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Happiness Officers: Who is responsible for our wellbeing at work?

Workplace wellbeing is a hot topic, and has been pretty much ever since the outbreak of COVID, when our working lives changed massively. There’s been lots of talk about finding joy at work, or even leaving our roles in pursuit of finding happiness elsewhere, or to take care of our mental health. And while we value those insights, it’s important we address whose responsibility it is to keep us happy and healthy at work.

International law firm, Clifford Chance, was recently featured in an article by The Guardian, on appointing a ‘happiness officer’ in the workplace to help employees manage midlife burnout and provide another answer to searching for a new job - especially when this isn’t always feasible for most of us.

What’s a happiness officer?

This role, proposed by John Kewley - a candidate in the running for managing partner at the law firm - revolves around the idea that we can cultivate our workplaces to be the most ‘vibrant, happy and uplifting place to work in the world’, which he writes in his manifesto for Clifford Chance.

With burnout rates, and the shifts in how we view success, at record highs since the pandemic began this really does seem like a brilliant idea. But is it? In reality, can we really cultivate our workplaces to be brilliant and wonderful all the time? Could this be the answer to our mental health and wellbeing challenges that we face at work?

We’re not so sure…

While this idea of support in the workplace may be a lovely concept, we do wonder if the responsibility for our happiness and wellbeing at work really lies with another individual. And what does this mean for their wellbeing in a role designed to keep everyone happy?

Until recently, the working culture has very much been about working hard, proving our worth, doing overtime and taking our workloads home with us, this ‘grind culture’ that takes its toll on our mental health and wellbeing inside and outside of work. But since the pandemic, the rates of burnout among workers, we are shifting from this grind culture to a more harmonious, happy and healthy working culture.

But it’s put our current roles and workplaces under scrutiny, especially with these big global movements like The Great Resignation, and even Prince Harry commenting that “people should be pursuing better mental health”. Have you considered you might be happier in a different role, a new company, even working for yourself?

Let’s keep it real…

Now, there are certainly efforts our workplaces and employers can make to help us protect our wellbeing, and enjoy our work a little more. But at the same time, like taking care of ourselves for our mental wellbeing, work can be hard sometimes. We’ve all felt the drag on a Sunday evening, around 8pm, the weekends over and when we wake up we know we’ve gotta to head back to work *shudders*.

Having an open, honest and compassionate working environment, with good working relationships can help us maintain motivation, contentment and keep mental wellbeing issues, like stress and anxiety, at bay. Being able to enjoy most aspects of work, helps to protect our wellbeing. But that’s a huge responsibility for an individual (or a few) to take on.

These kinds of wellbeing roles are being created all over the working world, but those taking them often have little training and not enough support in how to support themselves or deal with the issues others face. And we won’t always be ‘happy’ at work, and trying or forcing ourselves to be won’t get us there either.

We won’t always be buzzing for work on a Monday morning, our responsibilities won’t always be exciting and fun, like most things in life, work will have its moments of being brilliant and also feel like the bane of your life - like when the inbox in overflowing, you’ve got back to back meetings and there’s no flipping coffee left! Work will ebb and flow, just as life does, we have to allow the not so good times to even experience the really good moments.

And whose responsibility is it to take care of our health and wellbeing? Everyones. We cannot expect a few individuals to create change, support us, and cultivate a healthy working culture for us. We have to work together, alongside these roles, and take responsibility for our wellbeing both inside and outside of work, to help us go along with those ebbs and flows of working life.

Beingwell at work: aiming for happiness at work, to have happy workers, with happy responsibilities just isn’t going to happen. Sure they’ll be days when work gives you life, inspires you and you feel wonderful in your role. But there will be times when it feels quite the opposite. If we strive for this perfect working culture, we’ll never reach it, and putting the responsibility of that on an individual or role is no more helpful than those ‘free juice and pedometer’ wellbeing incentives we’ve been disappointed by in the past.




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