Chief happiness officers: An effort to improve employees’ well-being or an HR fad?

Companies are creating positions dedicated to employees’ overall happiness and well-being
Robyn McCloskey, Presto Tape care team coordinator
Robyn McCloskey serves as the care team coordinator of Presto Tape, a manufacturer of quality tapes, surface protection films and digitally printable wall media in Bensalem. Photo credit John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

BENSALEM, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Many companies have been making more of an effort in recent years to prioritize their employees’ well-being — and the job sector for it is growing.

Overall employee happiness is the latest responsibility to get its own department, with designated managers to oversee the efforts. They’re dubbed CHOs, or chief happiness officers — positions to oversee that workers are cared for.

Some ensure workers remain in a good mood, in the hopes that happy employees will be productive employees. Some CHOs may organize creative team-building exercises, offer free food or plan ticket giveaways for events, among other incentives.

Presto Tape, a manufacturer of quality tapes, surface protection films and digitally printable wall media in Bensalem, doesn’t just aim for happiness. It strives to care for an employee’s mind, body and soul.

“We cultivated a very safe culture here, that people know I can have problems and it’s OK. I can have needs and it’s OK, and I feel that we really rally around each other here,” said Robyn McCloskey, Presto’s care team coordinator.

The company offers ministry services, with a weekly lunchtime Bible study. Chaplains are brought in regularly for free counseling and emotional support services. It also provides finance management classes and free lunch on Fridays.

“Everything filters down from our core values, which are grit, respect, teamwork, integrity and compassion,” McCloskey said.

Skeptics argue small incentives only create happy moments, not happy people, with an emphasis on increasing productivity levels.

“Little celebrations or rituals or a short-term gift or events might do something in the short term,” explained Dr. Ravi Kudesia, an assistant professor of human resource management at Temple University, “but it’s probably making companies a little bit more myopic to the real stable things that contribute and last and have an impact on people as a whole, that make them happy people, as opposed to just people who occasionally are having happy moments.

“You have a lot of latitude to potentially do interesting and unique things if you are taking on this title. On the other hand, it might be purely window-dressing in a way to make traditional HR activities seem more interesting or catchy.”

Presto President Rich Speeney said he is actually “quasi insulted” by the CHO title and concept.

“That’s not the title. At the end of the day, it does create a lot of happiness, but the care team director is the title and really the more appropriate title,” he explained. “We care for people. I think other companies are doing it strictly for business purposes … that if I have happy employees, the company is going to do well. Maybe this sounds holier than thou, but that’s really not the motivation. The motivation really is to care for and impact people, not make them happy so they work harder today.”

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For Tawan, a machine operator at Presto, he’s excited to go to work.

“I never had a job where you want to be here,” he said. “I want to come to work. I want to be here and work. I want to work hard here. … People in here are real nice. They take care of you. They look out for you.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio