5 ways to improve workplace relationships

According to analytics and advisory company Gallup, employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged with their job, and feeling more connected with colleagues can boost productivity by as much as 25%.

Promoting an environment where all employees get along, with no conflict or fallings-out isn’t easy. There are a host of reasons why employees may not always see eye to eye.

However, there are a few simple steps that managers can take to encourage positive and amicable workplace relationships that are good for employees, and good for the business.

1. Define everyone’s roles

“She’s always out of the office, I never know where she is.”

“Why does he get all the interesting work while we’re left to deal with the dross?”

“I’m the only person who seems to be making an effort around here.”

Many of the misunderstandings that arise in the workplace stem from not knowing how everyone fits into the bigger picture. In an ideal world, team members should feel like cogs in a machine working towards a common goal, completely in sync. Conflicting responsibilities or missing cover,  makes the team disjointed, creating friction and can bring the whole engine grinding to a halt.

So, your first step is to ensure that everyone understands what they are responsible for, where they can rely on their colleagues, and where flexibility is expected. Having a clear understanding of what your expectations are of them, and how they need to work together, will clear up any misconceptions, and encourage collaboration and support within your team.

2. Don’t play favourites

It’s a well-known fact that the playing field at workplaces is rarely level. Everyone has their favourites and managers are no different. You’ve most likely witnessed favouritism at play at some point in your career: you see the same person getting the best projects, being first to be given new tech or training, or getting promoted ahead of everyone else.

This might be unconscious rather than intentional, but either way, it can be just as damaging to the morale of a workplace and can fester resentment and jealousy from other employees towards the ‘chosen’ ones. Not only will this disengage employees from their work, but it could also create a divide within the team that is hard to repair.

As a manager, you need to develop an awareness of your own unconscious bias and make sure you treat every employee fairly. To increase the team’s overall productivity, consider everyone’s performance and potential objectively and reward or promote accordingly. Where possible, ask for input from others; colleagues, customers or other managers, and be prepared to give honest and open feedback and to defend your decisions. If possible, store the outcome of performance conversations in an online HR system, so it’s easier for everyone to stay on top of what has been agreed.

3. Promote collaboration over competition

Competition is often a good thing, as it forces us to do our best and push past our perceived limitations.

However, as the crisis in the financial sector demonstrated, competition can have negative consequences. If people are constantly pitted against their colleagues, and judged on their personal performance, it encourages them to prioritise personal gains and might even undermine others’ work, potentially harming the company in the process.

Promoting a more collaborative approach will not only unite employees under the same company mission but will also enable improvement of their performance through peer learning.

That may mean shifting the culture of the company from one that is about individual goals to one that focuses on rewarding or acknowledging team effort. Online portals where team members can share their work or ideas and receive support and feedback can develop a more collaborative experience. Making them feel more like a team instead of personal rivals can make the workplace a more harmonious environment instead of a battlefield.

4. Mediate in sour relationships

In an ideal world, everyone would get along with one another and would come to like everyone they work with. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world, so you’ve probably noticed co-workers who refuse to get along.

As a manager, it’s important to be aware of the relationship dynamics at work, so you can nip emerging conflicts in the bud before they impact the rest of the team. You can’t afford to take sides or ignore the issue altogether, in the hopes it will all blow over.

A first step could be to meet with both parties to see if you can help them resolve the underlying problems. If the differences are down to different personalities or styles of working, consider whether you can avoid situations where they are likely to disagree – for example, by putting them on different projects. At the very least, you need to make it clear that you expect them to act professionally and not to let personal conflicts impact the overall morale of their teams or the wider workplace.

By acting as a mediator and setting guidelines and as soon as disagreements appear, you’ll help to avoid people taking sides, and further souring relationships at work.

5. Make work fun

Work is not supposed to be fun, well at least that’s what we’ve been told. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. Social activities provide the opportunity for colleagues to get to know each other in a more informal setting. Not only does this improve working relationships between colleagues, but the stimulation of changing things up with casual gatherings can keep employees engaged and encourage creativity. It doesn’t have to be anything grand. The occasional team lunch or after-work drinks or maybe even a games night requires only a little effort to organise but can really make a huge difference in improving workplace relationships. Consider the different ages, abilities and interests of your team members when planning events and remember that not everyone will be up to socialising with colleagues – and that’s ok.

People who are in good spirits and feel that they are in great company tend to be more productive and perform better overall, so promoting pleasant workplace relationships is extremely beneficial for smooth business operations. How do you encourage positive relationships at your workplace?

First published on 19 April 2017

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