Where are the 'chief misery officers'?

Today's glamorous job titles contradict the bleak reality of working life.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 12 May 2017

In the last few years, there has been a growing trend for HR professionals to rebrand themselves to make their jobs sound cooler.

From Google's people analytics VP to Heroku's vibe manager and Zappos' chief happiness officer, there is no shortage of glamorous labels to describe what was once regarded as a pretty boring and uninspiring job.

Yet these labels are in stark contrast with the bleak reality experienced by most employees: abusive managers, narcissistic leaders, stressful and meaningless jobs, and no real prospect of advancing their careers. If, as global engagement and passive job-seeking figures suggest, fewer than 30% of employees are happy at work, is it not more appropriate for organisations to hire chief misery officers (CMOs)? Consider some of the duties for that position:

Eliminating happy outliers

As Facebook studies have shown, there is a reverse Schadenfreude effect whereby seeing other people happy tends to make us more miserable (even if they are faking their happiness). In line, CMOs could periodically inspect happiness levels across the organisation to fire workers who appear too happy - or coach them to fake misery. The result may be to lift everybody else's morale.

Rewarding false hopes

Psychologists have identified a common syndrome to explain people who repeatedly make unfeasible resolutions and keep pursuing unattainable goals: the false hope syndrome. A good CMO would ensure that regardless of how toxic and unbearable the work culture is some people maintain delusional hopes for the future.

Promoting parasitic leaders

As leaders play a major role in determining employee engagement levels, a good CMO would ensure that destructive leaders prevail. Indeed, there is no better way to traumatise employees than by making them work for inept or parasitic bosses, so appointing unqualified, unstable and selfish individuals to positions of power will ensure that high misery levels are maintained across the organisation.

Of course, there is no guarantee that employees will remain miserable. Cognitive dissonance - a sort of self-inflicted reverse psychology - goes a long way, so it may well be that by trying to traumatise employees they will end up persuading themselves that their jobs are actually wonderful. At that stage it may be time to call the chief happiness officers.


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Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, people analytics, and talent management. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessments and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter: @drtcp

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