Amy Newmark began our conversation by humbly explaining that she is not an expert on hybrid work or human resources management.
But as Publisher, Editor-and-Chief, and Author of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, Newmark has a lot of valuable insights to offer on what people can do to be happier at work, whether hybrid or otherwise. Newmark also manages a small team that works hybridly at the Connecticut-based offices of Chicken Soup for the Soul, a media and entertainment company.
We spent a half hour chatting about how remote and hybrid work models have changed people’s lives and introduced new challenges and opportunities for happiness (and stress). Newmark and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series are releasing a new book this month, Your 10 Keys to Happiness, which is why I (as a longtime reader of the series) reached out to Newmark.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
What are the Challenges You See to Happiness When People Work From Home or Work in Hybrid Ways?
Amy Newmark: For so many people, home used to be a sanctuary from work and now it's become an extension of the office. People used to be able to go home and be away from work, even if they had to keep up with email. It’s so different now without those clear boundaries between home and work. For some people, going into the office was their sanctuary from home, maybe from the barking dogs or moody teenagers playing loud music.
In general, people are happy to be working from home. I know I enjoyed the casual dress code and spending more time at home with my husband. We have two separate home offices. We’ve both been so busy and so productive working in the house these last two years.
Why Do You Think There’s Been So Much Work-related Burnout?
Amy Newmark: There are no boundaries between work and life anymore. And so you must create your own boundaries and routines. For example, what I enjoyed doing most while working from home last summer was taking an hour in the middle of the day for a long bike ride. I didn't worry that it was the middle of the day because I was working all the time. But now my approach has changed because we're doing hybrid work. We're three days a week at the office, two days working from home.
But I've rebelled against work being with me all the time, wherever I go. Now I've decided that I won't work on weekends and I won't work at night anymore and I try to work during work hours only, whether it's at home or in the Chicken Soup for the Soul office. I tell my team to try and do the same. But it’s not always easy.
Can You Offer “Balancing Home and Work-life” Stories or Advice From the New Chicken Soup book, Your 10 Keys to Happiness?
Amy Newmark: Absolutely. It's so easy to over schedule and exhaust ourselves, especially in these days when shared calendars are available online to other people you work with. We have a great story in the book from a woman named Kristine Byron. Her co-workers were accessing her shared calendar and scheduling all these sales calls for her. And she had no time left over for herself or for her family. She went to her mentor, who told her “you need to add some lily pads onto your calendar.” Kristine said, “add what?”
You know how frogs jump out of the water and sit quietly on a lily pad relaxing and basking in the sun? Kristine’s mentor told her to add some fake appointments on her calendar so that other people couldn't schedule meetings for her. Now she carves out some “lily pad time” every day and it helps her restore from the daily work stress.
My favorite story is from J.C. Sullivan about the importance of getting outside in nature and hearing the birdsong, watching the animals go about their lives. Getting outside in nature reminds us that we're just one small part of all the living creatures in this world. J.C. lives in Los Angeles near Griffith Park, but she had never gone onto the park’s hiking trails. Finally, a friend persuaded her to go and she fell in love with the trails and started evangelizing about them to everybody she knew. She found that her life went so much better once she started doing a hike every day.
How Do You See Work Flexibility and Hybrid Work Potentially Enabling People to Be Happier?
Amy Newmark: We work in the office Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at Chicken Soup for the Soul. And I'm so excited thinking about Wednesdays. It's almost like a snow day. It’s so nice to know that instead of having that commuting time, I can use my time for exercise or something that's personally beneficial, even to schedule a visit from a service person.
But I also think not going into the office at all doesn't make people happier, because socialization is important for human beings and we miss it. Working at Chicken Soup for the Soul, the team has a good time at the office, seeing each other and interacting. If you aren't looking forward to socializing at the office and/or occasionally seeing the people you work with, then maybe you should find a different job.