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Optimal Workshop on why it has installed a chief smoothie maker and chief happiness officer

A new-age job title, 'chief happiness officer', is being smeared across business portfolios like lashings of margarine across soft focaccia bread. It joins a list of other modern roles found in the valleys of our tech industry, such as ‘chief evangelists’, ‘technology unicorns’, and ‘PR wonderboys’.  But while at first the role of a chief happiness officer may smell of self promotion, pricey avocados and unfettered positivity, it seems the value goes deeper than a tacky title, as it may signify real change in workplace culture and unlock productivity levels. One business who believes this is Optimal Workshop, a large user experience design company based in Wellington New Zealand, who has employed a person who reportedly makes daily juices for its staff of 49. We ask its CEO Andrew Mayfield the value in this newly established role, plus chat to its ex ‘chief happiness engineer’ turned ‘people experience officer’, Alex Doggett, on what she does.

Unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley has become a haven for new-age workplace practices, much like the modern job titles. Google, for example, holds meditation and mindfulness classes for its employees called ‘Search Inside Yourself’ while other tech companies, such as Facebook, have attempted to lift workplace vitality by providing free lunches and beverages to its workers. As well as this, international business tycoons like Guy Kawasaki have voiced the importance of empathy and kindness in business.

Now, this growing movement has made its way to New Zealand shores. Local companies such as Xero, FCB, and Trade Me have made efforts to aid mental health in the workplace, while others like the Perpetual Guardian have implemented a four day working week to help boost productivity levels and support worker welfare.

On one level, companies have embraced the idea that stronger employment health can generate better company outcomes. Yet on another, there is escalating levels of employee disengagement globally. The latest State of the Global Workplace report from Gallup shows that worldwide, only 13 percent of employees are engaged with their work. And according to Tickled Pink's founder Jerry Beale (another self proclaimed chief happiness officer) this low engagement has a direct impact on business performance.

Optimal Workshop, which lists clients like Nasa, Netflix, Uber, and IBM, believes in a small way, it can solve these issues of workplace productivity and engagement by employing the role of a chief happiness engineer and chief smoothie maker.  

The role, initially claimed by Alex Doggett, is split into two categories: half ‘juice technician’ and half ‘office admin role’.

Doggett says, “Once a day, I created a health drink of my choice for whoever wanted one. I also planned all of the recipes, ordered the produce, and served the drinks myself.

“The second ‘hat’ I wore was more of an office admin role. It was up to me to make sure that everything ran smoothly around the office, to ensure that our staff could do what they do best without worrying about the silly little things that so easily bog us down sometimes. The best part of that was definitely organising lunches, morning teas, and our Christmas party!”

Its founder, Andrew Mayfield, claims that being a company heavily involved in the user experience design community, it makes sense to consider the experience of its own community.

Mayfield says: “A long time ago we decided to form an internal cross-functional group of people to represent our team, our customers, and our communities. We gave this group a fun name, the Better Experience Bureau (BXB), and a mission to treat all 3 as equals. The daily juices were an early initiative for our amazing team, the UX New Zealand conference and hosting various local meetups was for our community, and our dedication to helping people get what they came for from our product is for our beloved customers.

“We’d heard of other companies with happiness engineers on the team and loved the idea because it wraps a vital supporting role of office administration with the intent we hold dear: an environment we can enjoy and a team we’re happy to work with.”

He adds that the initial concept for daily vegetable juices was motivated by overall health and productivity, he continues, “if we offer people a healthy option at around 11am it might help them make other good nutritious choices, while reducing morning coffee intake a little, and along with that, to reduce afternoon brain fog.

“We also thought it would and if we’re lucky, to keep people healthier overall, taking less sick days too.”

While the company hasn’t validated any of those nutritional benefits, it has noted numerous smiles adorning the workplace, which Mayfield believes is enough of an impact alone.

Doggett adds: “The role definitely does what it set out to do. My job essentially meant I was putting out a lot of positivity and giving to others, which in turn brought those things back to me! Staff gave me nothing but great vibes – they went out of their way to help if I ever needed assistance, were always up for a chat, and never ceased to vocalise their appreciation for the role.”

As young people face an uncertain future of work, alongside widespread anxiety and loneliness issues, creating supportive and friendly cultures within workplaces could be a useful ingredient to supporting the well-being of our companies.

Mayfield says, “I would recommend that all companies think about the daily and long term wellbeing of the people on their team, of their customers, and in the communities they’re a part of. Juices are far from a silver bullet and will not be the right thing for everyone. It won’t necessarily be the right thing for us forever either.”

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