Management of Relationship at Workplace

Management of Relationship at Workplace

Healthy and positive relationships have been identified as one of the pillars of wellbeing. A healthy relationship can be the most important source of life satisfaction and wellbeing. The quality of relationship at the workplace matters not only for the employees’ ability to flourish personally, but is also likely to enhance their sense of achievement. In fact, the pro-active intervention to promote high levels of social capital across all levels of an organization can add value to the organizational performance and embed the economic success of the organization.

All organizational activities occur in the context of relationships, even in a multi-locational organization, where the co-employees operate in different physical locales. Relationships are the essence of living systems and the basis of organization. It is through relationships that systems maintain balance, chaos becomes order, and fragmentation is made whole. In an organizational context, it is important to focus attention on ‘how a workplace organizes its relationships; not its tasks, functions, and hierarchies, but the patterns of relationships and the capacities available to form them’.

Performance of any organization depends on the performance upon its employees. Employees’ performance in turn depends on their ability to effectively interact with their superiors, subordinates and co-employees within the organization and customers, suppliers and general public outside. Interpersonal relations, therefore is a very important issue involving any organization. Most organizations have people problems rather than business problems. People problems are due to faulty interpersonal relations, which hinder the attainment of organizational goal. Efforts are to be made therefore to enhance the interpersonal skills of the people at work. Interpersonal relationships at work have an advantageous impact on both organizational and individual variables.

Employees are supposed to build and maintain positive relationships with others in the workplace. The term ‘workplace relationship’ normally refers to all interpersonal relationships in which individuals engage as they perform their jobs, including supervisor–subordinate relationships, peer-coworker relationships, workplace friendships, romantic relationships, and customer relationships. Building of positive workplace relationships is vital for the success of both for the employees and the organization.

The workplace relationship is defined as the information exchange between individuals and groups for the completion of the workplace goals and objectives. The quality of the employees’ workplace relationships determines its impact on the performance. The processing of information enhances the performance of the employee and the organization since well-informed employees are less uncertain about the target goals and objectives for making better decisions. Certainly, some employees are better informed than others because the amount of information and resources received are likely to be affected by the quality of their workplace relationship.

Effective group interaction, team-working and harmonious relationships between employees are essential to the productivity of an organization. In order for groups and teams to function well within the organization, the employees need to feel valued and to respect the feelings and emotions of the other group and team members. Employees need to look at their own behaviour and the effect it has upon other employees, as well as understanding the behaviour of other employees and the effect which has upon them. Achieving a balance is not always easy. There are several ideas and techniques which can help the employees to analyze their own and other employees’ approaches to building effective professional relationships, and to decide on practical steps to improve effectiveness in working with other employees, building on previous experience and expertise. Employees at all the levels play a crucial role in providing professional support and guidance.

Relationships in the workplace are particularly important and consequential interpersonal relationships. For example, the employees are likely to spend as much, if not more, of their time interacting with co-employees than with friends and family. Even when they are not at work, they spend much of their time talking and thinking about work. They are largely defined by what they do for a living and with whom they work. Not surprisingly then, in many ways, their workplace relationships define who they are. In contrast to ‘acquaintances’ or people who have limited contact with one another, an interpersonal relationship is characterized by repeated, patterned interaction over time. Unlike acquaintanceships, relationships are enduring, although some endure longer than others. Interpersonal relationships are also characterized by a feeling of connection beyond that experienced in an acquaintanceship. Again, relationships vary in the extent of this connection, but generally speaking, the closer the relationship, the stronger and more emotional is the connection.

The employees’ lives at their workplace have undergone dramatic changes, especially since the arrival of digital communications in the organization. What the employees do, how they do it, the influence of technology, globalization, and employees knowledge and education, all have altered the relationship of the employees with work and therefore relationships at the workplace. The changing nature of work at the workplace has affected the employee’s lives. There are now multiple relationships the employees have at work for example (i) with colleagues, team members, line managers, and contract workers, (ii) with employees of other internal departments associated with the work, (iii) with personnel external to the organization having association with the work, and (iv) with management etc. These multiple relationships which the employees are to have at the workplace are influencing a new paradigm for relationships. Several workplace practices are required to be oriented to support a healthy and positive relationship for employee’s wellbeing and to enable them to flourish at work.

Although the roles in multiple relationships differ, some of the basic premises for a positive relationship are common across all of them. Knowing how to establish a positive relationship, use of emotional literacy in everyday communications and addressing of difficulties with a thoughtful ‘win-win’ approach can make all the difference to the working environment, even where communications are primarily conducted via technology. Although a strong industry specific knowledge base is essential, still the quality of the relationship in the organization is ecological. It does not depend solely on the micro level, which focuses on interactions between individuals, but also on the management, the organizational culture, and expectations across the workplace. Leadership style, communication practices, strengths-based approaches, and human resource practices and policies, all contribute. This ranges from how diversity is valued, what happens when an employee returns after a long leave, how meetings are conducted, the norms for interaction and teamwork, consultation procedures, induction practices, and how someone is acknowledged for long service. All these things and more matter to the working environment are healthy and not toxic.

