Build Strong Workplace Relationships to Build Results

With the lines between home and work getting blurrier, there is a growing opportunity to know our colleagues and staff as whole people and not simply employees. Those relationships can help build an environment of trust and mutual respect and even increase workplace morale, employee performance and job satisfaction. “You don’t completely disconnect from who you are when you go to work,” says Ann Mamer Lloyd, SVP of Distributor Sales for Ecolab and a proponent of connection and transparency to increase engagement.
If you want team members to more fully engage in their work and feel a deeper commitment to the organization, consider helping them build stronger relationships with coworkers. That’s according to the Employee Job Satisfaction Engagement Report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) where 77% of participants ranked colleague connections as a top workplace priority.
Research from Gallup even shows that employees with a best friend at work are 40% more likely to have been praised for the quality of their work in the past week and 27% more likely to say that their work empowers them to do what they do best.
Need to belong
People are social creatures and have a strong need to belong. Of course, we want to feel we are an important member of our families. But research shows that the workplace is the second most important place we want to experience that sense of connection, ahead even of our local community and places of worship.
The Center for Talent Innovation surveyed 1,000 American adults to better understand the emotional impact of belonging and created the Belonging Barometer for Ernst & Young. They found that people who feel they belong at work are more productive, motivated, engaged and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential.
When employees have stronger workplace relationships, they are also more likely to exhibit positive behaviors, such as collaboration and camaraderie, according to the SHRM study. The result can be greater productivity as employees strive not to disappoint teammates and feel a greater sense of team cohesiveness.
Make the connection
One of the greatest findings from the EY Belonging Barometer is that simply creating more opportunities for employees to check in with one another significantly increased their sense of belonging. Across gender and age, 39% of respondents reported feeling the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues checked in with them personally and professionally. They valued the check in among colleagues far more than impersonal interaction with senior leaders.
Aspects of the check in that matter most started with authenticity. Being present, curious and capitalizing on small moments to simply ask how someone was doing or if they needed any help or support.
This is a practice Ecolab’s SVP of Distributor Sales, Ann Mamer Lloyd, has ratcheted up to deal with the COVID-19 challenge that keeps many people physically separate from colleagues. Speaking in a live Q&A session on WFF Connect, she said, “I spend an hour a week now that I carve out to write notes, pick up the phone and talk to people and focus on people I might not normally interact with anymore. That’s a positive thing; people taking time for each other.”  
Use candor
One thing people really don’t want in workplace relationships is a ‘check the box’ sort of inquiry. Or the kind where the only acceptable response is a sunny smile and reassurance that everything is great. Although you aren’t looking for a gripe session, you are creating space for someone to share candidly.
If someone can let a colleague know they are overwhelmed, felt shut out of a project or lack critical information to do their job effectively, a brief connection can set the wheels in motion to address those issues before they grow.
When we share our challenges openly, it also humanizes us. And that process helps build relationships where colleagues are more willing to sacrifice for one another and work cooperatively. 
Seek new insights
Understanding staff members more fully can even lead to insights about unrealized strengths. When you learn that a coworker is helping lead a construction project at the local animal shelter, writes and performs her own music or organized a successful school fundraiser, you get a glimpse of them as the multitalented people they are. And many of those skills and experiences might translate to valuable workplace contributions as well.
Make the first move
Leaders at all levels can help build a more positive culture of connection by modeling these behaviors themselves. Mamer Lloyd received very positive responses from her team following a mid-year update she shared to bring everyone up to speed, preview the remainder of the year and offer ongoing encouragement in the face of unique challenges.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like they are on an island or they don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I think this is a time that we’re becoming more sensitive to others and I’m hoping we don’t lose that whenever we return to our new normal.”

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