How good team relationships lead to better staff satisfaction
It’s a great time for job seekers in New Zealand. 2022 has started out with a record numbers of job ads and demand for staff.

On the flip side, though, retention has become more important than ever for managers and companies striving to find ways to retain talent.

While there are many factors to achieving worker satisfaction, one that is often overlooked – but is still incredibly important – is good workplace relationships.

Research for SEEK shows that 71% of workers say that the relationship with their employers has a profound impact on their happiness at work.

Recognition from a manager or organisation is also worth a lot with 86% of respondents saying it helps them feel more valued as an employee. When they receive this recognition, 84% said they felt more satisfied with their jobs and 68% said it drives them to stay longer at their jobs.

By nurturing strong, healthy and impactful workplace relationships – ensuring your employee understands their true value – you can achieve better retention rates as a manager or workplace leader.

The benefits of building strong working relationships

Fostering good relationships with your employees can yield tangible benefits for your workplace. This might include higher levels of employee engagement, increased productivity, better workplace collaboration and a generally positive view of your organisation.

As Tanya Bateman, Head of Human Resources at Roy Morgan, explains, good relationships are an integral base layer for building not only happy but also successful teams.

“Healthy relationships with staff are invaluable,” she says. “They’re a foundational baseline for trust, openness and engagement, and set the pathway for open dialogue, creativity, and going above and beyond.”

Sabina Read, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist, explains that the reason strong relationships in the workplace are so impactful is because we, as humans, place great value on genuine connections.

“We are hardwired to connect at work and at home and everywhere in between,” she says. “Not surprisingly, healthy workplace relationships are correlated with a drop in turnover risk and an increase in job performance.

Perhaps more importantly, thriving peer relationships often count more toward job satisfaction than salaries do!”

How to build good working relationships with your employees

There’s no ‘quick-win’ approach to fostering strong relationships at work. Instead, it takes consistent effort coupled with a level of openness and vulnerability to forge strong – and long-lasting – relationships.

Read has a few key suggestions for creating fulfilling and satisfying workplace relationships:

“Managers need to make regular efforts to get to know their teams as humans, not just employees,” she says. “This can involve asking what their people need most at this time and expressing interest in supporting their teams' career aspirations.

And, above all, managers need to listen – without always responding, refuting or solving. Just listen.”

Read also encourages an overall level of transparency and vulnerability. Without this, she cautions, it’s hard for managers to build authentic trust with their employees.

“Trust is a fundamental building block of healthy relationships and requires reliability, empathy, vulnerability and competence,” she says. “Psychological safety is required for managers and their teams to feel it's permissible to make mistakes and ask questions too. Without this sense of safety, it's near impossible for people to feel genuinely connected to peers, colleagues and stakeholders at work.”

Relationship building for modern workplaces

Many workplaces are still navigating the challenges of building relationships over computer screens. Whether your team is geographically diverse, entirely remote or working within a hybrid work structure, it can be difficult to connect with people you don’t physically see every day.

For Bateman, it’s imperative to create touchpoints that go outside the usual work-related ones to combat these barriers.

“Create opportunities to have casual conversations,” she advises. “It may feel a little awkward initially, but it’s well worth the investment.

Get to know people more. Find out what delights them, bugs them and makes them laugh. Listen to what they are saying, using both verbal and non-verbal cues. Going beyond just talking about work will help build and keep relationships strong. It takes effort, but it’s well worth it.”

As well as making time for non-work-related chat, it’s important to factor in the significant impact that the last few years have had, Read says. She explains that we can’t expect work relationships to be the same as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to acknowledge that the last two years have changed the way many of us think, feel and behave, so returning to work does not mean a return to where employees were emotionally, psychologically, financially or relationally,” she says.

How to deal with difficult working relationships

Even with good intentions in mind, it can still be challenging to build and maintain strong working relationships with employees.

When difficult working relationships do crop up, Bateman says, it’s important to keep an empathetic outlook and understand why it may be occurring.

“A good starting point is to consider the underlying reasons for conflict,” she says. “Sometimes it involves some reflection and unpacking of the issues. From there, starting a dialogue and really listening to understand and share perspectives and address the issues at hand can transform relationships.”

As well as understanding the ‘why’ behind a conflict, tackling the issues that caused it head on – rather than allowing problems to get worse – is paramount, Read says.

“When we feel awkward, frustrated or hard done-by, we can withdraw, gossip or ruminate, leaving the conflict to fester,” she says. “Instead, it's better to address difficult exchanges in a timely, respectful and direct manner.

Initiate a difficult conversation by expressing interest in wanting to better understand the other person's challenges or grievances, while also expressing a desire to share your own needs.”

While establishing and maintaining work relationships takes time and effort – especially in this new work landscape – the benefits of doing so are well worth it, and can mean the difference between retaining top talent for years to come, or losing them to a competitive market.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4,000 Kiwis annually. Published April 2022.