The nature of interactions can either promote trust, respect and collegiality, enabling meeting of the mutually agreed goals or doing the opposite. The organizational management is required to look into the ‘relational micro-moments’ and how the experience of a high quality connection can leave employees feeling more energized. Individuals seek out interactions which make them feel energized and avoid those which deplete them. This can mean that someone will approach a less knowledgeable colleague because that person feels more accessible. Relational energy is a construct which captures how interactions impact on motivation and are positively associated with job performance,

Workplace relationships affect employees’ satisfaction with the job, as well as their ability to advance and gain recognition for their achievements. When they build positive relationships, they feel more comfortable with their interactions and less intimidated by others. They feel a closer bond with the people they spend the majority of their time working with. For many employees, relationship building is not natural or easy to do. However, most of the employees refuse to admit this since it is considered as a basic common-sense concept, and they assume they already know how to do it. However, everyone, even the most engaging personalities, can improve their skills in this critical area.

The employees are to create the environment where constructive relationships are maintained. Managing relationships and behaviours with professional detachment requires a degree of self-awareness, skill and sensitivity in dealing with other people. This kind of working environment throws up a whole range of pressures on the day-to-day relationships which the employees need to maintain. A key aspect of managing relationships is being honest, open and direct. This is the core of assertive behaviour.

It has been seen that friendships at work can improve individual employee attitudes such as job satisfaction, job commitment, engagement and perceived organizational support. In addition, employee’s negative work attitudes can be mitigated when peers act as confidantes to discuss bad and unpleasant work experiences. In the present day environment, there is a need for work to be done as quickly as possible, and for this purpose, working professionals need to have good relationship between them. Healthy professional relations can be maintained by effective workplace communication and team work. Interpersonal relationships gradually develop with good team participation with other members. On the other hand, these relationships can deteriorate when a person leaves the group and stops being in touch.

Interpersonal relationships in the workplace are an inescapable reality for all those working in the context of an organization. It can be in the context of these relationships that the employees find a social purpose. The negative interpersonal relationships such as aggression, social exclusion, and incivility have got negative consequences at work both for the organization and the employees. From an employee perspective, these consequences are higher levels of job dissatisfaction, intent to turnover, and negative physical and mental health.  On the other hand, the positive interpersonal connections are associated with better individual and work-related results. Positive interactions can foster positive interpersonal relationships, and it is from the development and maintenance of these relationships that many employees get fulfillment. In the positive relationship, employees find an opportunity to fulfill their ‘need to belong’.

The ‘need to belong’ is a fundamental human motivation, guiding both voluntary and involuntary behaviours, thoughts, and emotions. Two criteria are to be met to satisfy the need to belong. The first is that the interactions are to be frequent and non-aversive and second is that they are to occur in the context of a stable and enduring relationship. For many employees, beyond family interaction, the frequency and regularity with which they interact with their co-employees is rarely matched. Hence, the workplace fosters the development of recurring interactions and prolonged relationships. As such, the ‘need to belong’ provides an integrative framework for the positive interpersonal relationships at work.

For positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace, it is essential to know the distinction between a connection and a relationship in the workplace. A connection involves the mutual awareness of both the parties that an interaction has taken place but it does not imply intimacy or that the interaction is more than momentary. A relationship, on the other hand, develops from the recurrence of these interactions or connections. Hence, both connections and relationships require the awareness and contribution of two individuals. Interestingly, however, ’employees’ subjective experience of their connections with others has immediate, enduring, and consequential effects on their bodies’. Therefore, for an individual to experience the effects of a connection or relationship in the workplace, it can be that only they need to appraise it as such. For this reason, an “interpersonal relationship” is considered as an individual’s subjective experience of repeated interaction or connection with another individual. A typical model for the workplace relationship is shown at Fig 1.

Fig 1 Typical model for workplace relationship

Consequences of positive interpersonal relationship at the workplace

The positive consequences, for both the employees and the organization, associated with positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace are well known. For the employees, at the broadest level, simply being a part of a social network (e.g., an organization) can reduce employee stress levels. Further, this effect is enhanced by the qualities of the employee and relationship partners. For example, in terms of formal workplace relationships, line managers who are perceived as ‘good listeners’ have been associated with employee feelings of belonging, inclusion, social significance, and togetherness. In addition, positive interpersonal relationships with mentors have been associated with improved work-related outcomes, such as increased status, promotion, career mobility, recognition, rewards, and an opportunity to establish a base of power. When the organization promotes positive interpersonal relationships, others tend to follow the example, further creating a community of belongingness.

