Rethink: Work

An illustration of a woman sitting under red brick wall looking at her face in a mirror.

As part of a new series exploring how we can recalibrate in times of crisis, we explore what the role of a Chief Joy Officer is and why you might want to assume this position when WFH

By Adele Barlow  Illustration by Andrey Kasay   Wednesday 6 May  Long read

Dana Svoboda is the Chief Joy Officer at coding boot camp, Makers – a very 21st- century job title. Her role, and other joy officers like her (of which there are many out there), is to monitor and protect employees’ mental health. And she sees the myriad studies coming out amid COVID-19. For example, a recent UK study found an overwhelming amount of young people say that the crisis has not only impacted their mental health, but made it severely worse – proof that there has never been a more important time to become your own Chief Joy Officer, whether you’re working or not. Although its existence in companies is not yet as widespread as, say, CEO or COO et al, it is a designation with increasing popularity (Google results for searches of ‘joy officer’ are rising month on month, with its largest spike occurring during the recent lockdown). 

Being a Joy Officer involves tuning into your internal state and being there for yourself as you would a good friend or loved one. It is an important aspect of our daily lives that the big tech companies of San Francisco, including Google, have been aware of for a while now, having employed Joy Officers or Chief Happiness Officers  (as they are often called in the US) to oversee their working staff day to day. And, as a result, creating ‘the right culture’ – an objective, I find, that’s on many a Joy Officer’s agenda. 

While employees’ wellbeing has often fallen under Human Resources, this is something different that’s far more tailored to our modern needs. A Joy Officer’s role is not about fixating on happiness, and it’s not just about ‘fun’ – their to-do list equates to more than sorting a fun office playlist or stocking the fridge with chocolate. It is about educating and fostering mindfulness, and helping people to build a more positive relationship with themselves. Svoboda does this through holistic coaching, online yoga and meditation sessions, an emotional intelligence curriculum and one-to-one private sessions. One key factor that comes up time and time again in my research is this sense of ‘value’. Are you valuing yourself? Do you value what you are doing? Start with that and the rest, they say, will follow.
During the current pandemic, waves of fear are almost inevitable, putting us in survival mode. This may make us become harder on ourselves, when what we really need is self-compassion. 

‘You’re living with yourself all day, every day. Isolation or not, you’re the closest person to you,’ says Svoboda. ‘The way you speak to yourself defines your relationship with yourself, and this reflects on everything else in your life.’ She recommends speaking to yourself in what Buddhists refer to as ‘The Grandmother Mind.’ 
‘Try speaking to yourself as a loving grandmother does to her grandchild,’ she says. ‘A parent is stricter and worried about ensuring that the child is prepared for life. A grandparent is more relaxed and wiser. They know that it all works out, and are gentler and more lenient with their grandchild.’

'Being a Joy Officer involves tuning into your internal state and being there for yourself as you would a good friend or loved one'

Another key lesson to take from the Joy Officers of San Francisco is the necessity of checking in. When working remotely, or for yourself, this can be in the form of journaling. In fact, one study found that 76 per cent of adults who spent 20 minutes a day journaling for several consecutive days, before a scheduled medical biopsy, had completely healed 11 days later. Meanwhile, 42 per cent of the control group had not yet recovered. Such is the power, I’m told – that’s also shown in research and studies – of alleviating yourself of heavy and troubling thoughts.
‘Check the tone that you write with; it’s a good indicator of the tone and attitude of voice that you use with yourself,’ explains Svoboda. ‘By externalising your thoughts and feelings, you can reflect upon them. Leaning towards being understanding and kind to yourself helps improve self-talk.’

One of our biggest misconceptions is that being honest with ourselves equates to being blunt and rude. The fact that the message is delivered as untactfully and unforgiving as possible does not add any credence to what’s being said. In fact, it’s far more impactful and productive to frame your sentiment positively. Telling yourself ‘you messed up again’ will do very little to improve your morale, or ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again. ‘What I learnt from this is to…’ will help you positively move on from a situation.
Alternatively, try brain-dumping stress on a piece of paper. ‘Take 10 minutes and write down everything that’s weighing on your mind,’ adds Svoboda. ‘Don’t edit yourself. Once you’ve listed everything, big and small, draw a line through the things you have no control over and focus on the things you can.’
Most of all, whatever you’re going through, let yourself go through it. It’s more important than ever to focus on making sure that the relationship you have with yourself is a positive one. 
Dana Svoboda’s top three mindfulness tips

Stop comparing yourself to others. When you realise you’re doing this in an unhealthy way, say out loud: ‘I’ve gone into comparing mode, how is this helping me?’ This may feel ridiculous, but the sense of routine and artifice will help kick-start the Joy Officer mindset. Rather than using words you know are triggering for you, get curious and choose thoughts that move you forward. Voicing it makes it real and lets you take ownership. When riding the waves of emotion, self-compassion is key. Remind yourself that there’s no right or wrong way to feel. 

Set boundaries. This means being able to say no to others (or your own negative impulses), which is essential to avoid feeling overwhelmed. When we try to please everyone, we end up exhausted. It is one of the most obvious, and subsequently, most difficult tasks. But it is also key to committing yourself to personal happiness.

High-five small and big wins. Humans thrive on progress more than goals, so don’t wait until all your boxes are ticked to give yourself a pat on the back. Give yourself reasons to celebrate daily. Keep the bigger picture in mind when you get caught up in day-to-day frustrations. The biggest lesson I’ve been told by the companies that have participated in my research is this: happiness and joy is to be celebrated. Happiness isn’t the celebration. Happiness is the goal. And when we achieve that, celebrate it.
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