Ask Alto: What is a Chief Happiness Officer, and does my company need one?

September 20, 2022
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One of the first Chief Happiness Officers appears to have been clown character Ronald McDonald who was jokingly “promoted” to the post of McDonald’s’ Chief Happiness Officer in 2003.

In 2021, however, Chief Happiness Officer (CHO) is an actual job title, though it can be styled differently. The Wall Street Journal reports that Airbnb has a global head of employee experience while Slack has a senior vice president of employee success.

Workplace software company, YAROOMS, believes that the role of Chief Happiness Officer (along with Director of Remote Work or Head of Future of Work) is now on the rise, in part because of the worldwide move to remote or hybrid working.

So what is a Chief Happiness Officer then?

YAROOMS defines it succinctly: A Chief Happiness Officer is a professional who is responsible for the happiness of employees in a company, and who usually reports to the CEO or founder. A CHO is “in charge of creating and implementing programs that aim to improve employee satisfaction, motivation, and overall well-being”.

Why is it emerging as a role now?

Companies grappling with the Great Resignation, the changes brought by remote or hybrid working and a tight labour market are facing new challenges as they work to keep employees satisfied and engaged. And satisfaction and engagement are key to a company’s performance.

Studies have shown that there tends to be a correlation between happiness and efficiency. It’s worth noting that Finland, where the government mandates four weeks of leave a year, topped the rankings as the happiest country in the 2021 World Happiness Report 2021. And a Warwick University study shows that happiness makes people more productive at work, according to the latest research from the University of Warwick. Economists carried out a number of experiments to test the idea that happy employees work harder and found that happiness made people around 12% more productive.

So what does a CHO do?

Some things a CHO might be responsible for include:

  • Outlining company goals and objectives, selecting performance targets, and tracking company performance with Key Happiness Indicators (KHIs)
  • Reviewing company policies to make sure the company is meeting its internal values.
  • Creating and implementing programmes that aim to improve employee satisfaction, motivation, and overall well-being.
  • Coaching managers on how to be effective leaders and create a positive work environment.
  • Training employees on how to deal with stress and navigate difficult conversations.
  • Creating and delivering workshops on a variety of topics such as gratitude, mindfulness, and positive psychology.

How does a CHO fit into traditional human resource structures?

The role of a human resources department and/or professional in the hybrid world includes things like developing policies and procedures for remote work, and ensuring that the company’s culture and values are upheld when employees are not in the office. They can also serve as mediators in employee conflicts that may arise from the remote work arrangement. Crucially, they ensure that employees are compensated for their work (and that their paperwork is in order).

The role of a human resource practitioner and a CHO will overlap, but in general HR will be responsible for things like compliance, legality, employee satisfaction and benefit packages.

Do you need a CHO?

Andrew Mawson, the founder of the management consultants Advanced Workplace Associates, has told the Guardian that he recommends that all his clients introduce the role, which he says should be situated on the board alongside CEOs and other executives.

“A company of 20,000 people has 20,000 different brains,” he told the Guardian. “If you want all those brains to be at the top of their game, their teams need to be cohesive and connected. Working well together is the fundamental platform for business success: it gives you a massive competitive advantage.”