As Social beings we need people to thrive. Everything we do revolves around other people, whether at home or at work; whether we have a service or product to sell or buy. To show the great effect of social interactions on humans a recent study conducted by Harvard University* shows that the quality of our social interaction is the #1 predictor of longevity, and places it higher than exercise, healthy feeding, and other health indicators like no smoking.
Many people I know recognize the role of relationships in their lives but not even one person I know has prioritized relationships with colleagues; many do not think that the pool for social well-being includes their colleagues, the people they work with. For a long time, I have noticed that there has been much vilification of colleagues and relationships at work. The summary of what I hear people say is this: ‘the organization does not love you. It is there to make profits, it uses the people to do this & everyone looks out for himself, it is often a dog-eat-dog setting. Your colleagues are not your friends, so don’t attempt to bring friendships in here’.
I have not been in a work environment that is that toxic but I have had it quite close & I know it can even be worse and is for many people. But everyone, no matter their ideology would wish relations at work were much better. It is indeed a great blessing to have colleagues as friends who share our values and are committed to seeing great outcomes for us.
Up until recently, I thought that colleagues are just a means to an end. Who wants to be my friend, I befriend, who is ready to work, I work with… but quite a lot has changed. I work with a wonderful team & I have seen how my teammates have contributed to or detracted from my peace and well-being overall depending on the behavior I am able to elicit from them. I have also enjoyed great friendships with people in the office who care about me & support me.
That has made me give great thought to this matter. Just like family, friends, and neighbors, colleagues are a unique category of relationships. I realized that as the family, for example, has its set of characteristics, colleagues also have theirs and these include certain rights, responsibilities, and obligations. Just like parents must provide for their wards, be kind, and support each other to thrive and succeed, colleagues must meet certain minimum levels of obligations and responsibilities like providing input, supporting each other to grow and bridge competency gaps, being kind, respectful and of course, extending all natural courtesies.
On average, we spend about 8 – 10 premium hours in 232 days out of 365 days in a year with our colleagues. If time is the essence of life & social interactions the elixir of longevity then we must make our relationship with our colleagues work to our advantage. The options are that we’d either live together & thrive or suffer dire consequences, together, still.
From when we join the workforce the best of our productive life is spent with people we work with & if we can develop good relationships we will tap into a deep drench of great & satisfying life.
So check this out:
- if colleagues are a distinct category of relationships like family and neighbors,
- If we spend the best and most of our lives with colleagues more than any other relationship group
- If what happens with colleagues determines whether we will truly be happy and productive in our other relationships
- If it is possible to develop great relationships that last a lifetime by meeting the rights, obligations & responsibilities of colleagues
- If cooperation with colleagues as in all other relationships serves us best on all fronts than does competition:
Then, it is best that we ensure that we make all the necessary effort (human & divine) to have a great relationship with our colleagues in the mold of friends or in the least be friendly and peaceable with our colleagues to the best of our abilities. Remember that for 35 years and more ‘We must live together as brothers or perish together as enemies’ – Martin Luther King – the choice is up to us whether we will make our workplace a neutral place, a toxic one, or a place of bliss as many people have done.
When colleagues work harmoniously together, cooperate, and deliver results, the individual benefits the most. But the organization reaps the greatest benefits and that is why the organization must champion the elimination of toxicity in the workplace and engender close working relationships. Profits, service delivery at the highest level, employee engagement, strategy execution, and many more are the benefits. Thus, HR functions like employee welfare and relations, and HR business partnering must be strengthened at the highest levels of the organization to ensure that peace, harmony, and cooperation reign among employees.
Organizations must work to reconsider work practices & engender cohesion. But we will not entirely leave to our organization something as important as our peace of mind and growth! Start with your Team, Office, and Department. Be kinder, more compassionate, empathetic, and considerate. Let us help our teammates to grow both professionally and on personal levels (within the boundaries that both of you agree on). As our workmates align with our values, let us seek opportunities to become & deepen friendships through visitations and sharing of resources. Then see the world transform before you in a grand way.
Organizations must develop initiatives that help people bond, even if it is at professional levels. Efforts must be made to identify and root out all indicators of toxicity including all forms of harassment. Work outings, Dinners & picnics, – children & family at work, team bonding exercises, and games must be introduced; even if what it does is lay the foundations for relationships to develop.
For 35 years or more, our colleagues will maintain a constant presence in our lives & the best of our time will be spent with them. Will we be aloof to them and seek companionship elsewhere? Will we be friends and friendly and develop bonds that help us thrive? Will we endure or ignore them or be cordial? The choice is ours. I choose to help and be friends with my colleagues. What about you? If you are not quickly dismissive, you may find some pearls in your workplace as I have.
*Harvard Study of Adult Development started in 1938.
Picture credits: Cover: https://www.dannybrown.me/2008/10/05/the-true-meaning-of-social-media/; Friends: https://psychology.org.au/for-members/publications/inpsych/2018/august-issue-4/building-positive-social-connections-national-ps; lonely lady: https://www.cleverism.com/what-to-do-when-you-have-no-friends-and-feel-lonely/; Colleagues: https://drjohngkuna.com/social-animals-how-our-minds-construct-social-reality/; Clock: https://www.law365.co/blog/supplier-contract-terms