Beyond the typical grunt and senior grunt titles — associate, manager, partner — there are a group of people employed within public accounting firms whose sole job it is to get quoted in the New York Times, push mythical work/life balance arrangements, make sure the firm has enough "other" people so as not to appear to be racist or sexist or homophobic, and manage sugary sweet social media accounts. So far, we haven't seen a Chief Happiness Officer pop up yet but as it's starting to catch on in Corporate America, don't be all that surprised if one shows up at your firm in a couple years.
Happiness isn’t something you find, or work toward—it’s something you buy and have delivered. Or at least that’s the premise of one of the newest jobs over in the C-suite. Now, alongside the CEO, CFO, and their ilk, we have the CHO, or chief happiness officer. As the name clearly suggests, the CHO is responsible for the contentment of individual employees, sort of like an h.r. manager, but on steroids; the theory goes that happy workers are productive workers, so happiness turns out to be in the company’s best interest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many CHOs reside in Silicon Valley—both at start-ups and more blue chip tech companies. But it’s starting to spread: Southern restaurant company Hopjacks created the position in 2012 and the Quality of Life Foundation, an education nonprofit, created one in 2010.
This is really supposed to be management's job, best achieved by creating a work environment that doesn't feel like an episode of Oz but hey, whatever.
Delivering Happiness, according to CEO and CHO Jenn Lim, devotes its time to measuring the contentment of clients and to laboring to improve their working conditions. So how exactly does one create joy? “We take a snapshot of all the employees, and basically identify their happiness levels,” Lim says. “And using [the Happy Business Index], we can see, what are the key points of unhappiness?” (The Happy Business Index is a survey based off of “well-being researcher” Nic Marks’s Happy Planet Index, and scores how motivated and engaged employees feel in their workplace.) In an interview, Lim also explained that they look out for “how empowered employees feel, how much progress they feel they’re making, how connected and aligned they feel with the company.”
“Basically we’re able to derive actionable things that we recommend companies work on. I think of us as kind of a heart monitor,” Lim noted. CHOs not only monitor, but also calculate. Beyond the Happiness Business Index, the company uses a “happiness calculator” which is featured on its website and does little except tabulate how much money you stand to earn if you carry out a “happiness at work survey” (created by Delivering Happiness, of course).
I can just see you guys if some grinning fool from a company called Delivering Happiness appears in your office one day to test your happy quotient. Sure, I bet you're thrilled to waste your time taking surveys when you are supposed to be working. And I'm sure you wouldn't be at all upset that your firm stiffed you on a raise this year and yet spent money on this crap.
The issue, as the article points out, is that it's not necessarily your company's responsibility, nor right, to hold a stake in your happiness. Maybe you like your job, or at least your paycheck, but your commute sucks and your kids are brats and you just found out your wife has been banging an audit client of hers. That might make you pretty darn unhappy. You could still come into the office and work your unhappy little tail off.
So what’s the problem with someone being professionally responsible for your happiness? Nothing on the surface. Good bosses, of course, should promote a positive work environment. Having an officer appointed to direct and proliferate the emotion, though, presents some issues. Besides the eerie similarity between “chief happiness officer” and concepts like “ministry of love” and “war on terror,” 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.
In a seperate interview, Delivering Happiness' Lim said the incentive for companies to get on this happiness train is — wait for it — money. "In the US alone, theres [a poll] that 83 percent of Americans are disengaged from work — essentially unhappy. That’s creating a loss of 500 billion dollars in productivity."
AHA. So you don't care about my happiness at all, then. All you care about is me being happy enough to make you more money? Got it. How do they figure that number out exactly, anyway?
Lord help us all if this trend gets its claws into public accounting. Thankfully the profession is always the last to jump on any bandwagon and hopefully by the time they even start to consider it, the trend will have sputtered out in favor of the next stupid initiative.