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To be a happier worker, exercise your social muscle

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The pandemic had a big impact on how we work and our relationship with work - thinking about the great resignation and then quiet quitting and all that, we're hearing about worker burnout. Research shows that there's a relationship between happier, more productive workers and how connected people feel to their colleagues. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee has some tips on how to boost social connections at work.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Decades of research show that warm human connections are essential for people's health and well-being. Dr. Robert Waldinger is a psychiatrist at Harvard and directs one of the longest-running studies on what makes people thrive.

ROBERT WALDINGER: The people who had the warmest connections with other people weren't just happier. They stayed healthier longer, and they lived longer.

CHATTERJEE: The results of that study, which has followed people over a couple of generations, are the subject of Waldinger's new book, "The Good Life."

WALDINGER: We get little hits of well-being, if you will, from all kinds of relationships - from friends, family, work colleagues. All of that seems to affirm our belonging, seems to affirm that we are seen and recognized by others.

CHATTERJEE: And the best way to build that sense of connection and belonging at work starts with small steps. For example, Waldinger says, think of a colleague you haven't seen in a while.

WALDINGER: You could send them a text or send them an email or even call them on the phone and just say, hi, I was thinking of you and wanted to connect.

CHATTERJEE: Those small actions, he says, often bring little doses of happiness.

WALDINGER: What we know with strengthening your relationships is that very tiny steps can lead to responses that will make you feel good.

CHATTERJEE: And if you want to make new friends at work, Waldinger suggests leaning into your curiosity about your colleagues.

WALDINGER: So you could, for example, decide just to notice something about somebody else at work who you'd like to get to know. Notice something they're displaying on their desk that might be personal.

CHATTERJEE: And ask them about it.

WALDINGER: Because one of the things we know is that when we are curious about someone in a friendly way, it's flattering, and it engages people in conversation.

CHATTERJEE: These conversations, he says, can lead to deeper connections and friendships. But, he adds, leaders in workplaces have a big role to play, too, in fostering a culture of connection and belonging.

WALDINGER: You need leaders to say being personal with each other is valuable. It matters, and it starts at the top. When that happens, the culture can shift in a company where people tend to know each other better and then care about each other.

CHATTERJEE: And that can go a long way in creating a happier, more engaged workplace. Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rhitu Chatterjee is a health correspondent with NPR, with a focus on mental health. In addition to writing about the latest developments in psychology and psychiatry, she reports on the prevalence of different mental illnesses and new developments in treatments.