Are you happy Your boss is asking.

Gary Ridge, who runs the chemical company WD-40, has a leadership style driven by two sources – Aristotle and Blackrock CEO Larry Fink.

“The joy of work brings perfection to work,” Mr. Reese first quoted the Greek philosopher.

He then picked up a recent BlackRock memo. “Companies that have built strong bonds with their employees have seen lower levels of turnover and higher returns throughout the epidemic,” Mr. Reese read aloud.

This he punctuated with his own comment: “Well, duh!”

The WD-40, which comes in a bright blue-and-yellow canister that is familiar to many homes with glittering doors, is a cleaning product with a secret formula that can loosen a rusty bolt, rubbing crayons from walls, bug splats from cars. Can get and remove rust from a bike chain. Mr. Reese likes to remind about 600 employees about the usefulness of their work across his 17 offices.

But he also believes that some are inspired by the company’s unconventional culture. WD-40 has no manager, only coach. Workers can receive the “Mother Teresa” award for giving their “time, talent and resources” to the community. They can remind their colleagues during the meeting to create “positive lasting memories” together.

Long before the epidemic, many were skeptical of companies that advertised themselves as a business to keep employees happy. There were technology companies that had ball pits and slides in college campus-style offices. There was an office with a lunch buffet and frozen roses. There was a growing number of employers assessing employee well-being through surveys, often hiring consultants to have fun at work.

For some, the pursuit of happiness at work – and the associated price tags, such as a $ 18,000 program for managers on how to lead happy parties – may seem like a corporate chemistry that seeks to turn emotions into productivity. This may seem like a shock to the laughter and set aside demands that are less convenient for the boss, such as long distance work or higher pay.

These criticisms have gained new urgency as workers and employers have clashed over office-to-office plans, which economists continue to identify as a tough labor market. Some workers say they prefer flexibility or inflation-compatible corporate carrots, such as Lizo Concert for Google employees and beer testing at Microsoft.

“It’s not going to help you tighten your schedule in a way that will help you, but here’s a discount code,” said Jessica Martinez, 46, a program officer at Global Foundation who has been a wine retailer for a long time. Returning to the office on Wednesday and now like a bottle of water is distributing gifts

“People are trying to get everything back to normal, but the truth is terrible for some people,” he continued. “Why don’t people get what they really want?”

In some workplaces, “happiness” may mean that employees are allowed to choose their own supervisors. It may mean getting rid of performance reviews. This usually means measuring the level of happiness – although not everyone agrees on what happiness means. Look at the Dalai Lama, Dale Carnegie And for starters Barbara Ehrenreich.

Behavioral economists and psychologists have, in recent years, shown employers that they have a business case to focus on. A study in the Journal of Labor Economics found that those who were given chocolate to eat and comedy to watch – generators of general happiness – were 12 percent more productive than those left alone. Another study in the Journal of Financial Economics found that companies listed in the 100 best workplaces give higher shareholder returns than their peers.

“There is evidence that we misdirected the causal arrow of happiness,” said Laurie Santos, a knowledgeable scientist who teaches Yale’s popular course on happiness. “You think, ‘I feel productive at work and things are going well in the workplace and so I’m happy.’ But the evidence suggests that there is another side to happiness that can really affect your performance. “

Alex Admans, a finance professor at the London Business School, says the idea that businesses should take care of their happiness has come with the rise of non-manual jobs. Since the output of some jobs has become difficult to measure – the quality and quantity of ideas is shifting, not the number of pins or tops made in toothpaste tubes – managers have determined that their employees should make sure they are motivated. Compensation is important, but so is how people felt at work.

But many see the risk for workers in the belief that their employers are building a psychological relationship with them, when in reality the relationship is worth it.

“Your boss isn’t there to make you happy,” said Sarah Jaff, author of “Work Want Love You Back.” “No matter what they say, they are focusing on happiness, they are focusing on profit.”

“Someone is being paid to bring this exciting new culture of happiness to the workplace,” added Mrs. Jaff. “I want to know how much my boss is spending.”

Happy Limited, a British consultancy, tells a program that it is run for senior leaders. The cost of its Happy MBA is about $ 18,000, and participants receive a certificate from the Institute of Leadership and Management, not an actual degree. In a recent session, nonprofits and company managers exchanged tips to involve employees in choosing their own supervisors.

Woohoo, a Danish firm that helps create happy employee surveys, and its software partner, Heartcount, typically charges companies about $ 4 per employee per month, which Woohoo founder, Alexander Kerald, declined to share because they changed drastically.

Woohoo and Heartcount consult with psychologists and statisticians to ensure that their assessments focus on people’s emotions rather than on their work. The weekly survey, emailed on Friday, includes questions such as: Are you proud of the work you do? Have you been recently praised for that wonderful work? Woohoo then helps employers explain the information.

This data, however, makes its own questions more slippery than those typically covered by an online survey. What does it mean to be happy?

Mr. Kjerulf defines it as the amount of people who feel positive emotions when they think about work at work or in their personal time. WD-40 leaders understand this to include a combination of meaningful work and a sense of kinship.

Another workplace assessment firm, Culture Amp, which works with about 4,500 companies, does not believe in measuring happiness at all, but instead favors metrics such as engagement and wellness. Its leaders see happiness as something unstable that differs from person to person and is largely beyond the control of the employer.

“I appreciate the feeling behind it, but the measure is where it gets harder,” said Myra Cannon, director of People’s Science at Culture Amp. “Happiness is fleeting.”

One of the companies that Woohoo has supported is Vega, a software developer in Serbia. Vega publishes a monthly newsletter called Happiness Central, which is part of its mission to “communicate our achievements.” Twice a year in the “meme war” employees are rewarded for creating memes that “make fun of people in C-level positions” at the company. The chief executive sometimes surprised everyone by walking through the door with a fruit salad.

Vega co-founder, CEO Sasa Popovich said, “If people have a good relationship with each other, especially within the team, we can expect better performance.” “We can expect people to be more engaged, and then our clients will get better service and be happy with our work.”

But that office relationship doesn’t pay the staff bills, a criticism that has been exacerbated by the fact that happiness has become fixed inside the boardroom.

“Initially, many start-ups gave people tremendous benefits and overworked their staff, and they tried to make it shiny by eating snacks in the kitchen,” said Mrs. Martinez, the Foundation’s Officer. But, he noted, labor shortages are giving more workers leverage that they will not tolerate once they have done so.

“Vacancies are not going to be filled because you have treated people badly,” he said.

The flexibility to work from home has made some workers feel more comfortable telling employers what really makes them happy – the freedom to spend time with family, not free dinners at the office.

“Having cereal in the break room doesn’t make your kids uncomfortable,” said Anna King, 60, a parent who works for an energy utility company in Portland, Ore. “The real concern is do your employees think they are part of the team – not because they are playing ping-pong together but because they are achieving real goals and working at the right time?”

As millions of workers demand the boldness of their employers, especially around permanent flexibility, some say the focus on happiness is a delusion. The “Mother Teresa” award, after all, does not improve the condition of employees – and may indeed encourage employees to spend more hours in their corporate community at the expense of their personal lives.

“I don’t think these things like meditation or what employers are doing to promote well-being are bad initiatives,” said Heidi Shearerholz, president of the Institute for Economic Policy, a progressive think tank. “But they are not a substitute for decent wages, decent benefits, intelligent schedules.”

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