Many people spend more waking time at work than at home, and yet we may give less thought to creating healthy relationships in the workplace than within our families

Research by Gallup shows that people are no longer just looking for a paycheque when they come to work – they want to feel fulfilled.

I am by no means arguing that your relationship with a partner, children, family or other central figures in your life should take a back seat. But I am advocating for a more mindful approach to building meaningful and healthy workplace relationships.

Research by Gallup shows that people are no longer just looking for a paycheque when they come to work – they want to feel fulfilled. A large part of creating engaged employees relates to an organisation's culture. And I'd like to suggest that a healthy culture that sees employees thriving is one where people are able to relate to one another in a real and authentic way.

Most people crave positive interactions with other people. It's why we date or get married; why we hang out together over a braai or a pizza; why we greet each other or chat around the office coffee machine. Aside from making us happier and more fulfilled people at work (and therefore more productive too), good working relationships have major spin-off benefits – for individuals, the organisation, and beyond (clients, suppliers and partners).

For example, it's much easier to get people on board with a change that needs to be made if they all trust one another. It's more likely you'll be able to negotiate successfully with a client who knows that you've got their best interests at heart.

Obviously, we can't be best buddies with everyone, and there will be people we have to deal with whom we find difficult. But by focusing on creating authentic and healthy relationships, we can avoid unnecessary drama and focus our energy on positive, constructive purposes and outcomes.

What makes a good relationship?
Mind Tools suggests several characteristics that define good, healthy working relationships, including trust, mutual respect, mindfulness, welcoming diversity and open communication.

  • Trust is central to any good relationship − whether with a boss, friend, spouse or child. In the workplace, trust means you are able to be open and honest with people and they can do the same with you, and you don't have to be concerned about being criticised or undermined when you're not in the same room.
  • Mutual respect underpins a relationship that is mutually beneficial − where both or all parties value the input and ideas of the other and are working together in healthy collaboration.
  • Mindfulness is about being conscious of your attitudes and behaviours, and how they affect those around you. It is the starting block for personal responsibility.
  • Welcoming diversity is critical for a healthy workplace culture. Each of us is different, but by learning to respect and embrace those differences, we can honour and leverage the strengths of each person. We can all benefit from listening to and learning from those who think differently to the way we do.
  • Open communication is another foundational element for successful relationships, including in the workplace. Rather than hiding behind corporate jargon or passive-aggressive communications (who hasn't received a snippy email with just the phrase noted' in it?), companies should encourage honest communication.

How to build real relationships
The first place to start is with an organisation's culture, but even as an individual, there are certain things you can do to ensure you build authentic relationships with your colleagues and clients. For example:

  • Be courteous and kind.
  • Learn to listen better.
  • Respect other people's time and ideas.
  • Ensure you are communicating clearly (don't ever assume your meaning will be understood – check that it has been).
  • Treat everyone with the same respect – from the office cleaner to the CEO.
  • Take responsibility for your own failings and learn to apologise for them.
  • Check in with people regularly – ask for and give constructive feedback.
  • Stick to what you've said you'll do (keep your commitments).
  • Give credit where it's due.
  • Always steer clear of office gossip.

By implementing these things, you're setting yourself up to create good working relationships, no matter what your role or position within the organisation is.


F.R. (Rhys) Robinson, PhD is Executive Director, Infinitus Reporting Solutions (Pty) Ltd, provider of enterprise-wide consolidation, planning and reporting solutions.

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