Happiness Starts At the Top

Image courtesy of Flickr/Moyan Brenn

In reading The Pursuit of Happiness,a recent article in Talent Management magazine about the job of “chief happiness officer,” my first reaction is that a company that appoints one needs one. However, the person in such a job is unlikely to be successful because as the saying goes, “you can’t buy happiness.” Increasing perks, and even income, won’t cause people to be happy. If it did, how would you explain why many who are rich are also seemingly unhappy?

Happiness comes from how employees are treated as they work, not as something you give them to make them happy. As the article points out, defining happiness is very subjective so naturally, organizations define it differently. If you can’t define it, it will be difficult to know where chief happiness officers, or CHOs, should focus their efforts and whether they are successful. In the end, it’s likely to be a lot of activity about nothing.

To make ‘happiness’ more objective, consider this explanation: Happiness at work comes from the recognition of contributions and achievement. There must be some observable and/or measureable achievement or progress on a specific outcome that is valuable to the organization. If the job of the CHO is seen as making people happy at work, it’s quite likely that things will be given to employees regardless of whether they earn it. Another important factor to keep in mind is that because happiness is perishable, recognition of accomplishments, contribution and progress needs to be very frequent — again, proving very difficult for a CHO’s success.

Measures of happiness can only be made by looking at accomplishments. Retention, attendance, discretionary effort, productivity, quality and safety are all lagging measures. It is difficult to be happy when the company is not performing well. If you are not treated well, it is also difficult to be happy, regardless of the economic health of the organization. In other words, happiness starts at the top and is reflected not in what the CEO says but in how those words are reflected in policy, processes and management behaviors. If the CHO can bring about those changes, there is a viable and important job. If not, there will be little happiness and lots of wasted time and money.

When happiness comes as a result of job accomplishments, everybody is happy. When you try to give happiness, no one is happy.

Learn more by reading The Science of Success: Creating Great Places to Work.