Reaping rewards of relationships

Strong people connections at work can make a difference

Over my many years of work (I still can’t believe it’s been this long), I’ve managed to make a few really good friends.

It’s never planned, it’s never a purposeful endeavour, but somehow, just through doing my work, these small working relationships have blossomed to become true friendships.

And they’ve always been important relationships in my life, because these people know better than most of my other friends or family exactly what’s going at work — whether it’s major changes, politics, foibles and fails, successes and secrets. It’s a comfort to catch up with them and go over the latest developments.

I had a co-worker back at Rogers Communications who used to smoke, so she’d urge me to join her on breaks and she soon became one of my best friends. On the job, we supported each other, groaning about bosses or complaining about workload, while outside of work, we had plenty of laughs and tears over the years as life threw us the good and the bad.

Sadly, that particular friend died just a few months ago, and I still can’t quite believe she’s gone. We hadn’t worked together for years and she had moved out of town, but we often messaged each other or talked on the phone. And right up to the end, there were still discussions about work.

But work life can be funny (funny strange) because people come and go more easily — voluntarily or involuntarily. That’s a tough transition to take — to lose a good friend in the workplace — but I’ve found my true friends are those still important to me despite our changed workplaces.

All that to say I certainly support the findings of the three-year study by Myers-Briggs cited by Marcel Vander Wier in his story on pg. 6. It found relationships ranked as the highest contributing aspect of workplace well-being, at 7.85 out of 10, followed by meaning (7.69), accomplishments (7.66), engagement (7.43) and positive emotions (7.19).

“If you’re in a workplace that’s got a lot of bitter, unhappy, poor relationships… then you’re not going to have a constructive, profitable or productive workplace,” said Paul Krismer, chief happiness officer and founder of the Happiness Experts Company in Victoria.

The numbers make sense. Meaningful work and accomplishment are definitely important, but having a strong connection with someone at work — having that constant support, reassurance and familiarity — can make such a difference to a job.

I’ve dabbled in photography for years and always wondered if I should have pursued that as a career. If I had been successful, there would be my meaning and accomplishment. But if it also meant a lot of solitary hours working in a photo lab (way back when) or doing digital work in my studio, I know I’d miss the human interactions.

It’s the same when it comes to working from home. While I always appreciate the change of environment — being able to sit at the dining-room table with the window open while I do my work — and going for a quick run at lunch — it’s also pretty isolating and I always look forward to returning to the office.

The relationships don’t even have to be that close. It could be a colleague I catch up with once or twice a month, or someone I cross paths with in the kitchen  at work each morning. Even those brief encounters can make a difference.

I think most employers appreciate that. I think they know that when people are chatting at a cubicle or grabbing a quick coffee, they’re reinvigorating themselves by connecting with others.

I think employers know it’s not productive to have employees constantly sitting at their desks like robots, churning out the work with no people connections.

Whether employers appreciate how much of a priority relationships are for employee well-being is another matter.

Here’s hoping they do, because if automation and artificial intelligence take over the workplace like it’s been predicted, those human interactions will be all the more relevant.

And while there’s been plenty of coverage around the importance of a harassment-free workplace, with new legislation and requirements appearing monthly, these seem to be more focused on combatting or reacting to negative relationships, instead of trying to foster positive ones.

Sure, there may be team-building events or open-concept offices, but often these are about improving communication and collaboration among colleagues versus enriching those connections to improve employee well-being.

Sadly, with the #MeToo movement, we’ve heard some men are reluctant to provide mentorships, or at least to be alone with female colleagues, for fear of being accused of inappropriate behaviour.

While this could mean a lot of women will not receive much-needed support and guidance to move up in their careers, it also means many people — men and women — are missing out on positive relationships that can lead to happier times at work.

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