Does Employee Engagement Require a Chief Happiness Officer?

11466671_sWho is responsible for corporate culture and employee engagement in your organization, and why is it important? As the economy improves, the dynamics in the job market have shifted. Employers no longer have the upper hand with applicants and have to compete for top talent. That makes culture, employee engagement, and the candidate experience top priorities in recruiting today.

A new executive role emerging to harness these factors is Chief Happiness Officer (CHO). That’s because even traditional companies like Aetna now heavily focus on culture to improve retention in response to a more than $100 million turnover problem. Making employees happy saves money. The opposite will cost you big time.


What is a Chief Happiness Officer?

The Chief Happiness Officer position can be a stand-alone role charged with everything from monitoring attitudes, experiences, opinions, and engagement to improve or overhaul company culture. It can be a human resources specialty to engage and motivate employees to improve performance levels. But Alexander Kjerulf points out that any CHO has to have the support of top-level management to be effective and successful at impacting the culture and employee engagement. The founder of WooHoo, Inc. and author of “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” he is a proponent of the Chief Happiness Officer role. His company produces keynotes, workshops, and management trainings about happiness at work.

Employee happiness is a business strategy that companies are using to ensure an engaged workforce. Zappos pays new hires $2,000 to quit if they feel they are not a fit with the culture. Other employers are following suit, including Amazon and Netflix. It’s called Pay to Quit, and its purpose is to make sure employees are happy in their jobs and with their employers. While your company may not have a pay-to-quit policy, keeping a finger on the pulse of employee engagement should be important because company culture is a competitive advantage in recruiting and business success.


The Challenge of Improving Employee Engagement

It’s clear from studies reporting that engaged employees perform better and the companies they work for are more profitable. We know employee retention saves money. But Inc. senior writer Ilan Mochari discusses why improving employee engagement is so challenging. The title of CHO has been met with some ambivalence and even ridicule, with claims of invasions of employee privacy, Big Brother feel, and general creepiness. But Mochani says that books like “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age” highlight the crucial factor of employee happiness. Authors Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh emphasize that leaders should want their employees to be happy because retention and leadership development matter in today’s recruiting and business environments.

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Measuring engagement is relatively easy to do today, with countless ways to survey employees and get the information needed about what is right and wrong in the company culture. But actually changing engagement and improving it is another thing altogether. That is where charging someone with initiating culture changes and improvements in a role like CHO comes in.


CHO or Good Leadership?

But according to Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well-being, researching employee engagement for more than 25 years, managers who “can effectively support and positively manage human beings” are the real key. He says today’s managers have to be more than results-oriented. They have to also be authentically concerned about the development of every employee who reports to them.

That means that employee engagement is uniquely tied to the leadership of the company. If managers don’t truly believe that making employees happy is important to the company’s bottom line, a separate CHO won’t be able to be effective. Harter says managers are the key to employee happiness, and recommends four things they should do to improve employee engagement. Getting people into the right jobs with a good selection process, providing clear expectations with effective communication, valuing employees by giving them the resources they need to do their jobs, and being generous with praise and recognition.

Whether you hire a full-time Chief Happiness Officer or focus your management team on employee engagement, paying attention to happiness in your workplace is a critical factor in business success today. It’s part of company culture, whether it’s good or lacking in your business, and it will make a difference in your company’s ability to attract, hire, and retain the talent you need to build your business.


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