Ask the CHO: Happy companies and happy cultures

Ask the Chief Happiness OfficerI got this question from a reader who would like to be anonymous:

As you travel around on your speaking engagements, and you work with and meet a variety of people, are you able to get a sense of what companies are really committed to the concepts you espouse? If yes, have you thought about, or do you have a listing or directory of these companies? If no, is there interest in drumming up such a directory, sort of a Who’s Who of Happiness?????

I for one am interested; and, I have passed your information along to all my colleagues — hence the reason I would like to remain anonymous. Yes, I am looking to leave my very unhappy situation. In fact, I recently used your interview questions on more than one occasion to suss out whether or not a prospective company was the right fit for me.

I would also like to know if geographics and culture play a part in whether or not a company or corporation — and its leadership — are more apt to implement, maintain and sustain a Happiness Workplace. For example, in the US we are seeing less and less of a work/life balance. A culture that puts work before family and personal life seems like it might not value happiness, so I am curious to learn if there are factors popping up that indicate culture and work ethics play a part.

Thank you, CHO, for your time and great work!

First of all, thanks for the kind words :o)

I work with a LOT of companies, and I do get a very good sense of which ones are truly committed to happiness at work and which ones just say they are.

Because almost every company these days will tell you that they want motivated, happy, empowered employees, but not all companies live up to it in practice.

Working with managers and people, I quickly get an idea of where a company really stands – and that could definitely be put into a listing of sorts. Or maybe something like a certification? As in “this company is certifiably happy” :o) Not a bad idea!

As for your second question: Yes, geography and national culture certainly makes a difference. For instance, because taxes in Denmark are the highest in the world, fewer people bother with overwork and consequently Danish workers achieve the best work/life balance in the world.

Also, according to the work of Geert Hofstede, there are differences between corporate cultures in various nations, which he categorizes using five parameters:

  • Low vs. High Power Distance
  • Individualism vs. collectivism
  • Masculinity vs. femininity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Long vs. short term orientation

Read more about these here.

In my opinion, happiness at work is more likely to be found in an organizational culture that has:

  • Low power distance – so you can have good easy-going relations between managers and employees
  • A reasonable balance between individualism and collectivism- so it’s not all about me, but not all about us either
  • A more feminine work culture – so people care about each other
  • A low uncertainty avoidance – so people are willing to take risks and make mistakes
  • A long term orientation – so it’s not all about this quarter’s results

I have no proof for this and have seen no studies on it, so this is purely my gut feeling. However, this is pretty much what characterizes Scandinavian business culture, and Scandinavian workers are the happiest in the world, so there may be something there…

One thing that also varies between nations is people’s expectations for happiness at work. In Scandinavia we have a long tradition of focusing in employees’ welfare, so most people expect to get a job they will at least like, of not love.

In other countries, most people are still new to the idea that it’s even possible like your job – they expect work to be hard and unpleasant. Fortunately this is changing all over the world, and more and more people are choosing happiness at work.

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6 thoughts on “Ask the CHO: Happy companies and happy cultures”

  1. That’s an interesting and thorough response, Alex.

    As one who has lived and worked on four continents over the years, I will have to say that Western Europe has emerged as a place where my work with client companies has become more enjoyable over the years.

    Although I live again in the U.S. and have many fine clients here, “Anonymous” describes the overall atmosphere well. It has become increasingly intense with a focus on more work and only lip-service paid to one’s overall life: family, relationships, health.

    I deeply believe that at some point it will be like an ever-inflating balloon. There will be a critical mass reached at which point there will be a burst and a backlash. This may come from workers who reach the end of their rope, or from companies whose productivity and health costs force the issue.

  2. I don’t know how do certifications work in other countries but my experience in Spain is that they’re the best way to feed bureaucracy while killing any chance to achieve the original objective. “You choose what to measure, I’ll find a way to cheat”.

  3. Steve: Interesting. According to most studies many European countries are approaching the US working culture with more overwork and less focus on happiness at work.

    It will be interesting to see which companies wake up to the fact that success comes from happy employees – and which just get their asses kicked by other happy companies.

    Jaizki: Good point! A certification would have to be something more than just meaningless statistics. I’ll have to think about that one!

  4. You are quite right Alex about Scandinavian countries, one of my old international business textbooks had a chart listing countries and their place within Hostede’s dimensions.What was quite interesting in fact was that nordic countries were quite high on the female dimension. America has pretty much the opposite dimensions of what you mentioned in your post as the ideal for happiness.

  5. Dear sir,
    I am interested to be u r contact for India.I ama MBA from USA, a HR professioanl with orthopaedically challenge,commited to make a difference.pl include me & reply a sap.It will be a great idea to start,If need be , i will proceed for a discussion.
    Gautam Chudhury

  6. I thought it would be a great idea for my company to invite you to give a seminar since I feel we need a CHO – but then I found it already listed as one of the companies you had worked with.

    So I guess they need a refresher …

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