Is it time for a Chief Happiness Officer?


Happiness of an employee does not necessarily depend on the manager or HR.

Back in the school days we used to sing a hymn on happiness. Here’s the first stanza –

Happiness, happiness, is making others happy.
Happiness, happiness, is there for you and me.
Happiness, happiness, you can’t buy with money,
Happiness, happiness, can only be received! It’s free!

Happiness is free, and it is there for each one of us to feel. But sometimes, it is not that easy to find. While the corporate world is looking into making employees happy at work, the world of HR debates whether or not organisations should have a chief happiness officer in place. This was the topic of a panel discussion at The Happiness Conclave, held by HRKatha on the 29th of April, at the Taj Vivanta, Bengaluru. The panel consisted of Raj Raghavan, director, country HR leader, Amazon India; Yuvaraj Srivastava, CHRO, MakeMytrip; Sanjiv Agarwal, head-human resources at HSBC Global Resourcing India. The moderator for the session was Prasanth Nair, managing partner, ILS and co-founder of AbhiBhejo Tech.

Nair began the session by introducing the panel members and then put up a quiz for the audience. The first question he asked was – ‘How many of you think happiness in an organisation: a) is a fad; b) is good to have but is not a necessary factor for performance; c) helps sustainable performance and d) a cost and at times a liability’? While a majority of people chose option c, there was one who chose option d to which even Nair agreed. The next question was – ‘For how many of you is happiness a part of your KRA?’ and the third question was – ‘How many of you have a chief happiness officer in your organisation or have plans to hire one?’

This quiz efficiently set the stage for the upcoming discussion, which was focussed more on – happiness as a factor that shapes the culture of an organisation.

The discussion was kicked off by Nair’s query to the panel members— “Can organisations talk of happiness as an isolated social system?” He shared that in a recent summit organised by the World Economic Forum, countries were rated on a happiness index. Surprisingly enough, India was rated 118 out of 157, whereas Sri Lanka was 117 and Bangladesh, 110. “So obviously, we’re not a very happy country and we’re talking about organisational happiness”, he said. “How does it fit in? Can we create gated communities within an organisation in times of disruption? When there is no assurance of job and no stability, how can happiness be ensured?” exclaimed Nair. On that note he handed over the baton to the panel members for sharing their views.

According to Srivastava, “Organisations are still trying to figure out whether happiness is something that the organisation drives or whether it depends on the individual”. He shared the dilemma of organisations that ran on business objectives and took harsh calls in the interest of the business. “In times of a disruptive economy or VUCA situation everywhere, if an organisation becomes responsible for ensuring happiness and goes to the extent of creating a new vertical for the same, it seems contradictory as an approach”, he said. At the same time, he also mentioned that organisations need to create an enabling environment for people to be happy. It’s also important to figure out what happiness really means to an individual, as one may feel happy after having a gourmet meal while someone else may feel happy after watching a movie. Happiness is a continuum with two ends — happy and unhappy — and most people fall somewhere in between at most times. However, organisations need to be concerned about their employes’ well-being, their engagement levels and their degree of satisfaction at work.

He shared an interesting example of Bhutan, which operates on a high happiness index. However, while talking to a few youngsters when he himself was in Bhutan recently, he realised that the level of happiness there has created laxity among the people. The situation is such that if someone tries to do something disruptive to add to the economy, that person is seen as an outcast. “Instead of getting to that level it is better to create an enabling environment with tools to empower employees to derive their own happiness”, Srivastava concluded.

Nair’s query to Srivastava was that, “In the armed forces there is no concept of keeping the forces happy, but still there is a great level of commitment and motivation as compared to what is seen in organisations. So what really drives that?” Srivastava, who has served in the armed forces himself, replied that the armed forces have a great mission to look forward to, and they know their goals well. The fact that they find meaning in their purpose and role, is what makes them happy and keeps them going, in spite of so much stress.