In addition to formal workplace relationships, informal relationships (i.e., those which emerge without organizational involvement) are also associated with positive work-related and personal achievements. For example, attraction among co-employees enhances teamwork, communication, and cooperation. Workplace friendships have been associated with numerous positive results, such as increased job satisfaction, job involvement, job performance, team cohesion, organizational commitment, and decreased intentions to turnover. Further, workplace relationships have been associated with happier employees and a positive work atmosphere. Finally, in addition to positive psychological benefits, positive social interactions have been significantly associated with improved cardio-vascular activity, immune system functioning, and hormone patterns.

The benefits of positive interpersonal relationships for the organization are also manifold. For example, employee identification (i.e., one’s adoption of the defining features of the organization as defining characteristics of oneself) has been related to increased employee compliance, motivation, job satisfaction, and group cohesion, as well as decreased turnover and in-group conflict. In addition, positive interpersonal relationships are a key predictor of organizational commitment. Positive interpersonal relationships are normally positively related to team performance, as they promote individual behaviours which are aimed at increasing team efficacy and efficiency.

In short there are positive results for both the employees (e.g., improved physical health, job satisfaction) and the organization (e.g., increased organizational commitment, job performance) when there are positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

Promoting positive interpersonal relationships at work

Since there are several benefits of the positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace, there is a need that for the organization to promote such relationships. There are many organizational-level factors which support positive relationships.

Organizational level effects – There are two interactional criteria necessary for satisfying the ‘need to belong’. The criteria are to be both frequent and non-aversive and are to occur in the context of a stable and enduring relationship. For many employees, the organization itself can offer a place to belong. Employees of the same organization often interact with one another on a consistent, even daily, basis. Hence, the organization in which individuals are employed forms the overriding background of their interactions in the workplace. For many, the workplace can be an especially stable environment, in which they can expect to see familiar faces in predictable places at predictable times. Hence, the organization is required to focus on how organizations can ensure that these stable relationships are non-aversive.

At a macro level, the organization itself can be perceived as supportive. For example, it has been found that organizational support (i.e., employees’ perception that the organization values their input and is concerned for their well-being) moderates the relationship between challenge stressors (i.e., the stressful but potentially manageable demands placed on the employees) and employees’ role-based performance (i.e., employees’ performance responsibilities). In addition to the support offered by the organization, employees’ perception of their ‘fit’ with the organization can also promote positive results.

A study has meta-analytically examined the effects of employee-organization fit on the employee achievements. Employee-organization fit is defined as the compatibility between the employee and the organization, generally with respect to value similarity or goal similarity. It has been seen that employee-organization fit is strongly related to organizational commitment and job satisfaction, and moderately related to intent to quit. Hence, the more strongly employees perceive that they ‘fit’ with their organization, the better their work-related reslults seem to be.

Organization can also promote the development of positive micro-level relationships by creating and maintaining a positive organizational climate. The organization’s climate is its observable practices and procedures. It has been found that the promotion of an organizational climate of interactional impartiality, or fair and respectful communication among employees, is one way in which the organization can promote positive interpersonal relationships. A study has identified four communication criteria required for employees to perceive that they are being treated fairly, that is, communications are to be perceived as (i) true, (ii) respectful, (iii) appropriate, and (iv) justification is to be provided when necessary.

Another element of an organization’s climate is its socialization practices. It has been suggested that these practices, which can include attaching the new employees with a mentor, help teach employees the appropriate norms of interaction, which can facilitate positive interactions. It has been seen that formally and informally mentored employees are better socialized into the organization and have better work achievements than those who have not been mentored. In terms of socialization, it has been found that employees with mentors are more likely to establish successful and satisfying work relationships than their non-mentored colleagues.

In addition to interactional impartiality and proactive employee socialization practices, the line manager can also influence organizational climate. This notion is supported by a study which suggests that the relational leadership of the line manager can encourage positive interactions and connections at work. The relational attentiveness of the line manager (i.e., the capacity to perceive and react to the employee’s affective state) encourages positive interactions because such line managers can help employees sustain and repair interpersonal connections. Indeed, the line managers, as representatives of management, are more strongly related to employees’ sense of organizational belonging than are the employees’ ‘informal and social-emotional interactions with peers and proximate colleagues’

Line managers who promote a common identity and inter-dependence among employees are better able to minimize perceived differences between the employees, which results into a stronger foundation for positive interactions at the workplace. The minimization of differences has important implications for diverse organizational work groups (i.e., work groups composed of employees who vary in age, or other observable characteristics), which have become far more common in recent years. More generally, there is evidence that employees who perceive themselves to be dissimilar to their organization and/or colleagues tend to be less inclined to identify with and commit to the organization and more likely to withdraw. Hence, the minimization of perceived differences can help promote employee identification and commitment, and thus their sense of belonging.

