Turning happiness into a management tool

A large American health-care provider, Ochsner Health System, introduced a rule that workers must make eye contact and smile whenever they walk within ten feet of another person in the hospital. Pret A Manger sends in mystery shoppers to visit every outlet regularly to see if they are greeted with the requisite degree of joy. Pass the test and the entire staff gets a bonus—a powerful incentive for workers to turn themselves into happiness police. Companies have a right to ask their employees to be polite when they deal with members of the public. They do not have a right to try to regulate their workers’ psychological states and turn happiness into an instrument of corporate control.

Companies would be much better off forgetting wishy-washy goals like encouraging contentment. They should concentrate on eliminating specific annoyances, such as time-wasting meetings and pointless memos. Instead, they are likely to develop ever more sophisticated ways of measuring the emotional state of their employees. Academics are already busy creating smartphone apps that help people keep track of their moods, such as Track Your Happiness and Moodscope. It may not be long before human-resource departments start measuring workplace euphoria via apps, cameras and voice recorders.

Schumpeter in The Economist