Colleague relationship

Mental Health Awareness Week: How to Improve your Work Relationships

These work chums all look like they get on, don’t they? This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year its focus is on relationships. Healthy relationships are essential to good mental health, and it’s important to remember that this goes for ALL relationships, not just those with friends and family. In fact, some research has suggested that relationships at work are more important to our overall sense of wellbeing and satisfaction in our job than any other factor; we also know that people leave managers not companies. Investing in your relationships at work, particularly as a manager, is a no-brainer.

The Mental Health Foundation, who run Mental Health Awareness week, are asking everyone to make a relationship resolution – a pledge to take specific action to nurture or improve a relationship you have. This might be calling your mum without fail every Tuesday, it might be turning off your phone while you’re having coffee with your friend. I’m inviting you, as a manager, to spend more time getting to know your team.

Being a manager isn’t easy, and it can be a real challenge to talk to your team about anything other than work: there isn’t time and it doesn’t feel appropriate or relevant. But, in fact, there are a multitude of very valid reasons to do exactly that, including:

  • Building trust – if your staff feel you are interested in them, they will trust your decisions more, and vice-versa
  • Increasing motivation – people enjoy working and do better work for people they like
  • Mutual understanding – the better you know your staff, the easier it will be to provide the right kind of support to resolve any issues when things go wrong

And the list goes on. All of these, obviously, have a direct impact on productivity, quality of work and staff loyalty. Like I said. It’s a no-brainer.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

One very simple yet highly effective way to start is just by having regular catch-ups to ask about the employee and how they are. And it doesn’t need to impinge on productive work discussions, or feel inappropriate, intrusive or irrelevant.

Here’s a useful structure to use for all your catch-ups:

  1. Support – start by asking how your employee is. It’s an easy opener, but you need to make sure you listen to the response and respond accordingly. If it appears cursory or disingenuous it will have the opposite effect to that which you intend, but if you get too drawn in it may feel intrusive or veer the conversation off into territory you’re not comfortable with. Chances are, though, they will simply appreciate being asked. Over time, if you are consistent, they will understand that there is a space to talk about anything should they want to, and you’ll see the results of your improved relationship in both the work they do and the openness they come to you with any issues.
  2. Task – this is when you can talk about the job at hand. Things that are going well or not well, progress on particular projects, resource needs etc etc. The stuff that is directly relevant to how the work is progressing. The stuff that, perhaps, you’re more used to talking about. It’s important to deal with this second, though, in case there are any personal things going on that may affect the task at hand. If there are, you can then discuss how to manage these so the job still gets done here. You’re building your relationship and making sure the job gets done at the same time.
  3. Development – finally, end the catch-up with a brief discussion about any training or professional development needs the employee may have. Even if you don’t have a formal training or development budget, it’s still important to understand what gaps they feel are there so that, again, they can feel listened to. It may lead to a more useful, open discussion around what could be done in lieu of a formal programme than would have happened otherwise. And that reinforces that trust even further.

Over time, using this structure for regular catch-ups sends the message that your employee is valued as a person, and that they are supported. If they ever happen to be struggling with anything at work – whether due to personal reasons or otherwise – they are much more likely to be open with you about it now, and you can then work together to find a resolution rather than suffering unexplained and unresolved poor performance, leading to disengagement or disciplinaries or worse. The mental health charity Mind have some really great resources on how to have better conversations with your staff, particularly around issues of mental health, which include stress, probably the most common mental health issue experienced at work. I’d recommend having a look at these for some really clear guidance.

So those are my tips for you in making your relationship resolution at work. 1) have regular catch-ups with your team; 2) use the Support – Task – Development structure to nurture your relationship and still keep it focused.

Let me know how you get on!

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