There is evidence available which supports the role which the leadership qualities of the line manager play in cultivating positive relationships within their organization. For example, transformational leadership (a type of leadership which intellectually stimulates and inspires followers) is associated with a number of pro-social behaviours. Transformational leadership qualities encourage the development of trust among team members, and greater levels of team cohesion and friendliness which are the important elements for the creation of non-aversive interactions.

Another important leadership characteristic is the perceived fairness of a line manager’s decision-making process. It is seen line manager’s procedural fairness is associated with both employees’ relationships with the line manager as well as their relations with other organizational employees. Specifically, it has been found that procedural unfairness is negatively associated with interpersonal relationship quality of the employees, but only when they feel that the other employees actually support the line manager (i.e., when the line manager is the representative of the employees’ attitudes and behaviours). Further, it has been seen that this relationship is stronger for those employees who had a high ‘need to belong’.

A line manager’s procedural fairness also sets an example for their subordinates. The procedural fairness towards a particular employee of the organization indicates to both the employee and his colleagues that they are valued as individuals. That is, when the line managers treat the employees fairly, they are signaling their value to other employees of the organization. Line managers hence play an important role in encouraging positive connections and feelings of belonging.

Another way that line managers can help to build a positive organizational climate is through effective relational coordination. It is often argued that such coordination is facilitated by engaging in high-quality communication and high-quality relationships. High quality communication involves frequent, timely, and accurate communication which emphasizes problem-solving rather than blaming or avoidance strategies. For promoting high quality relationships, it is normally recommended that the line managers emphasize shared goals, and the sharing of knowledge about work tasks. Also, promoting mutual respect for each employee’s competence can help create a bond between employees, which can facilitate high-quality relationships at the workplace.

There are several practical actions which are needed for the promotion of an organizational climate in which non-aversive interactions among employees can develop. These actions fall heavily on the shoulders of line managers, and include an emphasis on interactional justice, procedural fairness, transformational leadership, relational attentiveness, trust development, and high quality communication. When such a climate can be promoted, an environment can be created in which employees can more readily meet the ‘need to belong’.

Group level effects – In addition to organizational membership, many employees are members of groups within the organization. These groups can be formal (e.g., work groups, teams) or informal (e.g., friendship networks). Some organizational groups can be relatively temporary (e.g., specific project work groups). However, even temporary work groups offer an opportunity for frequent interaction (the second of two criteria of the ‘need to belong’). In addition, groups can provide the social framework within which employees interpret their organization. As such, both formal and informal groups offer another opportunity for the organization management to meet the employees’ ‘need to belong’.  For example, in a study of the meta-analytic review, the employees’ perceived compatibility (i.e., fit) has been examined with their work group. Employees’ group fit has been found strongly related to co-employee satisfaction and job satisfaction. Hence, the more strongly employees perceive that they ‘fit’ with their work group or team, the better their work-related results seem to be.

In the area of work groups and teams, there has been a shift in thinking which has taken place in around last two to three decades. Where groups were once considered to be problematic for line managers, their potential benefits have since been highlighted and many employees report that they prefer to work in groups rather than alone. An employee can obtain important social rewards from the mere presence and attention of others. The presence of others offers an opportunity for the employee to be validated, recognized, and valued for the achievement.  Further, often the strong correlation between group identification and the employee’s self-esteem is under emphasized. Social identity theory states that employees base their identity, in part, on the groups to which they belong and that they tend to show a preference for their in-group even when group assignment is random.

Normally, the social identity of an employee is derived from group membership is a multi-dimensional way. That is, identification with a group is determined by the centrality of the group to the employees’ self-concept, the employees’ in-group affect (i.e., the impact of group membership on the employees’ self-esteem), and their in-group ties (i.e., their interpersonal relationships within the group). Hence, the interpersonal relationships an employee establishes with group members are one of the key determinants of employee’s identification with the group.

However, while the importance of positive interpersonal work group relationships for employees has been emphasized, their benefit for the organization (i.e., their effect on team performance) is not entirely straight-forward. Indeed, it has been argued that teams have been unrealistically described by the management who, in spite of evidence to the contrary, firmly believe in their effectiveness. In one of the studies, it has been found that while team members benefit from the fulfillment of social needs, the reduction of uncertainty, and the generation of positive work-related attitudes, there is no clear evidence to support the theory that teams yield higher performance.

