Category Archives: Work

Too many Chiefs, and no Indians: the case for a Junior Happiness Officer

The hype has been around for around ten years or so. And if you’re working for an American firm, there’s a decent chance it has hit your company too. I am talking about assigning the title of ‘Chief Happiness Officer’.

It’s more and more common, especially for US-based companies, to rename their leading HR person’s title to Chief Happiness Officer or CHO.

By itself, it’s not a bad thing. If it truly leads to lasting attention for employees’ happiness at work, I do believe it has added value. However, I have a small hunch that in most cases it’s either window-dressing or goofing around.

Google’s former Chief Happiness Officer, is my impression, is a case of goofing around. Their former CHO Chade-Meng Tan formally had a job title ‘Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny)’. While he’s not the only one in tech with a ridiculous job title, his one seems to be one of the most extreme ones. As far as his blog is indicative, his job consisted more of taking pictures with visiting celebrities than of working on staff well-being.

Why are there no Junior Happiness Officers?

Many others seems window-dressing. As the phrase goes, maybe the happiness officer area is a paramount example of ‘too many chiefs, and no Indians’. A quick online search shows there are around 380,000 references to Chief Happiness Officer. For Junior Happiness Officer, there are around 250,000, and many of them are Junior Customer Happiness Officers. So it seems where Chiefs are playing around with employees, the Juniors are taking care of clients while (ab)using happiness as part of corporate branding.

I’ve asked Alex Kjerulf – a happiness at work consultant who goes by the title CHO – why this is the case. The question sparked the following exchange:


 

 

His answers stem me more mildly. Indeed, if there is an HR team with a  consistent focus on employees’ well-being, it is not the title that matters. What is really important is the creation of a culture where employees get feedback, have a path to development, and are given a healthy dose of freedom in organising their work. All these things are fairly obvious, but still important, and they could be forgotten in the day to day reality of getting work done.

For the time being, I’ll consider asking my boss if I can get a Junior Happiness Officer title. I might be the only one around.

Who’s responsible for your work-life balance? You!

Many of us in the work force are facing the same challenge: how to balance our working life with our private life.

In many  organisations, work gives great opportunities for personal development. In well-managed organisations, team members can pool their skills and jointly create a meaningful project. And that is often exactly what skilled creatives in the 21st century are looking for. But whether it is due to demanding bosses or through inherent perfectionism of the employee, the risk that work takes too much time out of a weekday is very present.

Few people live in Denmark, where the working culture seems to allow a good balance between work and private life. At least in the Brussels labour market that I am most familiar with, a strong working ethic is very common. Checking emails in the evening or already during the metro ride home? Responding a colleague during the holidays? Planning Monday’s to-do-list during the weekend? I think it occurs to most people I work with.

On a day that I got up in the early morning to start working, I stumbled on a TEDx talk on work-life balance by a fellow called Nigel Marsh. In his talk, he describes his ideal working day:

Wake up well-rested. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have breakfast with my wife and kids. Have sex again. Drive the kids to school. Do three hours of work. Meet in a mate to do sports in the park during lunch break. Do three more hours of work. Meet some mates for a drink. Drive home for dinner with my wife and kids. Meditate for half an hour. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have sex again. Go to sleep.

I fear that most work organisations are not fully compatible with this working ethic…

But the lessons from Nigel are serious. There are at least two important points in his talk. Firstly, certain career choices are incompatible with a meaningful family life. This is often forgotten or neglected, but it is absolutely true. In the Netherlands, there are some examples from politicians that have taken a step back to spend more time with their family. Mostly, they receive cynical reactions doubting their chances for survival. But it’s obvious: if your job requires you to always be on the job or to travel a lot, this will certainly affect your social and family life. Not everybody wants to make such a sacrifice.

