office hours

Why Can’t We Be This Happy at Work All Year?

Photo: Getty Images

Last summer, a few co-workers and I introduced a new Friday tradition to the office. At around 5 p.m., an hour before quitting time, as we tied up loose ends and prepared for the weekend, one person would be designated to run across the street and bring back a six-pack of Miller High Life, like a proud cat presenting a dead bird to its owner. We’d split it among the few remaining people on staff in the office, and chug through our work, a little happier and chiller and boozier and probably somewhat lazier than before. It was a nice treat. A delicious beer while responding to emails on a Friday. Mmm. Why not?

Miller High Life Fridays were our small acknowledgment of the fact that it was summer, we are all adults, and a beer on a long Friday is a nice way of coercing the work to get done. But recently, as I was reflecting fondly on beer o’clock, I wondered: Why the hell did we stop after summer?

At work between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a lot and a little happens at the same time. People take long vacations where they more or less stop checking emails; three- or four-day holiday weekends interrupt workflow; summer heat and office frost make us oscillate between drowsiness and alertness in an unending feeling of feverish mania. While these changes in schedules, workflow, and timing disrupt what would otherwise be normal, productive work hours, the work somehow still gets done. People pick up the slack for others. We collaborate in anticipation of when we’ll be the ones on vacation. We make things happen and nothing crumbles. And we have a beer to congratulate ourselves.

But, like Miller High Life Fridays, collaboration with and kindness toward our colleagues are not habits specifically born of heat and humidity or vacation time. They are not imperatives brought on exclusively with sweatiness and lethargy. We choose to be okay with a lighter workload, and to support those taking time off. If we’re making the decision in summer to be a little more laid-back with our responsibilities and to treat every task as if we’re Jimmy Buffett in a tie, there’s no reason why we can’t do the same through the rest of the year. So why don’t we?

My modest proposal: If summer is an attitude, let’s make it a year-long thing.

A summer attitude at work — in fall, in winter, in spring — is harmless, it’s good for morale, it fosters collaboration, kindness, and open-mindedness, and it establishes the important workplace principle of covering for your colleagues when they take off so they will cover for you when you do the same. Instead of the small few months of reprieve we enjoy during summer — months where we’re a little chiller, a little nicer, a little more at peace with the daily grind — let’s spread those feelings out over the calendar year. Forget work-life balance. Let’s start with work-work balance.

Americans are extremely bad at taking vacation days, at stepping away from our phones, at seeing work as purely a necessary means to an end. But strangely, during the summertime, we all collectively take a breath and relax a little. Now think about what that would feel like if we divvied up those small breaks over the course of the year? Taking a vacation, logging off, drinking a cold beer on a Friday, making jokes with your co-workers, stepping outside for a nice walk once a day. Ah, can’t you feel your blood pressure going down? Are you envisioning a cheeseburger in paradise? Guess what: You can have that cheeseburger in June and November. Summer is an attitude and if you believe in yourself, we can have it all year long.

The only foreseeable problem? We have to all agree to do this together. I’ll get this round of Miller High Lifes, you got next.

Why Can’t We Be This Happy at Work All Year?