With many of us now working from home, it has never been so important to recognize that we are still social, collaborative beings living and working in a technology-driven digital world. But as AI, machine learning, and other technologies develop at pace, strategies and solutions that focus on fostering wellbeing and happiness are often left behind.
Esther Perel, a world-leading therapist, offers a compelling argument for the value that human relationships have to our personal and professional lives and the benefits of promoting these within the workplace has to productivity and profit.
Ester Perel is the author of the bestselling books ‘Mating in Captivity’ and ‘The State of Affairs’ with a successful couple’s therapy practice in New York. Her basic premise makes sense. Today’s workplaces are built on relationships whether with reports, co-workers, customers or any other stakeholders.
Effective relationships grease the wheels of any organization and make them function successfully. Highly performing organizations are more profitable. Poor relationships can create a toxic corporate culture, where employees feel psychologically insecure with significant fallout.
This can include absenteeism, mental health problems, increased errors, and reduced creativity, all impacting employee engagement which ultimately hits productivity and therefore profitability.
Loss of trust
Technology has given us more freedom than ever both professionally and personally, but it has also resulted in feelings of isolation and anxiety. Loneliness is public health crisis No. I, Perel believes. She adds another dimension to the definition of loneliness, “experiencing a loss of trust and a loss of capital” rather than feeling socially isolated. This happens at home in primary relationships with partners who are more interested in their smart phones than the person next to them, but is equally possible in the workplace. Especially with more of us now remote and cut off from the buzz of office life.
There is no doubt that workplace relationships are as prone to jealousy and bitterness as personal ones, with all the corresponding negative behaviour and reactions. Many of us have seen this in our daily work lives as we might have done in a private relationship: raging, power playing, ghosting, betrayal, jealousy or withholding. Who hasn’t felt stabbed in the back by a colleague, disappointed by a boss who plays favourites, betrayed by a report or overwhelmed by an angry customer? Who has ever wondered if a co-worker is plotting to undermine us or tried to protect their team from an external and possibly Machiavellian power player?
Secure but independent
There are many individuals who experience career setbacks or who are unhappy in their professional lives.
Mobbing, bullying, incivility, disrespectful behavour, sexism, harassment and discrimination are widespread.
A common denominator in typically toxic workplace culture is a lack of inclusion, respect, and trust. Research from Google’s Project Aristotle suggests that feeling psychologically secure is the leading ingredient to building an effective team. Here empathy, trust, dependability, and the possibility for every team member to be authentic play a driving role. These are the same qualities Perel maintains, we look for in a personal relationship, combined with sometimes contradictory desires to feel secure but independent.
For the first time, emotions which were once the scourge of the work place, are being linked to enhanced professional performance. Perel connects this to our driving need to belong and a new generation which has different expectations for all relationships. She talks about trust, authenticity, belonging and self-actualisation.
Relationship fluency is a vital skill
“Relationship fluency” she believes is critical to business success and how we relate to one another is key to the bottom line. Today as the traditional concepts of loyalty and fidelity within our primary relationships are being re-configured, we are seeing a new approach to loyalty and engagement for organisations. Relationship fluency will be a vital soft skill. This will provide challenges as both sides navigate potentially mismatched expectations around fidelity and loyalty and security and freedom.