How to foster an environment focused on relationship building

“Relationships in the workplace” seems like a topic HR would have a fit over before making couples sign a disclosure that protects everyone in case of a nasty breakup. But professional relationships are a different animal altogether, and relationship building reflects that altered state. 

For anyone eyeing a professional future, learning how to build meaningful relationships in the workplace can positively influence everything from office morale to the timing of your next promotion.

What does relationship building really mean?

Relationship building is the practice of creating and nurturing the bonds you have with the people you work with. This could be your cubicle mate, the person who makes your latte at the company coffee cart or your boss — basically any work-centric relationship that can be mutually beneficial can similarly benefit from putting time and effort into developing a deeper more meaningful connection.

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you need to share your deepest, darkest secrets with Hal from marketing.

Why does relationship building matter in the workplace?

More than half — about 51% — of American workers aren’t engaged. That means they’re essentially indifferent to what happens at work. They don’t hate their job, but they don’t like it either. 

That kind of passivity is dangerous because it can breed discontent among other employees as well. Disengaged employees are also the ones who show up to work but leave their energy and dedication at home. You’re getting the person, but not their passion. They’re placeholders.

Encouraging employees to build relationships helps them feel more engaged with their colleagues, their supervisors, and by extension, with the organization as a whole. Imagine the difference between setting off Monday morning knowing you’re going to an office where you don’t really talk to anybody or have anything in common with your colleagues (or so you think) versus a scenario in which you’re happy heading into the building because you can’t wait to tease Chris about the American Idol results last night or you want to hear how Vanessa’s first camping trip went.

Sometimes it’s as simple as having a comfortable rapport so you’re happy to work together without awkward silences. You start to understand each other’s tics and preferences, and it makes executing special projects and working against stressful deadlines that much easier. But it takes effort to become that, well, effortless. And that’s where relationship building comes in.

What does relationship building between coworkers look like?

All relationships are grounded in trust. And in order to trust someone, you have to feel like they’re being authentic, which requires vulnerability. Most importantly, to get those things from someone, you have to give them as well. Being yourself, being open to critiques, responding amicably to feedback and telling anecdotes about your life are all ways to let people in. Here are some more:

  • Speaking positively about the people you work with and trying not to allow negative chatter or gossip to sneak through
  • Complimenting colleague’s accomplishments and/or skills — but only when you really mean it (remember, authenticity is paramount)
  • Address conflicts head on, talking directly with the other person/people involved and trying for a quick and positive resolution
  • Offer assistance if it looks like a coworker needs it and accept help when it’s offered
  • Ask questions about a coworker’s background or life, sticking to appropriate topics
  • Participate in extracurricular activities sponsored by work or invite others to join you for bonding experiences outside the office like Friday night bowling or a multi-family picnic
  • Pepper your day with simple connections like saying hello and goodbye and sending handwritten thank you notes at the end of a project or if someone does you a favor

How can you foster relationship building in the workplace?

For managers and others in supervisory roles, there’s an opportunity and even a responsibility to foster relationship building at every level of your organization. Helping your employees build connections can boost everything from job satisfaction to company loyalty to productivity, all massive wins for the organization, for your team and for you.

One of the easiest things you can do is to lead by example. Take the time to walk around the office and check in with your employees. Ask them about their day and follow up on previous conversations. Plan events where employees can socialize. Recognize individual and team accomplishments. 

Offer feedback, balancing constructive criticism with more positive notes. Use technology such as virtual water coolers and project management platforms to help work-from-home employees stay connected and engaged.

There’s proof relationship building works, too. Employees who have a best friend at work are 43% more likely to have recently been recognized for their professional accomplishments. Not everyone has to be joined at the hip to be productive either, it’s just a matter of putting connectivity first so productivity will follow. Learn more about how KeepWOL helps build strong relationships and take your organization to the next level.