How to Improve Work Relationships (+ Why It’s Important)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Good Life" by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you talk to your coworkers much? How can you improve work relationships and enjoy your job more?

Making friendships on the job may not seem like the biggest priority at work, but it doesn’t mean you have to distance yourself from your coworkers. In fact, The Good Life by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz advises you to cultivate healthy relationships while working.

Learn how to improve work relationships and, in turn, your life in general.

Your Relationship With Your Coworkers

Waldinger and Schulz argue that learning how to improve work relationships can make a big, positive difference in your life. The authors note that most people divide their lives into work and non-work time. But in reality, your happiness at work has a big impact on the rest of your life.  

Since people spend so much time at work, having social relationships with colleagues can prevent loneliness—which, as we saw previously, can damage our health. If a work occurrence negatively affects your mood, that bad mood often remains even when you return home—and so work events can damage your familial relationships.

(Shortform note: Working remotely may exacerbate the potential damage of work on our lives. Many remote workers struggle to set boundaries between their work and personal lives, which can negatively impact their relationships. For example, they may struggle to separate from work and so neglect time with their loved ones. And if you work remotely, you’re unlikely to have a social relationship with your colleagues that protects against loneliness. One survey found that 66% of remote workers in the US have no work friends.) 

So Waldinger and Schulz suggest that you change your perspective on your work relationships. Instead of avoiding possible connections with your coworkers, think about how you could develop relationships with or deepen existing relationships with your colleagues. Then, put those ideas into practice. For example, if you love books and notice that a colleague you don’t know well is always reading, strike up a conversation about books with that person.  

Waldinger and Schulz acknowledge that sometimes, this is easier said than done. You may struggle to befriend coworkers if you work remotely. Alternatively, you may be reluctant to befriend people at a different managerial level because you don’t want that hierarchy to potentially damage your personal relationship. However, the authors argue that developing relationships anyway will improve both your happiness and the quality of your work—especially in the latter case, because the only way to develop mentor/mentee relationships is to connect across the corporate hierarchy. 

(Shortform note: Waldinger and Schulz focus on what individuals can do to improve their workplace relationships. But other experts argue that companies should take measures to facilitate friendships between their employees since these friendships improve both profits and retention. Try providing new employees with an “onboarding buddy”—a built-in mentor at the company who can help the new hire adjust appropriately. And if your team works remotely, have regular video calls. The more team members see each other, the greater their ability to build relationships.)  

But what if it’s too late to develop relationships with your coworkers? If you’ve retired, Waldinger and Schulz propose that you seek out regular social connections and something that brings you fulfillment. The authors explain that many people find these connections and fulfillment at their jobs—so when they retire and lose both, they struggle to adjust. Having a replacement source of both will help you maintain your happiness. For example, getting a volunteer position that utilizes your professional skills could help you feel fulfilled and bring more people into your life. 

(Shortform note: Maintaining social connections and a sense of fulfillment is also essential for your cognitive health. Research indicates that retirement often sparks a rapid cognitive decline: Given the lack of social engagement and increase in idle behavior, you don’t challenge your brain as often, and so you don’t maintain your cognitive health. In contrast, maintaining social connections after you retire exercises your brain and can add a sense of meaning to your life that helps you feel more fulfilled.) 

How to Improve Work Relationships (+ Why It’s Important)

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz's "The Good Life" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Good Life summary:

  • That the key to a good life has nothing to do with your career or success
  • How to evaluate the current quality of your relationships
  • How to improve relationships with your friends, partner, family, and coworkers

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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