Recently, I was listening to a client reminisce about one of her previous companies and what a great place it was to work. For her, it boiled down to the daily trust, closeness and support she felt from her co-workers. These relationships gave her a deep sense of connection to the organization, motivation to deliver high-quality work and a strong sense of fulfillment.
In their comprehensive review of studies on workplace relationships, researchers Dutton and Ragins write that relationships “are the means by which work is done and meaning is found in organizations.”
Research continues to affirm that executives who focus on the development of positive relationships within their organizations experience higher employee engagement, job satisfaction, productivity and retention. Nevertheless, most leaders pay very little attention to building and maintaining positive relationships, which carries a serious cost.
I often see this cost in my client work. It shows up when leaders tell me how bogged down they are in personnel problems. It shows up when I hear a CEO tell me about the infighting and gossiping that are consuming her executive team members.
Gallup and other studies report that poor manager-employee relationships hammer organization morale, create high rates of employee disengagement, syphon away enormous amounts of hours from quality work time, and ultimately erode overall performance and productivity.
Negative relationships also drive away employees. A Gallup 2015 survey of 7,200 adults found that half had quit their jobs at some point in their careers to “get away from their manager.”
Exceptional leaders understand that relationships are, to paraphrase Dutton and Ragins, the means by which work gets done. The better the relationships, the better the productivity and quality of work.
Dutton and Ragins also present a broad spectrum of perspectives on what positive workplace relationships look like. The following characteristics are most prevalent:
• Mutual respect for one another
• Capacity to build and repair trust
• Space to express emotions
• Mutual generation of ideas
• Mutually energizing
• Support personal growth
More than anything, an employee, whether that person is a senior executive or administrative assistant, wants to feel seen, known and valued. These qualities rank higher on worker satisfaction surveys than salary increases.
With these characteristics in mind, here are five quick and simple steps executives can take to start creating great workplace relationships. It doesn’t take a big program, worksite campaign or massive amounts of training to get this work going. It just takes a leader’s commitment, consistent attention and a willingness to start.
- Meet − Actually sit down and meet regularly with the people who report to you. Gallup (2014) found employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not.
- Listen − When you meet, take the time to truly listen to what the staff person is saying to you and make sure you have a shared understanding of what is being said. To test for shared understanding, use this listening technique, “This is what I hear you saying. Is that correct?” Read my blog post, “The Overlooked Power of Listening” to learn more about authentic listening.
- Care − Take the time to care and know about how a person’s whole life— not just the work life—is going. Executive culture has traditionally viewed a person’s sharing of personal life information as “inappropriate.” It’s not only appropriate; it’s a key practice for building trust.
- Value − Let staff know how much you appreciate the hard work or good job she or he is doing, not only related to a specific project or duty, but just as a general compliment now and then.
- Advance − Key in on the staff person’s professional aspirations and support their continual growth. This type of support deepens the employee’s engagement and loyalty to the organization.