Nurturing Our Relationships

Nurturing Our Relationships

March 9, 2015

I recently attended a mini-reunion of fellow co-workers from over 20 years ago.  It was a blast!  While we had all aged a bit physically, the camaraderie, fun, and sheer joy of being together was a magic elixir that made me feel 20 years younger (even if just temporarily).

Over the course of my career, I have come to appreciate the personal and professional relationships in my life and cherish these times together even more.  In fact, there is significant research confirming that “strong social connections and friendships are especially important factors in healthy aging.” (See the recent February 23-March 2, 2015 issue of Time Magazine.)

Unfortunately, this high degree of fellowship among co-workers is often hard to replicate.   Many workplaces are overly stressful, too political, managed poorly, and actually inhibit the formation of healthy relationships.  Gallup research indicates that 70% of workers are either not engaged or highly disengaged at work, and one of the key factors is having a friend at work.  A company may hold annual picnics, holiday parties, or happy hours to try to raise morale, but it takes a healthy work environment to organically create a high level of teamwork, productivity, and engagement.  And research shows that high levels of engagement lead to sustained business results and greater retention of talent.  (Several of the individuals from this department were promoted to much broader roles within the company.)

So what were the factors that contributed to the healthy work environment with my former colleagues? Here’s my list of the key elements:

  • Mutual Respect—The members of our department had a high regard for each other’s abilities, and we treated each other as we would like to be treated ourselves. We were neither overly-critical of others nor too laissez-faire about meeting expectations. Low performers were dealt with quickly and fairly. Individual egos were kept in check as we knew that individual success was dependent on everyone’s success. Credit for achievements and accomplishments were shared. And when mistakes occurred, we avoided placing blame and finger-pointing.
  • Meaningful Mission & Goals— The mission of our department was clear and important to all of us both personally and professionally. We knew how we were impacting the growth of the business, but more importantly, how we were impacting the lives of the company’s employees. We were committed to serving our customers and were well aware of how the decisions we made touched people’s lives. We celebrated when our goals were reached and recognized the entire team when results were achieved.
  • Communication—We talked often and openly about company issues, trends in the industry, progress with our projects, and problems that we needed to overcome. There was a high degree of transparency with little fear of conveying bad news. When conflict did occur, particularly with internal customers, we discussed issues promptly, honestly, and with the mutual respect mentioned above. We minimized meeting time to review lengthy updates and trusted that our colleagues were working equally as hard.
  • Fun—Above all, we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We laughed and joked a lot, and it wasn’t considered a waste of time. In fact, it was this wacky sense of humor that made going to work especially enjoyable, carried us through a lot of difficult moments, and contributed to our creativity and productivity.

As leaders, we can create the type of work environment that both produces outstanding results and high levels of employee engagement.  Moreover, they can be the beginning of deep and long-lasting friendships throughout life.  The relationships that I developed throughout my career continue to be a great source of support and inspiration even now.  Although I’m still very task-oriented, I try to have lunch or coffee with my friends with no particular agenda or objective other than to listen and catch up on what’s happening in their lives. Listening, staying non-judgmental, and being present are most of what it takes.

I know these friendships have made my life much richer, and perhaps may just help me live a little longer too.

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