The Chief Happiness Officer: What, Why & How (Q&A)

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A lot is being said about the role of Chief Happiness Officer (CHO). Some say it’s a bit of a nonsense title (and job), others believe it’s crucial to have one if you want to successfully manage a 21st-century workforce.

We decided to ask those who know best: a real-life Chief Happiness Officer. Or two of them, actually.

Henry Stewart is the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happy, a company that helps organizations transform their workplace through public training, private learning events and bespoke e-learning.

Chief Happiness Officer Henry Stewart

Cécilia Guillot is Chief Happiness Officer and Community Manager at Publicis Groupe in Paris, France. Publicis is a multinational advertising and public relations company and one of the oldest marketing and communications companies in the world.

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1. What does a Chief Happiness Officer actually do?

Henry Stewart: I was the founder of Happy and, until three years ago, I was the CEO. I chose to change my title to Chief Happiness Officer because I felt it better described what the person leading the company should do: create a workplace where people feel happy and fulfilled.

For me, it’s not about fun. It’s not about bringing in games or free food or after work parties. Free fruit and lycra are great, but it won’t create a happy workplace if people aren’t motivated in their work. It’s about creating the environment for people to be fulfilled at work.

What people don’t like is micromanagement, being told what to do and blame cultures. What makes people happy and fulfilled, generally, is doing something they are good at, having the freedom (within guidelines) to do it well, being listened to and valued, having a manager who coaches rather than tells, a no-blame culture and flexible working.

So what I see the role of Chief Happiness Officer as, is to make sure all those elements are in place and are being continually developed.

Cécilia Guillot: For me, being a Chief Happiness Officer is about creating and facilitating a valuable, real dialogue and connection. Not just between the various employees, teams and departments, but also between different agencies and services.   

2. How does a typical day in the life of a CHO look like?

HS: My day? First, I can only help others to feel good about themselves if I feel good myself. I have a routine which works well for me: I wake at 7.20, have a relaxing read of a real newspaper, do some meditation, then cycle through the back streets of London, stopping off at a café for a hot chocolate – and some reflection – before getting into work. I avoid checking email until 11 am (and only two more times over the day) and try to have done a couple of key tasks before then.

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We are just 25 people and there will normally be less than a dozen in the office. (Recently somebody visited and noticed there were only six of our people around. They asked where the others were. I said, truthfully, I had no idea.) I will try and check in with them, establish a connection, show appreciation of something they’ve done.

Apart from that, it’s about keeping out of the way, but being there if people need me. And making sure our principles of trust and freedom are in place. Once things are working it’s a fairly light touch role, leaving me to promote the ideas to other organizations. For me, being Chief Happiness Officer is as much about spreading the ideas to other organizations as it is about implementing them at Happy.

CG: Every day is different of course, but as a Chief Happiness Officer there are several aspects I focus on. One of the most important things being the identification of the needs and recommendations of the employees. It’s this input that lies at the basis of the initiatives we take, the tools we use and the events we organize.

3. From your own experience, can you give an example of how a Chief Happiness Officer initiative has given employee happiness a real boost?

HS: At Happy we have an initiative (actually more my colleague Cathy Busani than me) whose aim is that every member of staff should find joy in at least 80% of their work. We ask people to look at what they are doing and consciously switch to do more of what gives them joy and less of what doesn’t. In practice this means people finding what really works tot heir strengths.

My colleague Cathy reckons she’s now at 95% and another member of staff told me this week she had reached 90%.

What gives you joy at work and how could you do more of it?

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CG: For me, this mainly shows in the thank yous I get from our employees. That’s what shows me that the initiatives we launch and the actions we undertake have an actual impact on the day-to-day happiness of our workforce. 

4. Why do you think we see more and more Chief Happiness Officers / What developments in the workplace are driving this?

HS: It’s still far more common in some countries (especially France, it seems) than others. People are increasingly realizing that how people feel, and how fulfilled they are, has a real effect on the success of your organization.

There are still workplaces that insist on long hours, and on an old-fashioned management approach, but hopefully, they are becoming fewer.

CG: I think we see more and more CHOs because organizations are increasingly becoming aware of the fact that happy employees are good for business. A CHO cares about the way people feel in their workplace, knows the importance of a pleasant atmosphere at work, and values a good work-life balance.

5. What are the 3 most important personality traits for an awesome Chief Happiness Officer you would say?

HS: First, it’s not about being a clown or a comedian. I’d say:

  • Having a real interest in people.
  • Understanding that people are different: “Treat people as you want to be treated” is not a good basis for a CHO. Instead “Treat people as they want to be treated.”
  • Being able to trust people and believe in them.

CG: For me, the three most important personality traits for an CHO are kindness, imagination/open-mindedness, and having good organizational skills.

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