Workplace wellbeing: Should you consider a Chief Happiness Officer?

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Exploring companies that have senior personnel who are responsible for the welfare of their employees with Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay

In today’s unstable business climate, the success of organisations hinges not only on factors such as strategic agility and innovative products but in particular on the essential underpinnings of satisfaction and strength of their workforce. The danger is the wellbeing and personal satisfaction of the average employee have gone down and with it, potentially energy and new ideas.

This article delves into the importance of putting a high priority on employee engagement and happiness, drawing insights from research and real-world examples.

Research consistently demonstrates a strong correlation between employee engagement and key performance indicators

Some companies are actively looking at the benefits of appointing a Chief Happiness Officer. Could your businesses benefit from one too? A first reaction might be one of disbelief and even hilarity. Happiness suggests light-headed frivolity, not serious business. In this context, happiness is about promoting a positive work culture, employee well-being, and satisfaction within an organisation.

It is clear that checking in on how happy employees are can give us a good idea about how well things are going within the organisation. It recognises the need for a stronger focus on employee happiness, which in turn can lead to positive employee actions and real business benefits.

Why employee engagement and happiness matter

Employee engagement frequently features in HR conversations; it’s often rightly seen as the bedrock of organisational performance. Engaged employees are more likely to be emotionally committed, enthusiastic about contributing, and motivated to do their best, encouraging productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. Additionally, happiness, encompassing satisfaction and purpose, is crucial. Happy employees are not only more productive but also resilient in the face of challenges.

Whilst we may nod approvingly, in most cases, other needs often take over. It has rarely been so challenging for businesses to maintain an employee well-being focus. An example of this difficulty is retailer the John Lewis Partnership. In the teeth of major inflation and a downturn in revenue, for the last two years it has failed to pay an annual employee bonus, which in good times amounted to up to 20% of each employee’s pay cheques.

For an employee-owned company who have a strong gold-standard reputation for “looking after” its employees, this could have been a blow to employee morale.
In their heart of hearts, many companies are in the position of John Lewis; business pressures are eclipsing employee care. Yet businesses also know employee engagement is not merely superficial; it serves as the cornerstone of organisational performance. Engaged employees are emotionally committed to their work, enthusiastic about contributing to organisational goals, and motivated to exceed expectations.

Research consistently demonstrates a strong correlation between employee engagement and key performance indicators such as productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. For instance, the Gallup Q12 Meta-Analysis revealed that companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors in earnings per share by 147%. Moreover, engaged employees tend to stay with their organisations longer, reducing turnover costs and preserving valuable unwritten knowledge.

Building a culture of engagement and happiness

Creating such a culture requires widespread and consistent approaches. These are the underpinning elements which collectively contribute to a positive workplace environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and fulfilled:

  • Treat each team member as valued – through careful recruitment, regular two-way communication and showing appreciation.

  • Treat them as individuals-providing a supportive working environment and commitment to employee wellbeing.

  • Respect their contribution– for example, through reward and recognition, strategies focused on key behaviours, measuring and monitoring of employee ‘health’ indicators.

  • Take L&D and skills updating seriously – development is a key motivator and needs to be identified and fully implemented.

Realising a return for fostering engagement and happiness

Investing in employee well-being yields tangible returns, including improved bottom-line results, talent attraction, and customer loyalty. By prioritising well-being, organisations foster environments where individuals thrive personally and professionally, laying the groundwork for long-term success.

Key success factors in improving employee happiness

It is unlikely you will achieve employee happiness without attention to a raft of linked measures and it is here that many organisations fail to follow through. Employee engagement requires a comprehensive approach using multiple factors which must be consistently applied, though thick and thin:

  • Leadership Backing
  • Clear Success Measures
  • Employee Involvement
  • Training and Upskilling
  • Flexibility in Approaches
  • Personal and Group Recognition
  • Wellness Programmes
  • Good Two-Way Communication
  • A Culture Valuing Continuous Improvement

Measuring happiness

Whilst it is challenging to provide a straight-line link between happiness measures, every attempt should be made to provide measures that demonstrate success. A successful set of initiatives needs measurement using tangible business-recognised measures: typically measured by improvements in employee satisfaction, retention rates, productivity, and overall organisational performance.

So why the role of a Chief Happiness Officer (CHO)?

Companies such as Google and SAP have a Chief Happiness Officer, others such as Unilever have a Chief Health and Well-being Officer, Salesforce has an SVP of Employee Success, and AirBnB has a Global Head of Employee Experience.

Whatever the title, it can keep a focus within the organisation on the value of employee happiness, integrating happiness into business strategy and culture, which includes fostering collaboration. The result? Making a concerted contribution to a happier, more engaged workplace which is aligned with organisational culture. The role is a challenging one, requiring a good understanding of business realities, but keeping employees high up on the agenda.

Recommending happiness

HR and L&D must make sure that they create the conditions to perpetuate a climate where employee well-being is key. This means becoming the eyes and ears of the organisation and maintaining momentum for employee morale and engagement. Putting a firm priority on employee engagement and happiness can make all the difference to organisational success.

Steve Macaulay is an associate at Cranfield Executive Development   
Sarah Cook is MD at the Stairway Consultancy   

Steve Macaulay

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