In an attempt to disentangle the mixed thinking on team effectiveness in one of the studies, it has been found that when teams have high levels of knowledge and formal planning, team interpersonal processes (i.e., conflict management, motivation and confidence building, and affect management) are a significant predictor of team performance such that teams whose members had positive interpersonal relationships outperforms those which does not have positive relationships. However, when team knowledge or formal planning is not high, interpersonal processes are virtually unrelated to the performance. When interpreting the study results, it has been suggested that team complacency can be an important mediating factor which means that the ‘teams’ failure to engage in constructive controversy  can account for the observed lack of relationship between team interpersonal processes and the team  performance. Such complacency can occur, for example, when team members do not anticipate working together for an extended period of time. Under these conditions, team members can prefer to be agreeable and non-confrontational, for fear of alienating other members or embarrassing themselves. Hence, the promotion of constructive controversy, though not at the expensive of positive interpersonal relationship development, can yield greater benefits for organizations.

In addition, while there a tendency to agree that positive interpersonal relationships within teams and work groups is important for employee well-being (if not team performance), when these groups contain diverse members (e.g., individuals with different ethnic backgrounds), the situation is even more complex. On one hand, diverse groups have been associated with the generation of higher quality ideas and increased cooperation; on the other hand, they have also been associated with increased difficulty in group member identification with other group members and with the group in general.

In terms of promoting non-aversive interpersonal relationships in work groups and teams, trust has become an important feature. For example, in a study, four factors of character-based qualities of trust (i.e., ability, integrity, fairness, and openness) in line managers have been identified. It has been argued that this variable is an important predictor of positive interpersonal relationships and group processes. Further, it has been found that successful collaboration among team members, results from trust among members, as well as a willingness to collaborate and a climate of respect and communication. Also, trust can be built when members express an intention of honesty and fairness in dealings.

Social networks in the workplace – Though organizational membership offers employees a general group to which they belong, all of the members of this group cannot be known to all employees. For example, in a large organization, employees can work in different departments, on different floors of a common building, or in different geographical areas. These individuals can be less likely to interact with one another, and as such, cannot consider one another to be a part of their ‘organizational reference group’ (i.e., the set of other employees an employee considers to be his co-employee at any given time). This reference group can be conceptualized as the employee’s ‘social network’, which is defined as the structure of patterned, repeated interactions in the organization. The repeated nature, or frequency, of these interactions can help satisfy employees’ ‘need to belong’.

Social networks in the organization assume that employees in the organization are ‘embedded in networks of interconnected social relationships’.  Social networks are composed of multiple nodes (e.g., employees) which are connected by ties (i.e., relationships). There are several kinds of social networks in the workplace, such as strategic alliances, information flow, friendships, and work flow. In these social networks, there lie the inter-relationships of interest.

It have been found that employees who have more relationships (i.e., are well-connected) have higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of stress. However, the quality of employees’ relationships seems to be more important than the quantity. Thus, while examining information flow networks, it has been found that employees with zero or single relationships report less satisfaction than those who have multiple ties. Hence, being part of a network is important for employee well-being.

Within organizations, both formal and informal social networks are important elements of an employee’s work relationships. Formal networks are reflected in an organization’s official hierarchy of reporting and supervision (i.e., the organizational chart) and they often provide employees with instrumental resources, such as work-related help or advice, whereas informal (e.g., friendship) networks tend to provide emotional support.

In terms of organizational mobility, it has been suggested that the most important predictor of employee promotion is the diversity of his network relationships. In this sense, diversity refers to the network diversity. For example, the ‘third who benefits’ is the individual who connects otherwise unconnected employees (or networks), thereby filling an absence of a link between two contacts, known as a structural hole. Employees, who are able to connect unconnected others, tend to have the most opportunity to get ahead in their organizations since they are in a position of power as compared to the unconnected employees. One qualification of this, however, is that informal networks in general and those with a high number of structural holes in particular, can be difficult for the newcomers to penetrate, perhaps due to a general tendency for homophily in organizational networks. Network homophily has been found to be quite common in informal networks.

Normally, the tendency for the employees to seek out and interact with similar others is underestimated, due to the benefits associated with perceived similarity. In addition, these homophilic networks are not randomly distributed across organization levels. For example, the ‘dominant coalition’ of the organization (i.e., the decision-making network) tends to be populated primarily by the certain group of the employees. It is often argued that network homophily is a structural constraint for some employees’ groups who seek to gain access to the upper echelons of the organization, as these groups contain far fewer employees with whom they are similar. When employees of such groups do forge ties with similar others, these relationships tend to be both weaker (as their similar others tend to be more dispersed throughout the organization) and of less instrumental value (as the group employees tend to hold less power) than those ties forged among the members of the ‘dominant coalition’. Hence, while the employees become more diverse and formally inclusive, some employee groups continue to face a number of challenges with regard to access to organizational power and influence.

