If your efforts to boost employee engagement lack a focus on fostering workplace relationships, chances are your initiative isn’t yielding satisfactory results.

The importance of workplace relationships is crucial for managers and HR personnel, as highlighted in SHRM’s 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report. According to the report, 77% of participants considered relationships with coworkers to be a top driver of employee engagement. Beyond engagement, the quality of these relationships significantly affects company loyalty, job satisfaction, productivity, and other factors. When employees have strong connections at work, it fosters prosocial behavior such as collaboration and camaraderie. This, in turn, enhances their loyalty towards the company and their colleagues, and increases their perceived psychological value in their daily work. To cultivate a highly efficient workforce, organizations should prioritize building relationship-centered environments and comprehend the various influences on workplace relationships.

What types of workplace relationships matter?

The contribution of each individual on the relationship spectrum is significant in shaping employee engagement within the work environment. Relationships at work are influenced by two main factors: interaction, which refers to the frequency of communication and connection between two people, and relatedness, which pertains to the level of shared interests or commonalities between individuals. It is important to note that relatedness cannot be established without some degree of interaction. If two employees do not interact, they do not have the opportunity to discover their common interests.

The following chart illustrates where different types of relationships can be placed on this spectrum. For instance, a coworker with whom you collaborate regularly and share similar interests would rank high in terms of both relatedness and interaction. On the other hand, an acquaintance from a different department might score low in both aspects.

The worth an individual employee gives to their work and their role within a company is not solely determined by the individual, but rather by a collective value system formed through interpersonal communication among all employees. Individuals who have strong connections and interact frequently have a significant influence on an employee’s level of engagement, as they can provide accurate evaluations of their performance.

However, even individuals who have limited connections and interactions play a crucial role in fostering engagement. Despite having minimal day-to-day interactions, these employees still share the same physical and digital spaces as you do. Through simple verbal and nonverbal cues, they communicate their appreciation for their peers’ work. Even a small gesture like a smile can convey gratitude and recognition to others. Conversely, the absence of these cues would indicate the opposite.

To enhance engagement levels, it is essential to prioritize these relationships within the work environment. By removing barriers that hinder communication and creating a space where employees can freely establish common connections based on their shared interests, engagement can be maximized.

What does a relationship-centric workplace look like?

Every relationship within the workplace holds significance, but it is particularly valuable to foster connections between employees who share common interests and frequently interact. Rather than merely encouraging a cordial environment, it is preferable to cultivate an atmosphere where such employees can develop strong bonds and become best friends.

According to Gallup, employees who have a best friend at work experience numerous benefits. They are 40% more likely to receive recognition for the quality of their work in the previous week and 27% more likely to feel that their work enables them to utilize their strengths on a daily basis. Furthermore, these employees are more inclined to assist each other during challenging times and exhibit healthier stress management techniques.

So, what does an ideal workplace look like in terms of fostering relationships? Put simply, it is a space where employees actively seek connections that go beyond superficial conversations and work-related discussions. We have identified eight areas where you can initiate a focus on building relationships as a central aspect of your workplace culture.

1. Invest in face-to-face interaction

Even though digital technology has made it possible for us to communicate with anyone worldwide, the value of direct personal interaction cannot be measured. Nonverbal cues and tone of voice account for 93% of the information we convey. If feasible, it is advisable to reorganize your office layout in ways that promote face-to-face communication. Organizing company-wide events is also an effective method to encourage discussion and foster unity among employees. Additionally, if you have remote workers, which is likely the case as 37% of the U.S. workforce telecommutes, it is beneficial to invest in video conferencing solutions.

2. Improve relationships with social tools

Face-to-face interactions can be augmented with social tools that strengthen personal relationships and enable frequent, consistent interactions regardless of time or location.

3. Plan meetings and events

Allocate designated time for employees to gather and engage in activities centered around shared hobbies or interests. While these events take place in a work setting or are somehow related to work, encourage participants to shift their attention away from work-related matters and instead focus on discovering commonalities and fostering connections.

4. Exemplify the culture you crave

Merely expressing a desire for a positive culture is insufficient. It is necessary to embody it through consistent actions that foster a culture characterized by positivity, inclusivity, and a sense of belonging. By genuinely committing to these principles and exemplifying them in your actions, your employees will acknowledge your sincere efforts, leading to noticeable changes in how they engage with one another.

5. Offer recognition frequently

Consistently and regularly acknowledge the progress and accomplishments of teams. We recommend placing importance on micro-recognition, which involves providing frequent and small acknowledgements of success from both peers and management, rather than relying solely on a top-down approach for recognition.

6. Consider employee input

The act of creating and co-creating is deeply cherished by individuals, and engaging in this collaborative process can greatly strengthen relationships. Involve your employees in your decision-making procedures, actively seek their input, and take meaningful action based on the information they provide.

7. Address diverse and growing needs

Acknowledge the increasing diversity in the workplace and adopt strategies to cater to the wide range of individual requirements. Offer every employee the chance to customize their own work experience.

8. Improve relationships with the right technology

To enhance relationships and boost performance, it is crucial to employ communication technology that is specifically designed for this purpose. Prioritizing performance over relationships can lead to adverse effects and even undermine overall performance.

In order to place human relationships at the core of the workplace, corporate leaders must actively and intentionally work towards this goal. While all individuals have a role to play in this endeavor, it is essential for culture champions within the organization, such as HR leaders, talent managers, and communication experts, to take the lead. These individuals have a personal commitment to promoting a positive culture and fostering employee engagement, which sets an example for others to follow and encourages them to participate in the process.


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