Workplaces that no-one can stand. Employees that get away with terrible behaviour. Employers who don’t fully know or respect the rights and needs of their team. Bad workplace relationships are too common as many of us will be able to attest to in our experience. So, as an employer, there are few things more valuable than creating an environment where people can treat one another excellently. If you want to your team be the connected, collaborative group they can be, this is what you need to do.
Take a new viewpoint
One element of a workplace that will get in the way of better working relationships is unfairness. Most of that stems from the bias that can develop in employers. A good opinion can stop you from seeing problematic behaviour that gets in the way of the workplace. A negative opinion can make it a lot easier to wrongly attribute blame. Think of the ‘fair witness’ method, addressing not the person, but the action and evidence against and for.
Know their needs
If you want people to care about their fellow colleagues, the workplace, and the business at large, you have to care about them. Their needs for safety, for privacy, and for contribution to their future have to be a part of your agenda. Otherwise, you’re expecting a one-way relationship that solely benefits you. Most people want positive workplace relationships, but if their basic needs aren’t being met, they are going to grow frustrated and not have enough investment in the business to care about the collateral.
At the same time that you have to protect their rights and needs, you also have to respect them as individuals. No-one likes being micromanaged and hovered over as they do their job. After they’ve demonstrated their ability well enough to earn and keep their position, you have to let people get on with their work with the right tools and without your constant interjection. Showing a respect for their opinion is just as valuable. Someone who works on the front lines of a certain sector of your business might be able to provide insight about their job or the company’s strategies that you wouldn’t have spotted.
For respect to work, there needs to be proper responsibility for actions. Responsibility and accountability are two different things that work together very closely. You are responsible for your duties and you are accountable when those duties are failed. One of the best ways to demonstrate this to the team is by taking responsibility for the failures of the business as opposed to passing the buck. But teaching people about accountability needs to be more delicately. Feedback needs to be meted out evenly so people don’t feel like they’re being attacked. More importantly, it needs to be framed with a solution so that they’re not just left with a dead end but a way forward. Failing to show examples of accountability and responsibility in your personal duties will show your workplace that passing the buck is the way to survive under your leadership. That can be a huge obstacle to really solving workplace problems and has people blaming one another constantly.
Show the love
While accountability should be dealt with in private, to avoid embarrassment and anger, praise should be made very public. Incentivizing responsible behaviour and excellence sets the exact kind of example you want to. Thank people for doing their job and keeping things smooth, while rewarding those who go above and beyond.
Foster better relationships
Setting the right example is a good way to promote better treatment of one another in the workplace. However, giving employees to form better working bonds directly is important, too. Those individual relationships and the recognition of the people they work with can make it a lot harder for disagreements to blow up into conflicts. Creating a harmonious workplace means taking the time for team-building exercises as well as simple get-togethers that allow people to get together without the pressures of work hanging over them.
Spotting the bad influences
Sometimes, it’s not as simple as making it easier for people to get on with one another. There are some people who do a lot more to contribute to a toxic work environment. These are the people who harass and bully, who leave more work for others to do, who pass the buck constantly and compete beyond the healthy bounds. To protect the rest of your team, you need a policy for reporting and dealing with problem people in the workplace. If you can help them correct their behaviour, that’s great, but be aware that if you can’t be brave in terminating those who pose a real problem you are failing to protect your business.
The institution sets the tone
Not just with responsibility, but with things like discrimination and favouritism, you set the tone as the institution. A lack of regard for equality and things like the gender pay gap regulations and the public display of bias will show people where the values of the business are. This sets a tone that allows those toxic influences to operate more freely because you, whether you intentionally did it or not, promoted that kind of behaviour. The need for equality, respect, responsibility, and fairness need to be hard-bound into the policy of the business.
The difference between complaints and chronic complaints
Your door should always be open for legitimate complaints. If someone has broken company policy or the law, you should be ready and willing to stamp it out. What you have to be wary of, however, is those who will complain about behaviour that they simply don’t like. If you allow it, you encourage it, which can only cause employee relationships to get worse. Chronic complainers need to be offered a choice. Either you can step in and help them negotiate a better working relationship or they should keep quiet until there’s a problem worth pursuing.
A great work environment and a team that gels are two of the best things an employee can ask for. It creates loyalty, fosters excellence, and creates a workplace people will clamber to work at. It’s all up for grabs if you play it right.