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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

UAE firms turn to 'happiness officers' to boost bottom lines

Analysts say there is a growing recognition of the link between morale and productivity

The UAE showed its commitment to bolstering morale by appointing Ohood Al Roumi as the UAE's Minister of State for Happiness and Well-being in 2016. Reem Mohammed / The National
The UAE showed its commitment to bolstering morale by appointing Ohood Al Roumi as the UAE's Minister of State for Happiness and Well-being in 2016. Reem Mohammed / The National

UAE companies are hiring "happiness officers" in a bid to boost productivity and profits and to encourage a more content workforce.

Analysts said the trend, which first emerged in the United States and spread to Europe, is now becoming increasingly popular in the Gulf.

Typically, happiness officers are tasked with organising social events and workplace celebrations.

The employees also use motivational speeches and initiatives to reduce stress and boost staff morale.

“We are seeing more organisations employing happiness officers, engagement managers or HR implementation officers,” said Vijay Gandhi, a Dubai-based director for the Korn Ferry Products Group, which specialises in talent management and human resources.

“There is a growing trend of organisations employing these people to ensure the well-being of the organisation is maintained.”

The trend of employing happiness officers follows a wider acknowledgement of the strong link between how content staff are and their productivity levels. Their ability to do their jobs effectively can have a direct impact on profits or, in the case of a public sector body, how efficient the organisation is.

Firms across the world are increasingly offering flexible working hours to staff and some companies have even embraced four-day weeks.

Senior figures in the UAE government have also acknowledged the trend, appointing a happiness minister in 2016 and announcing the training of 60 chief happiness and positivity officers to work in federal and local government.

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According to Mr Gandhi, the private sector is now catching up. Happiness officers conduct workplace surveys, analyse staff turnover rates and attempt to identify departments where workers may be poorly motivated. Strategies are then put in place to improve conditions.

“The role of these officers is understanding the pulse of the organisation and making sure that the top leadership is responding to data they get from employees – both positive and where it needs improvement,” said Mr Gandhi.

“It may not always be about pay; issues can be about leadership or training for the staff.

“They are also focusing more on departments - rather than organisations as a whole - to understand different needs and enabling employees to be successful.

“We are seeing more of this happening in the financial services and government sectors.

“Organisations know it’s important to retain talent and they can do that by making sure workers are enabled and engaged in work they find challenging.”

One advert posted this week on a UAE online recruitment site showed a fertiliser firm was seeking a "Chief Happiness Officer" to work in Dubai.

The company said it was seeking a degree-educated bilingual female who “can inspire happiness in others by their nature”.

The advertisement asked for applications who were “fun, likeable and who genuinely cares about the well-being of people in the workplace”. The successful candidate will “spearhead different initiatives to make people happier”, it said.

Earlier this year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid called for improvements in the morale of government workers.

The Vice President and Ruler of Dubai said the results of an employee satisfaction survey of government workers were unacceptably low, and he gave managers six months to improve morale.

Last year, NMC Healthcare, the UAE’s largest private healthcare provider, announced it would be appointing happiness officers in all of its facilities to care for members of its 12,000-strong workforce.

Experts believe the link between happiness and productivity is based on psychology, although different workers may require different solutions.

Some may thrive under pressure, while others may do their best work if they are not under stress.

And while salary is only a part of how motivated a worker may feel, the happiness officers themselves can demand attractive salaries.

In Dubai, happiness officers can expect to be paid between Dh18,000 and Dh22,000 per month, while in Abu Dhabi the salary is likely to be between Dh24,000 and Dh28,000, according to Bridget Connolly, Emiratisation Consultant at recruitment agency Hays.

She said an ideal happiness officer would be an “engaging, energetic and positive person” who enjoys interacting with people while also having the ability to analyse and interpret data and measure results.

“This development is a direct result of the National Programme for Happiness and Positivity launched in the UAE in March 2016,” she said.

“At that time, 60 CEO-level UAE nationals were selected to undergo a Chief Happiness and Positivity Officer Programme.

“In 2017 we started to see happiness officers predominantly within federal entities, and more recently in local government.

“They lead workshops, analyse employee satisfaction surveys that measure contentment, analyse and diagnose the work culture and create a culture of productivity and employee engagement.”