As previously mentioned, some employee groups can have difficulty penetrating networks rich in structural holes. However, such network access is not their only barrier. For example, the process of identification in the workplace can differ depending on the level of representation of employee’s group. It has been found that under-represented groups are more likely to be involved in networks with similar others than are majority members. Similarly, while members of such groups are equally able to develop social networks, they can be less able to integrate themselves into major group informal networks in their organization. Given the relative proportion of employees of the minority groups in positions of formal power, this discrepancy can prevent such employees from moving up in the organization at comparable rates. For these employees, connections to powerful others (e.g., a mentor) can help them to join the network. A word of caution is, however, that dependence on such an employee may not be desirable due to the limited recourse the employee would have should the powerful individual choose to sever the relationship.

It is also important to note that those employees who do not count members of the majority group in their social network tend to report higher levels of stress and lower levels of general well-being. Further, when faced with perceived discrimination, these employees often face a cyclical challenge, which is, when individuals perceive that they are being discriminated against, they are more likely to seek out the company of similar others. However, this tends to evoke the negative perception that these individuals are unwilling to adapt and fit into the main stream. Hence, the promotion of positive interpersonal relationships in networks is especially important for these groups.

Dyadic interpersonal relationships – In terms of promoting positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace, the level of the dyad is also relevant. While organizational- and group-level factors are clearly influential to the development of such relationships, ultimately it is the relationship between one employee and another which determines each employee’s sense of belonging. In addition, though there are some variables of organization and groups which are arguably beyond the control of the employee (e.g., organizational climate), organization and groups are built from the individual members and their interrelationships. For example, it has been suggested that workplace friendship provides a foundation upon which productive organizational social systems can develop and flourish. Various forms of employees’ dyadic relationships with their line managers and co-employees can be there.

Social exchange theory has important implications for dyadic relationships. According to this theory, individuals incur both costs and rewards from their interactions with other. For example, the establishment and maintenance of relationships require employees to expend both their time and effort (i.e., costs). However, employees can also receive rewards in the form of additional resources, emotional support, and a sense of belonging from their interactions. According to social exchange theory, employees are only motivated to pursue a relationship when they perceive the rewards to outweigh the costs.

In one of the meta-analytic study, the effect of employee-line manager fit on various individual outcomes has been examined. Employee-line manager fit is defined as the compatibility or similarity between the employee’s and the line manager’s values, and/or goals. Though other forms of dyadic fit (e.g., employee-co-employee) are of interest, these are less studied areas. The employee-line manager fit is strongly related to job satisfaction, line manager satisfaction, and line manager-employee exchange. Hence, the more strongly employees perceive that they ‘fit’ with their line manager, the better their work-related achievement seem to be.

A meta-analysis reviewed the influence of line manager and co-employee support. It has been found that both line manager and co-employee support significantly have predicted role perceptions (i.e., role ambiguity, role conflict, role overload), work attitudes (i.e., job satisfaction, job involvement, organizational commitment), work withdrawal (i.e., effort reduction, absenteeism, intention to quit, turnover), and organizational effectiveness (i.e., individual-directed counter-productive work behaviours, organization-directed counter-productive work behaviours, individual-directed organizational citizenship behaviours, and organization-directed organizational citizenship behaviours, performance). Line manager support has particularly strong relationships with job satisfaction, role ambiguity, role conflict, and intention to quit. In contrast, co-employee support has the strongest effects on role ambiguity, job satisfaction, and job involvement. Thus, at a dyadic level, both line managers and co-employee can have a significant impact on employee achievements.

Friendships in the workplace – Workplace friendships are ‘non-exclusive workplace relations which involve mutual trust, commitment, reciprocal liking and shared interests or values’. They are voluntary relationships in which members interact with one another as unique individuals rather than as inter-changeable role occupants (i.e., co-employee, line manager), and are defined by a combination of the degree of mutual concern and mutual interdependence beyond that required by their organizational roles. Friendships in the workplace can directly satisfy an employee’s ‘need to belong’, as these relationships are expected to be non-aversive, due to the definition of ‘friendship’, as well as frequent, stable, and enduring.

There are normally two underlying motivations for forming and maintaining workplace friendships namely (i) relationship motivation (i.e., enhancing one’s social support), and (ii) job facilitation motivation (i.e., enhancing one’s job success). Both forms of motivation are positively related to an employee’s sense of social inclusion (i.e., belonging). As such, employee’s motivation for friendship formation can be relatively unimportant to the successful satisfaction of the ‘need to belong’.

From a social exchange perspective, while there are many rewards associated with workplace friendships, there are also unavoidable costs. During a review of the line managers’ perceptions of both the costs and rewards of workplace friendships, it has been found that while line managers perceive costs associated with employee friendships (e.g., an increased potential for situations in which friend- related and work-related interests conflict, political vulnerability, and strained independent judgment), they tend to deem friendships to be important and valuable to the organization. Moreover, the line managers also take actions to facilitate friendships at work, such as the active promotion of an open and friendly organizational/work group climate, the use of teamwork, and management and employee training in a variety of skills such as trust, empathy, active listening, and the expression of thoughts and emotions.

