We know there is considerable spillover from personal unhappiness
to negative emotions at work. Moreover, those
who experience negative emotions in life and at work are
more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors with
customers, clients, or fellow employees.
Increasingly, organizations such as American Express,
UBS, and KPMG are turning to happiness coaches to address
this spillover from personal unhappiness to work
emotions and behaviors.
Srikumar Rao is a former college professor who has
the nickname, “the happiness guru.” Rao teaches people
to analyze negative emotions to prevent them from
becoming overwhelming. If your job is restructured, for
example, Rao suggests avoiding negative thoughts and
feelings about it. Instead, he advises, tell yourself it could
turn out well in the long run, and there is no way to know
Beyond reframing the emotional impact of work situations,
some happiness coaches attack the negative emotional
spillover from life to work (and from work to life). A working
mother found that a happiness talk by Shawn Actor
helped her stop focusing on her stressed-out life and instead
look for chances to smile, laugh, and be grateful.
In some cases, the claims made by happiness coaches
seem a bit trite. Jim Smith, who labels himself “The
Executive Happiness Coach,” asks: “What if I told you
that there are secrets nobody told you as a kid—or as
an adult, for that matter—that can unlock for you all
sorts of positive emotional experiences? What if the only
thing that gets in the way of you feeling more happiness
is—YOU?! What if you can change your experience of
the world by shifting a few simple things in your life, and
then practicing them until they become second nature?”
Then again, if employees leave their experiences with a
happiness coach feeling happier about their jobs and their
lives, is that not better for everyone? Says one individual,
Ivelisse Rivera, who felt she benefitted from a happiness
coach, “If I assume a negative attitude and complain all
the time, whoever is working with me is going to feel the
1. Do you think happiness coaches are effective? How
might you assess their effectiveness?
2. Would you welcome happiness training in your
workplace? Why or why not?
3. Some argue that happiness coaches are a way for organizations
to avoid solving real work problems—a diversion,
if you will. How might we make this determination?
4. Under what circumstances—if any—is it ethically
appropriate for a supervisor to suggest a happiness
coach for a subordinate?