Do We Need Happiness Coaches in the Workplace?

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

at present.

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

same way.”

Questions

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?