How to Be Happier at Work

There’s a lot that took place during the early days of the pandemic that still blows my mind.

Schools were shut down. No sports. No one really left their house.

And tens of millions of people started working from home in the biggest labor market experiment in history.

Employers and employees were given no warning. There were no focus groups, training sessions or prep time. No one had time to get the right equipment for a home office. It just happened.

And somehow it worked! Companies survived. Work got done. The economy kept running.

It’s a miracle we pulled it off.

Now millions of people work remotely or in hybrid situations where they go to the office far less than they did in the pre-2020 world.

People are still sorting out the ramifications of this unparalled change to the way we work.

One of the least shocking outcomes is employees are lonelier.

The Wall Street Journal had a story out recently that details the increasing isolation people are feeling at work:

Employers and researchers are just beginning to understand how workplace shifts over the past four years are contributing to what the U.S. surgeon general declared a loneliness health epidemic last year. The alienation affects remote and in-person workers alike. Among’s 5,000 hybrid and fully on-site employees, for instance, the most popular community chat group offered by a company mental-health provider is simply called “Loneliness.”

Fewer people are getting to know their co-workers on a personal level. Zoom, Slack, Teams and Google Meet have replaced in-person meetings so there is far less chitchat and small talk before and after.

Watercooler time is at all-time lows.

Plenty of people like the new setup. If you don’t particularly care for your co-workers, don’t want to get to know them, or are simply more efficient with your time because there are fewer distractions in a remote work environment, this situation is preferable.

Remote work is a welcomed development for introverts.

But it’s probably making a lot of people unhappy.

The Good Life by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz is the best book I’ve ever read about what makes people happy. Here’s their biggest takeaway:

In fact, good relationships are significant enough that if we had to take all eighty-four years of the Harvard Study and boil it down to a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this: Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.

It’s not just good relationships with friends and family that move the needle. Relationships with your co-workers can play a vital role in your overall level of happiness:

If we feel disconnected from others at work, that means we feel lonely for the majority of our waking hours. This is a health concern. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, loneliness increases our risk of death as much as smoking or obesity.

Research has shown that people who have a best friend at work are more engaged than those who don’t. The effect is especially pronounced for women, who are twice as likely to be engaged in their jobs if they “strongly agree” that they have a best friend at work.

When we are searching for jobs, and looking at pay and health benefits, the question of work relationships doesn’t often appear. But these connections are themselves a kind of work “benefit.” Positive relationships at work lead to lower stress levels, healthier workers, and fewer days when we come home upset. They also, simply, make us happier.

I never really considered this much when I was younger, but it definitely rings true for me as a middle-aged person.

In high school and college, you’re constantly around friends. Those relationships are vital to growing up.

Then you get a job and spend less time with your actual friends and more time with a new group of people. Those co-worker relationships can be a little more awkward. You don’t know how much of your true self to show.

Whether you like them or not, the people you work with become a huge part of your life.

I’m an introverted person so it took some time for me to open up in my early jobs. The work friendships I made in those roles made my transition to the working world much easier to stomach.

I often learned more from social events with co-workers than I did in on the job training. Those social settings — lunches, holiday parties, drinks, bowling, etc. — also helped me show some more personality and come out of my shell.

One of my favorite parts about working at Ritholtz Wealth Management is that we’ve created a culture that fosters friendships. The people I work with are my colleagues and my friends.

We have people working remotely all over the country so we make a point of not just working but also socializing when we are in the same place.

You just have to make more of an effort to build co-worker relationships in today’s segmented work environment.

Michael and I talked about our organizational culture at Ritholtz Wealth, how to be happier at work and a lot more on this week’s Animal Spirits video:

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Further Reading:
Why Are People Miserable at Work?

Now here’s what I’ve been reading lately:


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