Make us happy, partner

Christmas plans, a study about happiness, and 7 other things worth your time.

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Tomorrow is Christmas Eve! Between now and New Year’s Day, I’ll be on a casual schedule… which means I’ll take some time off, but probably not every day. I actually have a few things I want to share. But on the assumption that many of you will also be taking time off, thanks for being here. As I told someone yesterday, writing this newsletter might be a labor sometimes, but it’s a labor of love. And you all are the reason. To those who celebrate: Merry Christmas!


Partner vs boss

OK, another of my “cool studies Bill has collected over the years” stories today. This one is about how having the right kind of relationship with a boss makes people happier.

Not just a little bit happier, either. A study by four economics professors in Canada and South Korea found that employees who reported this kind of relationship showed a similar increase in reported happiness to what would be expected if they’d doubled their household income.

Writing in 2019 for the the National Bureau of Economic Research, the researchers analyzed the responses of 38,000 workers to the Gallup-Healthways Daily Poll, which is a daily survey of hundreds of adults on many different topics.

Two questions are most relevant here: 

The first has to do with people's general overall life satisfaction, and the second has to do with their relationships with their supervisor at work.

By combining the answers that thousands of people gave to both of those questions, and then correlating them with millions of other data points that allowed them to control for respondents' personalities (and even the days of the week on which they answered the questions; kudos to whomever parsed that out), the researchers came up with a surprising but compelling conclusion.

Across the board, people who said they felt like their relationship with their work supervisor was more like that of partners, as opposed to one in which they felt like their supervisor was more of a traditional boss, were likely to report much greater life satisfaction. 

But, the findings go deeper. Researchers found that the effect was greatest when employees were in their 40s and early 50s.

That's intriguing for two reasons. 

First, for most people, if you chart their life satisfaction, a lot of studies suggest it forms a rough "U" shape.

They have relatively high life satisfaction up until their 20s and 30s. Then it drops during middle age as they are likely to be dealing with competing demands between work and family.

Then, it rises again as children grow up and they can start to see a future beyond work.

So, for middle-aged workers, the benefit of the partner boss relationship came right when they needed it most.

Second, workers are largely at the apex of their productivity and expertise at right around this stage. That means they can benefit most from this “boss as partner” paradigm at the same point when they have the most to offer at work. 

Another cool finding: Fully two-thirds of workers reported that they had a good situation, in that they said their bosses were more like partners, rather than bosses

Now, one explanation might just be that two-thirds of bosses already follow this “partner” paradigm.

But another explanation makes more sense. It's that the workers themselves gravitated toward work situations and bosses that had the most positive effect on their overall life satisfaction.

Put differently, if they had partner bosses, they stayed. But if they had boss bosses, they didn't just suffer in silence.

Instead, they tried to move on. And the ones who were able to move most easily? Those were probably the ones their bosses most wanted to keep.


7 other things worth your time

  • An American college student who broke quarantine in the Cayman Islands and was sentenced to four months in prison had her sentence cut in half. (The Washington Post)

  • President Trump pardoned or commuted sentences of 20 people, including former members of Congress, people who were caught up in the Mueller investigation, and four U.S. contractors who were convicted in the deaths of 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007. (Buzzfeed News)

  • West Point announced that 70 cadets have been accused of cheating on an exam, the biggest cheating scandal at the elite military college since 1976. (Stars & Stripes)

  • A new report looked at the increase in the number of private jet flights in the United Kingdom, and says wealthy Brits have been escaping lockdowns by flying privately to other countries. (Business Insider, $)

  • The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Walmart on Tuesday, alleging that it unlawfully dispensed controlled substances from pharmacies it operated nationwide. (MPR News)

  • Trump also signaled he might not sign the Covid relief bill, saying it doesn’t give enough money to individual Americans. What’s interesting here is that he might do a “pocket veto,” which means simply not signing it for 10 days, which is the same as some observers expect he’ll do with the massive defense bill Congress passed. Holding onto them like that would require Congress to reconvene over the holidays to override his veto. (CNET)

  • Gosh, I feel like we need a nice story to round this out today. How about this one, out of Virginia, in which hundreds of people decided that a UPS driver who has been yeoman’s work the past few months deserved some appreciation, and organized a parade (and a gift) to thank him. He was moved to tears. (Channel 6 News Richmond)


Thanks for reading! Photo courtesy of Pixabay. I wrote about this study when it was just a working paper for Inc.com. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, Good Lord, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.  

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