How working on relationships takes the stress out of workplace wellbeing
I have previously discussed the first three root causes of stress in the workplace and the elements that need managing effectively to promote a healthy wellbeing culture; Demands, Control and Support. This article it’s all about Relationships, and how employers can shift their focus to nurturing relationships in the workplace to improve healthy employee wellbeing.
Why are positive work relationships important?
In the UK, (not including overtime) the average person spends one-third of their waking hours at work, which is full of people, and as we all know, people are not always easy to get along with. That’s a big chunk of our day to be spending either building relationships or walking on eggshells.
It is therefore no surprise that workplace relationships are often a great source of stress in our lives and have a significant impact on our mental wellbeing.
Poor relationships can lead to:
- poor performance
- and, in worst-case scenarios, resignation
Good relationships, on the other hand, lead to:
- better communication
- and innovation
They also develop employees who are more engaged and productive. So it makes good business sense for employers to focus on encouraging positive relationships in the workplace.
The relationship standard
The HSE management standard for relationships is that “employees indicate that they are not subjected to unacceptable behaviours, e.g. bullying at work, and systems are in place locally to respond to any individual concerns.”
The focus here is primarily on dealing with unacceptable behaviour and promoting positive behaviour.
Dealing with unacceptable behaviour in the workplace
As I discussed the need for robust policies and procedures in my last article, talking about support, I am not going to go into further detail about them. Suffice to say, appropriate policies and procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour, and for dealing with grievances and disciplinaries, have a huge part to play in meeting this management standard. Remember, for them to be effective, it is vital they be transparent and communicated clearly.
It is obviously incredibly important to encourage employees to report unacceptable behaviour and to ensure that they feel protected when they do so. This is particularly important in cases of bullying and harassment where there may be a fear of retaliation.
Just because your organisation does not have a record of instances of unacceptable behaviour does not mean it is not happening. It can sometimes be easier to convince ourselves that we have the perfect workplace rather than the more likely alternative that people feel too afraid to raise their concerns.
A confidential reporting system, that is widely promoted, is a good way to encourage people to take the first step against poor behaviour. Beyond reporting, how the disclosure is handled by management is critical to maintaining a trusting and respectful work relationship and will determine how employees view where the employer really stands on unacceptable behaviour. So always make sure the procedures in place are followed and the issues raised are promptly dealt with.
The challenge here can be recognising that old-fashioned command and control leadership approaches often create exactly the types of behaviours that we want to eliminate. Employees can be left feeling bullied or manipulated, whilst the manager unwittingly believes they are carrying out their role as it should be done.
A more effective approach is to focus on encouraging positive behaviour in the workplace which will, in turn, lead to positive relationships.
Cultivating positive workplace behaviour with communication
Let’s face it, conflict is a normal part of life. We all have different opinions, different perspectives, and different beliefs about what is right and wrong. Goodness knows, my husband and I frequently disagree in our everyday lives on the croft.
We can have contradicting opinions about all matters of things, whether it’s over the best way to load the dishwasher or the seemingly simple task of catching the ewe with the sore foot (anyone who has had anything to do with sheep and getting them to do anything you want them to will know that is NO simple task and is the cause of many a marital disagreement).
But, we are still here though, over 30 years later, still wrestling that blasted ewe, metaphorical and otherwise. We have learned the importance of communication in managing conflict, and how it is fundamental to building a strong, lasting relationship.
However, disagreements at work can often be much more complex. They can involve different personalities, roles, responsibilities, and differing levels of authority. They can also have a big impact on workplace relationships and the entire culture of an organisation.
From a management perspective, encouraging good communication is key to managing conflict and maintaining positive workplace relationships.
We can communicate most effectively when:
- remembering the old adage that “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason”
- actually being honest and not saying what we think wants to be heard
- putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes
- we have an open discussion about the issues and potential solutions
More often these days training might be required in these softer skills areas, and at all levels within an organisation. Training can also help staff deal with difficult situations whilst maintaining positive regard for themselves and others. Positive regard is important to managing conflict effectively. It also provides an opportunity to raise self-esteem not just of individuals, but of teams and the wider organisation as well. A workforce that values itself and the organisation it serves will have high expectations of what can be achieved.
Building strong workplace relationships
There is no doubt, that workplace relationships have changed dramatically due to Covid. Remote working, however successful, means that those relationships have taken a bit of a knock. The watercooler banter and communal coffee break catch-ups have diminished, and people spend more time now with their families than their office cohorts. More time with family is of course a good thing and one of the great personal benefits of remote working but it doesn’t exactly help with galvanising a workforce.
So just what else can an employer do to help nurture strong workplace relationships when returning to a traditional office set-up or part-time remote working?
5 small tips that can make a big difference to workplace relationships
1. Provide opportunities for social interactions. If you’ve returned to face-to-face that might be communal seating areas for coffee breaks, but if you still have people working remotely, what about organising a charity fundraiser event or having a ‘families’ day?
2. Find out your employee’s story. Stories create empathy, so ask your employees questions and be genuinely interested in their answers and experiences. Really get to know them as a person. Check-in with them regularly, not just to find out where they are with that report, but also how they are doing.
3. Share your own story. And not just the good stuff, but warts and all. Share your fears, struggles, hopes and dreams. This will normalise difficulties and encourage conversations. People like to know you are human too.
4. Reduce, or remove, competition from the organisation. In the past, competition has been seen as a way of drawing better performance out of employees. It is well recognised now that collaboration is where the real magic happens. To get there you need to encourage people to get to know each other. When we get to know someone, we start to like them, and when we like someone, we begin to trust them. When we trust someone, we are willing to share ideas, learn from each other and collaborate effectively.
5. Be mindful. Pay attention to what is going on within the organisation, not just to the profit margins, but also to the people. What are they doing? Are they coping? Is anyone struggling? Are they happy? What do they need to feel supported and to thrive?
Also, learn to be more aware of yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your values? What are your typical behaviours? How can you improve?
None of these tips is rocket science but they will go a long way to improve workplace relationships and have a big impact on the company culture, the health and wellbeing of our employees and, as a result, productivity.