Another index of the employee’s workplace friendships is the extent to which the employee connects otherwise unconnected employees. This position has been associated with several work-related benefits (e.g., increased power and job mobility). Though the employee benefit may not have as many direct relationships with others in the organization as those who are high in degree centrality, they tend to facilitate cooperation across organizational work units, and cooperation which is especially important in times of crisis. Moreover, such a position is associated with a high degree of informal (or social) power.

In addition to the techniques such as the active promotion of an open and friendly organizational/work group climate, and the use of teamwork, other methods for increasing the frequency and quality of the workplace friendships have also been advanced. For example, the line manager-employee exchange and team-member exchange relationships. It has been found that while high-quality the line manager-employee exchange is positively associated with workplace friendships, this relationship is moderated by the team’s affective climate. That is, when a team’s affective climate is strong, the relationship between the line manager-employee exchange and workplace friendship is stronger than when the team’s affective climate is weak. The importance of open and honest communication is also there for the facilitation of workplace friendships. The employees need to be able to discuss both their work-related emotions and their personal lives with trusted others if such relationships are to develop and their ‘need to belong’ is to be more fully satisfied.

Mentoring in the workplace – This is a dyadic relationship in the workplace which exists between the employees and their mentors. In this relational context, mentors tend to be more experienced employees who take an interest in the professional (and sometimes personal) development of less experienced co-employees. Mentoring relationships can be formally established by the organization (i.e., formal mentoring) or can emerge spontaneously in the workplace (i.e., informal mentoring). Formal mentoring programs often entail an official pairing of a mentor and an employee. Normally large organizations engage in some form of formal mentoring program. However, rather than improving belonging, formal mentoring is often associated with a sense of organizational obligation. That is, both the employees and mentors can recognize their relationship as a requirement of the organization, which can be associated with fewer intrinsic benefits for both individuals. Perhaps for this reason, formal mentoring has been found to be less effective than informal mentoring.

Informal mentoring occurs when mentors reach a point in their development at which they feel compelled to pass on their wisdom to another generation. Mentors tend to choose employees which they view as younger versions of themselves, and employees tend to gravitate to mentors whom they view as their role models. This informal selection process can be associated with increased attraction and chemistry and can lead to mutual identification or belonging. An important mediating variable for both formal an informal mentoring, however, is employees’ satisfaction with their mentoring relationship. It is seen that the employees in satisfying formal mentor relationships have better work attitudes than those in unsatisfying informal mentor relationships.

Of the dyadic relationships, the mentor-employee relationship can be the most explicit in terms of the promotion of positive work-related results. It has been generally found support for such positive results, both in the short- term and long-term. For example, it has been found that mentored employees benefited immediately from both the career-related and emotional support they derived from their mentoring relationship. In addition, mentored employees often experience future success within the organization as indexed by both their salary and promotion and their career mobility. It has been reported that mentoring programs are more successful than managerial bias-induction training programmes in the organization.

The benefits of the mentoring relationship for mentors include recognition, rewards, and an opportunity to establish a base of power. However, in contrast to the clear long-term effects found for the mentored employee, these short-term benefits are not consistently associated with mentors’ long-term outcomes. A study has distinguished between the instrumental (i.e., recognition, improved job performance) and relational (i.e., rewarding experience, loyal base of support) benefits of mentoring. It has been found that the instrumental benefits are predictive of long-term mentor work attitudes (i.e., job satisfaction, organizational commitment), whereas the relational benefits are predictive of their intentions to mentor again.

Spoiling of the workplace relationship

It is important to note that the experiences associated with positive social interactions are not simply the opposite of those associated with negative interactions, or with the absence or termination of positive relationships. Due to the fundamental nature of the ‘need to belong’, there is employees’ resistance to the dissolution of relational bonds. Specifically, the humans almost universally respond with distress to the breaking of relational bonds, a pattern which has been observed across cultures and age ranges. This distress has even been evidenced in temporary groups, whose members are aware of the transient nature of their membership.

The termination of the positive relationships suggests that the deleterious outcomes of a damaged relationship can be more negative than the advantages of a positive relationship. The positive interpersonal relationships at the organizational, group, and individual levels normally have the dissolution largely at the dyadic level. The dyadic relationships can turn bad, due to the termination of friendship, mentor-employee relationships at work.

