Relationships with colleagues top factor in workplace well-being: Study

‘The only way humans made it to where we are today is by having highly functional tribal relationships,’ says expert

Relationships with colleagues top factor in workplace well-being: Study
Relationships ranked as the highest contributing aspect of workplace well-being in a global study. fizkes/Shutterstock

Relationships are the leading contributor to workplace well-being, according to the findings of a three-year study by Myers-Briggs.

Relationships ranked as the highest contributing aspect of workplace well-being — which is more than simply feelings of happiness, according to the study.

Relationships ranked at 7.85 out of 10, followed by meaning (7.69), accomplishments (7.66), engagement (7.43) and positive emotions (7.19) — all of which collectively form well-being.

One-third of a worker’s life is spent at the office, said Rich Thompson, senior director of research at Myers-Briggs in Minnesota.

“Most of us at work try to find someone we get along with and have a positive relationship with,” he said. “So, the fact that that is one of the major drivers was… not so surprising.”

The study compared workplace well-being across geography, occupation, gender, personality type and age, using responses from more than 10,000 workers from 131 countries.

The study also analyzed relationships between workplace well-being and organizational outcomes such as commitment and job satisfaction.

Workers responded to questions each spring over a period of three years. The study was specific to well-being in the workplace, said Thompson.

It found workplace well-being is generally stable, with an overall score of 7.5 out of 10, he said.

“People are doing pretty well globally, but there is still some room for improvement.”

Researchers didn’t expect overall well-being scores to be as high as they were, said Thompson.

“From talking to different people I know in different occupations all over the world, you tend to get more grumbling than you get kudos,” he said.

The study included responses from 318 Canadians — a group that reported one of the highest levels of overall workplace well-being at 7.76 out of 10, said Thompson.

Canadians ranked engagement first at 8.02, followed by relationships at 7.95.

Seeing relationships atop the list is not a surprise, as humans are wired to love, according to Paul Krismer, chief happiness officer and founder of the Happiness Experts Company in Victoria.

“It marries up with the science of positive psychology quite well,” he said. “The only way humans made it to where we are today is by having highly functional tribal relationships.”

“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.”

More than relationships

Well-being improves with age, while gender also plays a role in workplace happiness, according to the study.

Young workers reported the lowest levels of well-being at 6.77, while those age 65 and up came in at 8.14.

That may be because employees tend to seek jobs that fit better with their desires as their career lengthens, said Thompson.

There’s also an apparent advantage to being female, he said.

“Females have slightly higher well-being across the board, with one exception — that being negative emotion.”

Additionally, statistics show workers in occupations involving service-related activity such as education or health care enjoy the highest well-being, while those in practical, physical positions such as food preparation or production rank the lowest.

Three factors drive employee happiness — satisfaction, engagement and morale, said Adam Stoehr, vice-president of leadership and research at Excellence Canada, a non-profit organizational performance group in Toronto.

Morale refers to relationships and how groups interact together, while satisfaction and engagement deal with necessities such as pay, work environment and meaningful work, he said.

Poor attitudes shared collectively amongst staff can pull down a workplace, said Stoehr.

“No matter how strong your satisfaction and engagement are, you can quickly be torn down by a group that’s not buying in to the same mindset.”

When it comes to meaning in work, that can vary, said Krismer.

“It may not look the same for each worker, which is why supervisors really need to have personal relationships with the people that they work with, and find (out) what makes that person tick.”

Workers’ individual preferences have forced employers to uncover the ways workers can find meaning in what they are doing — and that includes specific appreciation for work that is well done, he said.

“People need appreciation in a way that a lot of organizations don’t get,” said Krismer, noting it’s more than just a standard pat on the back. “Better kinds of appreciation are simply bearing witness to the good work that professionals do.”

Advice for HR

One-size-fits-all approaches no longer work in terms of employee well-being initiatives, said Thompson.

Employers would do well to analyze their individual culture and well-being needs before implementing changes, he said.

“Organizations need to spend a little bit more time rather than just quick and dirty, or one-hit (initiatives)… diving a little deeper into what their employees actually want, and what would work for them, and then offering different options,” said Thompson.

“You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tailor your activities to each individual, but you’d at least take some of those individual differences into account.”

HR should focus its efforts on the physical environment, health practices, a supportive workplace culture and civility, said Stoehr.

“Even though it’s very simple, these things aren’t very present in many Canadian organizations,” he said. “The more a company and a leadership team can focus on some very simple tasks daily, (they) can up people’s happiness.”

It’s the employer’s job to construct an environment or culture that influences well-being and happiness, said Krismer.

Yet most cultures develop by accident, consisting of shared beliefs or emotions among front-line workers, he said.

For senior leaders to influence change, they need to provide managerial staff with a skill set and then hold them to account as leaders in encouraging social relationships, said Krismer.

“Changing culture is totally doable,” he said. “But it has to be done in a concerted effort over a very long period of time.”

Over and above relationships with colleagues, the most important relationship a worker has is with her manager, said Krismer.

“If they hate their boss, then they’re working against the company,” he said. “Those are the ones who are actively disengaged.”

Creating informal meeting places or welcoming break rooms, while encouraging employees to mingle and make relationships, is another step in the right direction, said Krismer.

“Some people will still want to eat at their desk,” he said. “All you can do is your best to make spaces and different avenues for them to become engaged in the social life of the workforce.”

It comes down to understanding that social relationships are essential — as is the need to love and feel loved, said Krismer.

“Without those kinds of relationships in our lives, we basically have such an enormous well-being deficit… everything else doesn’t matter.”


Office environment plays a role: Survey

Physical workplace elements such as office furniture can factor into employee well-being, according to Denis Mathieu, president of Novexco, an office supply distributor in Montreal.

The majority of Canadians believe they do not work in the best possible environment, he said, citing data from a 2018 survey of 1,001 workers conducted by Hamster, a subsidiary of Novexco.

As the Canadian population ages and family values change, so too must the work environment — in some cases, it’s as important as the job itself, said Mathieu.

Work environment satisfaction varies by generation, he said.

“Baby boomers are very pleased at work. They don’t ask for a lot. You give them an office and they will be pleased with that office.”

It is gen-X workers and millennials who aren’t as happy with their office surroundings — and employers must take note if they hope to attract top talent, said Mathieu.

“All sectors in Canada are facing significant challenges in talent acquisition and retention,” he said.

“Employees are the most important resource for a company and we believe it is essential to fully understand their aspirations and needs to better meet them in order to have a competitive advantage.”

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