, as well as the duration of the conversation. Companies then use the data to adjust their working environment. For example, a bank has found through the new technology that workers are more productive if they have more social interaction. So it introduced a shared 15-minute coffee break.
Having a boss who actually cares whether you are happy or not might sound nice to an employee. But there are some problems, says The New Republic article. Workplace surveillance measures aimed at boosting productivity may intrude upon workers’ privacy. And the article claims making someone else professionally responsible for our happiness is dangerous: “It represents an intrusion into our emotional lives that should not be permitted to any kind of authority figure – be it corporate or governmental – regardless of intention.”