According to an 85-year study by Harvard researchers, the most unhappy jobs are also some of the loneliest.
While particular roles may not be reliably correlated with dissatisfaction and burnout, certain job characteristics may be, says Robert Waldinger, MD, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. In one of the longest-running studies on happiness, CNBC tells Make It.
Jobs that require little human interaction and do not provide opportunities for meaningful relationships with co-workers result in the most miserable workers, Study found.
Since 1938, Harvard researchers have collected health records from more than 700 participants around the world and asked them detailed questions about their lives every two years.
The secret to living a happy, healthy, and long life, he concluded, is not money, professional success, exercise, or a healthy diet—positive relationships are what keep people happy throughout life.
This also applies to our jobs. “It is an important social need that must be met in all aspects of our lives,” explains Waldinger. “Plus, if you’re more connected to people, you feel more satisfied with your job and do a better job.”
Workplace loneliness is more common than you think
Some of the most isolating jobs involve more independent work than interpersonal relationships or require overnight shifts, such as truck driving and night security.
Lonely jobs are common in emerging, tech-driven industries, including package and food delivery services, where people often have no co-workers, or online retail, where work is “so fast and furious” that employees shift within a single warehouse. They happen, says Waldinger, who probably don’t even know each other’s names.
However, loneliness doesn’t just plague loners — even people with busy, social jobs can feel isolated if they don’t have positive, meaningful interactions with others.
Waldinger points to customer service jobs as a prime example: “We know that people in call centers are often under a lot of stress from their jobs, mainly because they’re on the phone all day with frustrated, impatient people. are,” he says.
Feeling isolated from others at work is also a health concern: recent studies have shown that, as we get older, loneliness can increase our risk of death as much as smoking, obesity and physical inactivity .
Socializing Is Good For Your Career – And Your Mental Health
Researchers found that creating small opportunities for social connection at work can be restorative and help reduce feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction.
For example, you might have a five-minute catch-up with a friendly coworker or find people with similar interests, such as a book club or intramural sports league, with whom you can spend time after a stressful shift.
Maximizing your happiness at work also depends on your manager’s expectations. “If you’re encouraged to work in teams, it becomes easier to build positive relationships with your co-workers,” Waldinger says. “But if you’re expected to work on your own all the time, or compete with others, that’s a different story.”
If employees are chatting or laughing together in the office, some managers will assume that “they’re not working and their productivity is probably suffering,” write Waldinger and his colleague Mark Schultz, PhD, of a Harvard study of Associate Director of Adult Development, write in his book “The Good Life.”
In fact, the opposite is true: A 2022 report from Gallup suggests that people who have a best friend at work are more productive and engaged with their work than those who don’t.
When we’re looking for jobs, we tend to consider compensation and health insurance to be important benefits, but Waldinger and Schultz argue that the working relationship is another “working benefit” that we should pay more attention to.
Waldinger and Schulz concluded, “Positive relationships at work lead to lower stress levels, healthier workers and fewer days off when we come home.” “They also, just, make us happy.”
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