When our children begin school, we anticipate that they will make friends, and we are sad for them if they don’t. When they become teenagers, we hope they will identify with healthy peer groups, and we worry about them if they fall in with the wrong crowd. When our parents grow elderly, we worry about the impacts of isolation and loneliness. Through all of life’s stages, healthy relationships are critical to personal well-being. Though we don’t always make them a high priority, our relationships with coworkers are no different.
Sadly, many people’s work lives are spent without a sense of meaningful connection to others. Consider that among family responsibilities, hobbies, community events, and the effort to get eight hours of sleep each night, many of us spend more waking hours in the workplace than in our own homes. This is a lot of time to spend in any single environment, especially if we aren’t around coworkers we like. As one of our survey participants pointedly noted, “In most cases, you spend more time with coworkers than your own family, so why not make it a positive experience?”
Disconnection in the workplace creates barriers to communication, causing people to withdraw and withhold information because they are working in isolation.
Secure Relationships Help People Be Their Best
People operate best in their personal and professional lives when they feel safe and secure. Consider what happens to a family when mistrust is present, when people don’t get along, or when their animosity toward each other is high. The usual result is tension and an atmosphere of unhealthy energy. Family members stop sharing their thoughts and feelings, and they find excuses to avoid interactions with each other. This same dynamic occurs when tension and lack of connection exist in the workplace.
We recently did some consulting work with an organization in which the manager was often “hidden away” in his office. His small department was, in essence, left to figure things out without support. They could go days without interacting with him in any significant way.
In the absence of leadership, communication and collaboration among team members crumbled. Some team members viewed two of their coworkers as toxic, but when they brought the issue to their manager, he did not deal with it. Over time the animosity festered to the point where several employees left – first on stress leave, and then permanently. Unfortunately, this is not the only workplace we have encountered in which poor relationships have led to similar results.
Having meaningful relationships within the workplace leads to a more fulfilling, enjoyable, and healthy work experience.
Disconnection Leads to Poor Communication
Disconnection in the workplace creates barriers to communication, causing people to withdraw and withhold information because they are working in isolation. Disconnection also drives unhealthy levels of conflict because people have not established the trust necessary to work through disagreements or miscommunications. At its worst, it leads to open hostility, and people become fearful and anxious. They call in sick, take stress leave, or simply do not engage. They are certainly not able to give their best efforts, and the quality of their work is predictably compromised.
We Must Prioritize Positive Connection
Given the human need for healthy social interaction and the consequences of unhealthy or insufficient interaction, organizations must place a high priority on fostering positive connections among staff. Yes, we can meet many of our needs for social connection outside of work, but having meaningful relationships within the workplace leads to a more fulfilling, enjoyable, and healthy work experience.
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