How relationships matter at work: Secret for a future-ready career


Professional Development

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How relationships matter at work: Secret for a future-ready career

Maintaining good relationships at work is important for fostering a positive workplace culture, improving productivity, job satisfaction, promoting teamwork and collaboration.
  • Ekta Handa

19 May

It is not possible to have a successful career without meaningful relationships to make it happen. | Representational image via Pexels

In her insightful 2012 book, Who's That Sitting at My Desk, the sociologist Dr. Jan Yager throws light on how to succeed in careers by mastering workplace relationships. Building on an international survey of 400 professionals and over 100 interviews, Yager coined a new word to describe unique relationships that govern the workplace- she calls it a “workship”. It is stronger than a transactional relationship but not as deep as a friendship. She emphasises how healthy workships, improve productivity and workplace happiness.

Many believe that focusing solely on professional growth is sufficient for a successful career. However, this isn't the case. In order to have a future-ready career, you need to focus on relationships. How well we do at work depends a lot on how many people we know who can support us. Going beyond routine networking or collecting visiting cards, it is about creating meaningful relationships with the people we work with. Relationships with colleagues, seniors, business partners, and valuable stakeholders will help you generate far superior career outcomes. In this blog post, we'll explore how relationships matter at work and how they can help you have a successful career.

Also read: The secret to career, money and happiness: Financial planning

The benefits of having good relationships at work

It is not possible to have a successful career without meaningful relationships to make it happen. There are some careers that depend almost entirely on good relationships. Real estate agents, Consultants, PR executives, and even police detectives need effective relationships to produce results. This is equally true for working professionals in typical office roles. In addition to internal colleagues and superiors, we also need to have exceptional connections with external partners, clients, and important stakeholders

There are a number of benefits to having good relationships at work including”

You will produce results faster and more consistently : Cultivating a number of valuable relationships across your work ecosystem (inside and outside) means that any problem or opportunity can be quickly tackled by reaching out to the right people.

You’re more likely to succeed : Relationship management will boost the chances of your getting promoted and earning higher salaries. Entrepreneurs can create higher value and profits for their ventures. For self-employed professionals, relationships are their lifeblood.

You’ll be happier : Studies have shown that people who have good relationships at work and in social situations are generally happier than those who don’t. This is because they feel supported by their colleagues and friends and enjoy going to work each day.

You’ll live longer : A research analysis of 148 case studies found that people who had positive relationships at work were 50% more likely to live longer than those who didn’t have positive social relationships. So not only will you be happier, but you could also live longer!

The different types of workplace relationships

There are different types of work relationships that can exist between employees, and these can have a significant impact on the workplace dynamic.

  • Hierarchical relationships form the backbone of most workplaces, where employees are organised on the basis of their position in the company's hierarchy. The “reporting manager-subordinate employee” relationship is typically seen in organisations or departments with a traditional structure. It can impact organisation behaviour, both positively and negatively. On the one hand, it provides clear lines of authority and accountability, but on the other, it could restrict collaboration between individuals, due to the strict rules and emotions governing hierarchical relationships.
  • Another type of work relationship is the peer-to-peer relationship, where employees work together on the same level, collaborate and share responsibilities. This type of relationship helps build highly productive, innovative, and efficient organisations. However, it needs careful handling and sustained training because collaboration needs to minimise conflict and harmonise multiple working styles. To get the best out of such a relationship, one needs to be able to take people along and build skills to lead without authority.
  • The third type of relationship is increasingly the norm, especially in matrix organisations- where team members report to more than one person in the same organisation. These leaders need not even be within the same department or hierarchy. For example, the head of marketing in a company may be accountable to the head of manufacturing for service-related issues,but she would otherwise report directly to the managing director.. Such a relationship could also be called a “dotted line” relationship, where some authority is exercised, but not entirely. In other cases, there could be a duality of reporting, with the administrative reporting manager being in one department and the functional reporting being in another.

For example in multidivisional companies with branch offices, the senior-most manager would be the administrative head of the branch. But people working for individual divisions would report directly to their line managers. Imagine the branch office in Kochi, of a diversified FMCG company. The seniormost manager, designated the branch manager, is from the foods business. All the personnel in the office have to take his permission for specific local activities and also for administrative facilities within that branch. But the Oral care manager will not report to the Branch manager for her department’s performance related issues, but instead report to her regional manager sitting in Hyderabad.

Matrix organisations are increasingly the trend and professionals need to learn how to manage the complex demands and benefits of such structures.

  • A fourth type of work relationship is the mentor-mentee relationship, where a more experienced employee guides and trains a protege or preferred junior colleague. This type of relationship often lasts the entire career of a mentee. Apart from professional development, mentors also help their wards to get better career opportunities. Since there are obvious quid-pro-quos and conflict of interests in a mentorship situation, it can create uncomfortable conditions and be a source of office politics.

It is not just individuals who need to recognise the value of relationships. Understanding the different types of work relationships can help organisations promote a positive and collaborative workplace culture.

Also read: Growth mindset: The secret of successful professionals

How to build and maintain positive workplace relationships

  • Regardless of the hierarchy, treat all your colleagues equally well, with respect and professional courtesy.
  • Start building strong friendships at work that can transcend companies and careers. A recent report by Gallup says that having best friends at work offers emotional support. Having such relationships increases the chance of good workplace results.
  • Recognise that workplace relationships do not happen overnight. They are the consequence of carefully choreographed continuing behaviours between you and your co-worker. Carmelli and Russo have created an exceptional concept to describe this process - Micromoves. These are small steps taken everyday between the two co-workers as they go through positive and negative experiences in creating the larger relationship. They further elaborate that employees who feel respected and well regarded both by their senior and their peers have a better likelihood of positive professional and personal development
  • Become an exceptional team player and work hard to demonstrate collaborative skills and put your team before your own needs. Avoid office politics, malicious rumours, and backbiting. Try not to be part of office groups or negative forums.
  • Don't treat people as means to an end. Build genuine relationships and try to participate in the lives of your colleagues and stakeholders. Stay in touch even if you have changed jobs or careers and always offer a helping hand. Some day the favour will be returned.

The quality of our professional relationships defines the limits of our careers. If we start building productive relationships with our seniors, colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders, we can be assured of better career outcomes. Start today and strengthen those bonds with your first micromoves.

Also read: What is a future-ready career?

Tags : Career, Future ready

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