Research shows that leaders who prioritize relationships with their employees and lead from a place of positivity and kindness simply do better, and company culture has a greater influence on employee well-being. employees as salary and benefits. When it comes to cultivating happiness at work, it comes down to fostering positive workplace relationships. Citing research in the field of social psychology, the authors outline five fundamental principles that make all relationships, personal or professional, thrive: 1) transparency and authenticity, 2) inspiration, 3) emotional intelligence, 4) self-care, and 5) values.
Kushal Choksi was a successful Wall Street quant who had just walked through the doors of the second twin tower on September 11 when she was hit. As Choksi describes in his bestseller, On a wing and a prayer, his brush with death was a wake-up call. Having focused primarily on acquiring wealth before 9/11, he began to question his approach to work.
Choksi’s new outlook has resulted in an entirely different relationship with her employees. While historically his leadership style was primarily transactional, he began to view employees as individuals, each with their own unique set of strengths and needs. He began to lead with compassion, kindness and authenticity instead of just focusing on efficiency. And in doing all of this, he felt more present and whole as a person than ever before. He eventually quit his corporate career to start his own businesses, and his businesses boomed. A multi-successful serial entrepreneur, Choksi sold his first company, Hubbl, a content discovery platform, for $15 million. His latest venture, Elements Truffles, an artisanal chocolate factory, is a successful pro-social enterprise that donates 25% of its profits to the education of children in India.
Choksi’s story is inspiring, but not at all surprising when considered in the context of what the research says about how effective leaders motivate people.
Data from the field of social psychology demonstrates that leaders who prioritize employee relationships and lead from a place of positivity and kindness simply do better. The most effective leaders of all (as measured by their success rates and the success of their organizations) are values-driven, transparent, compassionate, human, and recognize employees as unique individuals. As a result, their employees also perform better: they are more engaged, less likely to turn around, more loyal and more productive. Companies led by these types of leaders enjoy higher customer satisfaction, better bottom lines, and increased shareholder returns.
The fact that employees perform better when they feel respected and supported makes sense when you consider that company culture has a far greater influence on employee well-being than pay and benefits. social, as revealed by a study by Glassdoor. A research study by Julia K. Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky examining evidence from three types of studies – longitudinal, cross-sectional and experimental – showed that happiness is in turn predictive of success at work. And when you dig deeper to explore what “happiness” at work means to employees, it comes down to positive relationships.
Research confirms that our desire to feel seen, heard and recognized is fundamentally human. As a species, we have evolved to place tremendous value on our relative roles and relationships with other group members. Not feeling valued for your contributions or feeling that your worth is not recognized by others in your group activates the stress response and feels like a threat. Being rejected by your clan would put you at risk of being ostracized, which in nature was akin to death. And that’s probably why rejection activates regions of the brain similar to physical pain. It hurts.
Our sense of connection to others doesn’t just impact our mental health. In a much more concrete sense, it directly influences motivation. Research on self-determination theory, for example, demonstrates that in addition to having a sense of autonomy and freedom, work motivation is largely influenced by our feelings of connection to others. We feel inspired when we are reminded that we are not alone in our endeavors and that our experiences are not ours alone to go through. One of the things that makes burnout particularly detrimental is its inherent connection to loneliness.
All of this means that helping employees feel motivated and engaged requires more than just restructuring the nature and design of their jobs. Vacations, meditation, daycare, and on-site gyms can absolutely alleviate stress. But these things frame unhappiness as an individual condition when in reality it is a relationship problem that needs relationship solutions.
Here are five principles for improving working relationships, borrowed from the leadership literature as well as social psychology research on interpersonal relationships. Whether the context is professional or personal, all relationships thrive when you consider the following five fundamental principles:
1. Transparency and authenticity
Healthy working relationships require clear, consistent, honest and open communication, which itself is the key to trust, without which any relationship fails. Solid research shows that authenticity and transparency are essential to effective leadership. Without these qualities, employees feel ignored and dehumanized. Additionally, research by James Gross and Robert Levenson also shows that we register inauthenticity as a threat. Our heart rate quickens when we meet someone who pretends to be something they are not. Authenticity, even if it means being vulnerable, puts people at ease. In fact, vulnerability has many advantages. Learn to communicate honestly but with compassion. Be sure to listen and respond so others feel heard, seen, and valued.
In healthy relationships, people uplift each other by inspiring each other to be the best versions of themselves. One of the biggest predictors of relationship satisfaction is people’s ability to maintain a positive image of one another. When someone sees the best in us, it motivates and inspires us to be better. The same goes for employee-supervisor relationships, where research also shows that when we feel inspired by someone’s perspective on us – that is, they see us at our best day – it inspires us to improve. Whether it’s an employee or a friend, we feel valued when others recognize and celebrate our strengths. This type of interaction is deeply energizing, which further improves productivity. Everyone wants to feel respected and appreciated for their individuality. Exercises like the Reflected Best Self can help them (and you) do this successfully.
3. Emotional intelligence
How you deal with emotions (especially big, bad, and negative ones) is critical to your ability to handle inevitable conflict. Are you aware of yourself? Do you know how to successfully manage negative emotions? According to our research, one of the fastest and most effective ways to regulate your emotions is through breathing.
When communicating with others, can you read non-verbal cues? Do you know how to act with competence and compassion towards others? These skills and abilities also fuel another important attribute: the ability to exercise self-control. Research shows that our relationships, whether at home or at work, are better off when we don’t sweat the small stuff. Research also shows that our relationships thrive when we are able to occasionally put a relationship’s needs ahead of our own.
4. Take care of yourself
Maintaining a connection with others also requires maintaining your balance and sanity. Learn which mental states wear you out faster. Take care of yourself by taking your vacation and making the most of the mini-breaks. Learn recovery techniques and build resilience to stress through meditation and nature. Encourage your employees to do the same (and make sure it’s not just lip service). Set aside time just to focus on developing your own energy. It is impossible to nurture and honor the sanity and health of others if you do not take care of your own first.
Humble leaders who are compassionate, generous, forgiving, and ethical do best. They lead with benevolence and ensure the well-being of their employees. They create positive workplaces that drive superior financial performance, customer satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement. There’s also strong research showing that when teams share the same mental models, meaning they approach projects with the same expectations and priorities, they perform better. Clearly communicate goals to employees and respect differences in how you approach work. Feeling connected to others requires being emotionally and intellectually on the same page.
In healthy working relationships, everyone benefits and everyone experiences moments of genuine happiness and pleasure. Businesses thrive under such leadership. “No one brings out so much commitment and performance as leaders who can balance head and heart,” Kushal Choksi explained in an interview. “It brings positive energy and empathy to the management style. And when your team feels inspired and supported, they bring their best to work.