There is possibility of the deterioration of friendship at workplace. In one of the study on this it has been found that workplace relationships deteriorate because of at least five reasons. First, the personality trait differences can become heightened at work causing friendships to break down. For example, a member of a friendship dyad can display traits which the other friend cannot tolerate, such as selfishness or disrespect. Second, personal life events which interfere with a friend’s work performance can lead friendships to deteriorate. Third, friends at work often have different expectations about how to interact with each other at work. For example, in superior-subordinate friendships, subordinates can take a superior’s reprimand more personally than in a non-friend relationship. Fourth, friendships can break down when one friend is promoted to a higher status position, leading to uncertainty on the part of the higher status individual about the appropriateness of the friendship. Promoted friend can become concerned about the appearance of favoritism if they maintain their friendships with their now lower status friends. Finally, the fifth reason, friendships can end if a betrayal occurs, such as a breach of trust.

It has been found that in most cases, friends communicate their desire to disengage indirectly, by avoiding personal (i.e., non-work) conversation, distancing themselves, and avoiding socializing outside work. The result of friendship disintegration includes personal distress, turnover, and lower job performance. There is a key reason for emotional distress from the breakdown of a friendship since the same friends have previously been a key source of emotional support. Hence, the friends now feel isolated, frustrated, and unhappy, which sometimes result in ultimately leaving the workplace.

In terms of the dissolution of mentor-employee relationships, it has been seen that mentoring relationships pass through four phases namely initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition. The latter two represent the phases during which the relationship terminates and potentially reforms as a new relationship. There are functional and dysfunctional reasons for termination. Functional termination of a mentoring relationship generally occurs when the employee has developed to the point where the relationship is no longer useful. Hence, termination enables both parties to move on to new and more challenging or helpful relationships. Once terminated, such relationships can reform as a friendship, or can simply end. In either case, the outcome is positive, or at worst, neutral for the parties involved.

In contrast, dysfunctional termination can occur for several reasons ranging from malevolent deception resulting in dysfunction, to marginally ineffective relationships resulting in lower quality mentorship. On one extreme, within some mentoring relationships, the mentor can become jealous of the success of his employee and attempt to sabotage the employee’s career. Such sabotage can psychologically harm the employee and if effective, can potentially damage his career. At the other end of the continuum, employee can simply not want to learn from mentor, thereby limiting the benefits which might otherwise be gained from a mentoring relationship.

As it is seen, relationships turn bad for a variety of reason. However, the result of a soured relationship is often the same, i.e. trust is violated. The trust, or the willingness to accept vulnerability due to positive expectations about another person’s behaviour, is a key predictor of positive interpersonal relationships. The dissolution of a positive interpersonal relationship, particularly when such relationships become acrimonious, can result from a deterioration of trust. Further, trust is often difficult to repair, particularly if the violation of trust involves deception.

Implication for science and practice

There are benefits of the importance of the development and maintenance of positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace. The benefits of these relationships, both for individual employees and the organization as a whole are usually not much highlighted. While great strides in the area of interpersonal relationships in the workplace have clearly been made, there are several areas which have impact on the interpersonal relationship behaviour of the employees. Normally, it is seen that the employees compare their own demographic characteristics with those of the other members in their work group. When these individuals perceive dissimilarities, they self-categorize with other similar members, and such self-categorization can have negative implications for workgroup relationships and organizational citizenship behaviour. It has been noticed that the more dissimilar employees perceive themselves to be in comparison to others on their work team, the less their perspective taking of those individuals. There are many adverse effects of diversity on the development of positive interpersonal relationships at work for the minority employees. A key challenge for the organization for positive interpersonal relationships is to identify the conditions under which self-categorization and social comparisons are either minimized, or their negative effects mitigated.

Interestingly, it has been found that dissimilarity had stronger effects on outcome variables in collocated work groups (i.e., group members who work from the same location) than in distributed work groups (i.e., group members who work from different locations). This suggests that a potential advantage of emerging work arrangements such as telecommuting is that it can reduce in-group and out-group distinctions. While emerging work arrangements such as telecommuting can reduce some of the adverse relational results associated with diversity, such arrangements present new problems for the development of positive interpersonal relationships. Since for employees to perceive that they belong, interactions are to be frequent, stable, enduring, and non-aversive. In traditional organizations in which employees come to work from nine to five each day, the organizational structure allows for frequent, stable, and enduring interaction. However, new work arrangements in which individuals rarely meet in the same physical space can prevent employees from engaging in such interactions. A recent meta-analysis found that, telecommuting in general does not have an impact on employees’ interpersonal relationships with their co-employees. However, when comparing low- and high-intensity telecommuting, while low-intensity telecommuting has no significant effect, high intensity telecommuting (i.e., telecommuters who frequently work from a non-central work location) has an adverse effect on interpersonal ties with co-workers. However, it has been noticed that this work arrangement has other positive effects such as reducing work-family conflict and increasing perceptions of autonomy. Hence, the challenge for such organizations is to find ways to ensure employees can develop positive interpersonal relationships while still benefiting from the advantages of telecommuting and other virtual work arrangements.

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