Raghavan, spoke about how intense Amazon is, as a company; that they are not apologetic about that, and yet, are not disrespectful. Since happiness is a state of mind, someone can be happy even in the worst of scenarios like in the armed forces. He shared an example from his very first job as a salesman at Eureka Forbes. “It was a very tough job as people would slam doors at us or call us names”, he said. Once he approached a musician who had not paid up. The musician told him that he did not have the money but he could sing for him! In such a job, happiness can be elusive. But what made an introvert like him happy was the fact that he was compulsively engaged and it also taught him to be more social. This job gave him a sense of accomplishment.

Raghavan said, “Engagement needs to be contextual. What I am happy about today, I might not necessarily be happy about tomorrow and what I was happy about yesterday, might not work today”. Research says that happiness leads to success, but both are not relative terms. Research also says not all happy people are successful and not all successful people are happy. But if you ask someone – you want to be happy or successful? They’ll say both. “You cannot equate optimism with happiness. Back in my Eureka Forbes days, I was optimistic – but happy or not – I didn’t really know”.

Raghavan believed that “…being successful doesn’t have anything to do with one’s potential. People say that in order to be successful, your emotional intelligence needs to be high and it’s a bigger predictor of success than other intelligences. In Eureka Forbes, as I was optimising on my optimism, similarly in organisations we can have a chief optimist or a chief happiness officer. But if each one of us becomes responsible for our own happiness we won’t have to debate on this anymore”.

Nair wondered when everyone joins an organisation wanting to be both happy and successful, then considering the importance of EI and individual concerns, how does that fit in an organisational context? Raghavan responded that the “Happiness of an employee does not necessarily depend on the manager or HR. If you desire to be happy, you will be, and if you desire not to be happy, you will not be.”

Agarwal began by sharing his past experience as an employee in a hotel. His job was so demanding that even after an 18-hour shift the boss would not allow him to leave. On the contrary, he now comes across youngsters— who have only just started off working— complaining about the coke and water composition in the coke dispenser at their workplace! This proves that happiness, as mentioned earlier, is a state of mind. How we perceive or react to a situation shows how happy or unhappy we are. Agarwal said, “If you’re not happy, you’ll not be engaged. But if you’re engaged, there’s a higher potential of you being productive or applying your discretionary effort as an employee. You may or may not be happy even if you’re engaged and you may or may not be productive even if you’re happy”. There isn’t enough research or protocol established to see what drives happiness and how to measure the same. “Going forward, there will be a little more focus on happiness than now. With the younger folk coming to work there is a lot more emphasis on employee well-being than employee productivity. People even move to lower-paying jobs to seek happiness at work. Workplace happiness will need more focus in the coming times than it is now”, he said.

After the panel had presented their views, Nair threw an open question – “Can happiness become a liability in organisations?” Agarwal replied that “Anything can become a liability if not done properly. For example, free lunches in an organisation cannot ensure happiness or productivity. If people become too comfortable and there is no element of stress about achieving more, then may be at some point happiness will become a liability for the organisation”.

As the session proceeded, someone from the audience queries—“If happiness has a shelf life then why is HR trying to force-fit happiness as a continuous process in organisations?” Srivastava’s response was that, “It is the small pleasurable experiences over a period of time that weave a chain which gives you happiness. Organisations or HR only need to teach people to find happiness in what they do”. The discussion concluded on the note that happiness is more or less intrinsic and what organisations need to do is facilitate an environment where individuals can find their own mojo.

(The Happiness Conclave organised by HR Katha was held at Taj Vivanta, Bengaluru, on April 29, 2016. The sponsors and partners for this event were The Fuller Life, NHRDN-Bengaluru Chapter, PeopleWorks, Giftxoxo and Kommune Brand Communications.)


  1. Truly, happiness is a state of mind. For some a comfort zone is happiness and for others exactly opposite. Bringing happiness across is a challenge for HR per say. It is more to do with how the company wants all the employees to seek happiness through HR as a facilitator.

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