Executive Careers Blog

Happiness Coaching: A Servant of Corporate America Speaks

There is a lot going on in this New Year.

We’ve already had one official holiday and are still recuperating from the happiness blanket that covers us through Christmas.

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Layoffs, pay cuts—nobody wanted to focus on them.  But they are returning.

Caterpillar announced a lower than expected revenue; Verizon will cut 13,000 jobs, and Boeing is cautious about 2010. And amidst all this, The Wall Street Journal advises us to stay happy.

Discussing happiness therapy and its increasing spread in the workplace, the article emphasizes that a happier employee is possible with the right training. Employers who participate in Vault.com’s Annual Corporate Diversity Survey like KPMG, known for their diversity and leadership program; American Express, often cited for their internal leadership courses; UBS and even law firm Goodwin Procter, who are a regular annual participant in Vault.com’s Law Firm Diversity Survey as well as our Pro Bono Survey, are hiring trainers and even invoking religious traditions to keep their employees happy and positive.

The advantage of a happy crew is obvious from the company’s perspective: A positive workforce is more productive, more motivated, etc., etc. 

But how can one be taught something that is usually an abstract frame of mind? 

Below are some of the recommendations the article cites and my concerns with them:

Write emails to your co-workers every day thanking them for something they have done:  Would I really enjoy receiving a daily email from my boss thanking me for an accomplishment? Sounds like a template memo to me and a lot of pressure. While an occasional pat on the back never hurt anyone, a daily celebration might become too routine to stay motivated.

Meditate daily to clear your mind: This is a personal approach and while I have no grouches with it, the zen-ness this promises is more personal than professional in nature.

Do something for somebody without expecting anything in return: On the basic personal level, I agree. Besides the fuzzy sense of happiness this gives you, it also teaches us that there is something more meaningful to corporate life than work, work, and work. However, this also conflicts with common business school teaching: It’s a cutthroat world out there and no one else will look out for you besides yourself.

Write in a journal about things you are thankful for; look for traits you admire in people and compliment them. On a personal level, journal writing might help us stay calm and organize our thoughts. But the same principle in the workplace, I'm not so sure. And while complimenting coworkers on their good qualities always goes a long way in building teamwork, it might not raise our personal happiness quotient too high, unless we resolutely focus only on the goodness of people and ignore the rest.

There are also the critics who claim that happiness coaching is a tactic used by companies unwilling to confront the troublesome issues and keep their fears closed within the executive suite. The synergy, however, of a company, regardless of how big or small, depends on the top-down communication ladder. And as part of demanding profit-driven corporations, workers develop an intuition of what is coming.

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Aman Singh is an Editor with Vault and works with Fortune 500 companies on reporting their diversity recruitment strategies and initiatives.

Comments?  Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com