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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

New Era for HappyMaven: The Chief Happiness Officer is Dead, Long Live the Chief Happiness Officer


A Statement from Suki K Bassi on the next phase for HappyMaven on our 4th anniversary.

HappyMaven was conceived four years ago, in 2017 as a new venture - a culmination of my passion for inclusion and mental health, my drive to advocate for others and a (huge) leap of faith in launching my own business. 

From the outset, I knew what needed to change in the world of work and what I wanted to achieve from the business.  Channelling my professional background of business strategy, transformation programmes and stakeholder engagement with my personal experiences of burnout into a valuable service for workplaces and businesses.  To help organisations support and unlock the potential in their most valuable asset, their people.

However, without a background in HR, I felt like an imposter in this world, and the desire to mollify the challenging subjects we address (so as not to alienate potential clients) led to me creating the now synonymous job title “Chief Happiness Officer” for myself. Subconsciously, I chose this job title as a palatable ‘in’ to the HR world; authoritative enough to feel impressive and interesting on a speaking panel, but jovial enough to avoid confrontation when it comes to the tough topics. 

Many women in the workplace encounter this “softening” of roles and job titles, it’s the ‘Pinkification” of adulthood. For example; “Girl Boss” is a much more palatable term to add to your Instagram bio than simply “Boss”. This marginalisation and “dumbing down” of women who work hard for their achievements is something that I am ashamed to say I did to myself by anointing myself “Chief Happiness Officer”.

I was the founder, investor, director and captain of the HappyMaven ship, but my lack of confidence and imposter syndrome led me to downplay my own hard work and the difficult journey and determination it took for me to launch my own business off the back of my own painful personal experiences and personal finances - self-sabotaging my potential as a business leader. 

Undeniably, the Chief Happiness Officer title has provided opportunities for HappyMaven, for speaking engagements and introductions - attracting people with curiosity and the promise of whimsy - but this also meant that people ‘self-select’ into connecting with me, who had already come to the realisation of their needs, potentially alienating those business leaders who had not yet reached that point in their discovery journey - and whose people probably need our services the most.

As HappyMaven moved into a more strategic space with clients, we realised that in order to make real, sustainable change, we must question the status quo. No social change in history has happened without unrest and the painful dismantling of structures, and happiness alone cannot spearhead this important change.

The reality is, over the past four years, from a female perspective alone - there hasn’t been all that much to be happy about. From the gender pay gap to the #MeToo movement to the impact of the pandemic which has decimated the female workforce - ‘happiness’ has really been the last thing on the agenda for businesses. For quite a while now, the “happiness” part of my job title has felt ill-fitting for this reason, undermining the very real, serious difficulties businesses face when it comes to diversity, inclusion, mental health and equity. With that in mind, from today onwards, I am hanging up my “Chief Happiness Officer” name tag, and confidently moving forward with “Founder”.

At HappyMaven, we want to be part of the solution to these systematic issues - not part of the problem.

By being a purveyor of “plug and play happiness” we are undermining the real journey and challenging process businesses must go through to create real change within their organisation. That’s why we’re also taking the bold move to discontinue offering stand-alone workshops and webinars because no matter a business’s people issue, we cannot scratch the surface of the problem with an hour-long workshop. Systemic prejudice cannot be rectified with a webinar and we don’t want to be part of paying lip service to these big issues without being part of the bigger solution.

To be a truly purpose-driven business, we must step up and be prepared to alienate people who don’t have the values and intentions that are needed for real progress to happen.

The more we continue to focus on long-term, sustainable strategic DEI & wellbeing change, the more the need to challenge the status quo. So no more hiding behind a title - I am ready to impact real change in the world of work with all of the personal and professional discomfort that may bring. 

With a renewed mission and streamlined offer, I and the HappyMaven team will no longer cower behind ‘happiness’ as a panacea for structural DEI and wellbeing issues in business and leadership and we are ready to address the challenges ahead.

After all, if you’re doing it right, happiness will organically radiate from a healthy, balanced and empowered workplace.

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