But even outside these extreme cases, he makes another very important point. In the end, it is nobody but you who is responsible for your own work-life balance. Your boss ideally facilitates your happiness at work. Creches and paternity leave, a personal working culture or secondary benefits will all make you help to feel more at ease with your job. Still, your hours also matter. In the short term, your boss decides about your hours and when there is a need for overtime. But in the long term, there is only one person who decides how much and when you work: you!

Mojitos, Lego and Beyond: Work and Motivation

Is there more to work than a means to pay for your mojitos?

Post-modern times require us to have complex skills in order to do our jobs well. This also influences how we feel about work in general: it is not just about making a living but also a way of self-realisation and a potential source to bring flow, meaning and happiness to our lives. TED speakers Dan Ariely and Dan Pink share their thoughts with us on the question: what motivates us to work?

Work and motivation

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is a behavioural psychologist who is on his way to becoming a TED star. His talks on irrationality, loss aversion and dishonesty have been watched by millions. Two years ago, in 2012, he was a TEDxAmsterdam guest in De Stadsschouwburg.

This time, he chose a different topic: work and motivation. Ariely discards the simple theory that most people only work in order to spend their money on mojitos while sitting on a beach. Beyond mojitos, what motivates people to care about their jobs? According to Ariely, meaning and creation are the main motivators.

Meaning

Ariely tells us the story of one of his former students who used to work for an investment bank. For weeks and weeks he worked on a presentation for an important business deal. He worked overtime, did the research and put together a slick powerpoint presentation. He delivered a stellar job and received the well-earned appreciation by his boss he was looking for. Then, things changed: he learnt that the deal was off and that the presentation wouldn’t be used after all. This news was such a disappointment to him that it took away all of his motivation to work (even though his work was beyond his boss’s expectations). As a researcher, Ariely’s job is to translate similar anecdotes and theories into experiments. In this case, he came up with an experiment to test the effect of demotivation on performance. Being a Lego lover, he thought Lego robots would bring him closer to the answer.

Ariely paid two groups of research subjects to build bionicles – a type of Lego robot. The standard condition comprised of presenting the robots built by the first group. But in the ‘Sisyphic condition’, the robots were destroyed in the presence of the subjects just after they finished building them. The result: any motivation to build the robots was crushed. Even those who stated they loved Lego, actually built very few of them.

The IKEA effect

It is not surprising that meaning and purpose are an important part of our motivation at work. Creating something that is yours is another source of motivation. Or in Ariely’s words: the IKEA effect. If you spend a number of hours assembling your own IKEA furniture, it’s very likely that you will be more attached to it: labour leads to appreciation. Children are another example. You may experience other people’s children as horrible creatures. But when they’re yours, you have already invested so much time and energy that they have become valuable to you. Ariely informs us that this effect has also been studied in experiments involving origami figures made by the subjects themselves.

Dan Pink

Autonomy, mastery and purpose

Career analyst Dan Pink has formulated his own answer to the question of motivation. He argues that in the current business climate, staff management is no longer suitable for the 21st century employee. Our jobs today require a specific set of skills. We do not live in a time anymore where a task is simply being executed as ordered. As the content of our jobs has changed over time, our management has to change, too.

Engagement can be reached with the help of three factors, says Pink: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We have the urge to be the director of our own lives, both in our private lives as well as in our jobs. We want to become increasingly better at what we do and we yearn to be part of something more meaningful, something larger than ourselves.

Thus, Dan Pink argues, our working cultures should be redesigned. We should build more (software) companies like Atlassian, where people have ‘Fedex days’, giving them 24 hour to solve a problem posed by themselves. Or, we should learn from radical reformers like Google, where engineers can spend 20% of their working time on projects they believe are important. Or we can work via the ‘ROWE’ (Results Only Work Environment) eliminating fixed working hours and meetings.

Challenge is what drives motivation. And companies can do so much more to create that challenge.

This article was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam, as part of my series ‘TED & Happiness’. In this series, I explore some of the about fifty talks on happiness in TED’s library.

With great thanks to Tori Egherman for editing.