But research on positive psychology and employee performance shows a harder-nosed rationale behind boosting corporate cheer.

Workplace engagement is a favoured indicator. On the spectrum of happiness, almost eight in 10 (77 per cent) employees sit somewhere between disaffected and actively resentful, according to Gallup’s latest global study. The cost in lost productivity is estimated to be $8.8 trillion (€8.05 trillion).

So, if the problem facing CHOs is obvious enough, what are their approaches to solving it?

Helen Lawrence, co-founder of UK-based advisory firm Happy Consultancy Group, says it is important to set some conceptual parameters.

“Happiness is such a subjective topic, with so many different definitions,” she says. “That’s perhaps to be expected for such a broad theme, but it also feeds a degree of cynicism.”

She is clear on what happiness is not: “drinking beer on a Friday” or “playing ping pong”. These may be important – providing moments of joy at work – but their impact, like their duration, is short-lived.

Instead Lawrence points to deeper factors that drive psychological contentment, such as purpose, recognition, fulfilment and belonging. Notably, few if any relate directly to money, despite pay rises often being companies’ go-to option for pleasing employees.

Similarly, Friday Pulse, a management tool that measures wellbeing, cites five core pillars: connection, challenge, fairness, empowerment and inspiration.

Being permanently nice is not necessarily a prerogative of the effective CHO, adds Lawrence. People do not need empty platitudes but the tools to remain positive and optimistic.

“In passive working cultures where nobody wants to upset anybody, not only does nothing get done but problems don’t get dealt with,” she says.

Companies are advised to ditch generic approaches to boosting happiness, although perks such as flexible working or subsidised gym membership are usually well received. What makes us content at work differs from team to team and individual to individual.

When Tobias Haug started as chief happiness officer in the European operations of software company SAP in 2018, he found a sales-focused environment characterised by high adrenaline and a push for targets. Free coffees and lunchtime yoga would, he quickly realised, not cut it.

Instead he instigated a series of “micro-interventions” to empower teams and improve morale, such as introductory courses to help new recruits put faces to names, and asking teams to write the job profile for their new boss when the position became vacant.

“SAP has 191 locations around the world. If this is all run by a central team that wants to do everything the same, then it quickly becomes generic and you lose these local sensitivities,” says Haug.

Large organisations cannot expect to have a dedicated CHO in every location, however. Nuno Monteiro, chief human resources officer for Mimacom, a Swiss software and consulting firm, suggests using local managers who know how their teams work. The CHO job then becomes more one of co-ordination, training and “spreading the message”, he says.

Arguably, a substantial part of a CHO’s role is being picked up by traditional HR departments. Advocates say a designated function can pull these activities together and give them a specific management focus. “The CHO needs to be putting the happiness topic on the agenda of management. So, when they ask questions like, ‘What do our employees actually want?’, the CHO is there to answer,” says Monteiro.

But as most CHOs will attest, having “happiness” in your job title can be a hurdle to being taken seriously. Haug ditched the moniker after a month and now calls himself “head of humanising business”.

“The CHO title works great at cocktail parties … But the term has so many emotional connotations that most people don’t link it to delivering business value,” he says.

In Mimacom’s case, its first and only CHO, hired in 2022, lasted just a year before the company pulled the plug. In part, the firm was consolidating, says Monteiro. But, while management “liked the idea”, it did not put it on the “day-to-day agenda”.

Part of the problem is that happiness is a slippery metric to measure. It is highly subjective, and linking management interventions to individual or team results is fiendishly hard.

Friday Pulse proposes a list of 15 questions that result in an overall happiness score out of 100. They range from the general “How happy were you at work this week?”, to the more nuanced: “Do you feel free to be yourself?” or “Do you feel the work you do is worthwhile?”

Enthusiasts such as Madalena Carey, who set up the Happiness Business School, an accredited training provider, in 2018, recognise corporate happiness has a way to go before it receives the management attention they think it deserves. But Carey observes a shift that gives her hope it will become more of a priority.

“Our grandparents worked tirelessly to guarantee survival. Our parents worked tirelessly to maintain their living standards,” she reasons. “Today’s generations have more opportunities, so they’re looking for things like quality of life, purpose and meaning.”