Good social relationships at work are fundamental to wellbeing in the workplace, while poor social relationships are detrimental to health.
Positive social relationships confer psychological benefits in a number of ways, such as promoting a sense of identity and belonging, as well as providing support that can help employees and organisations develop greater resilience.
There is also evidence that good social relationships at work foster better business performance. For example, Resilient organisations: sense of belonging at work, wellbeing and performance during recession, published by What Works Centre for Wellbeing in March 2018, found that organisations with a strong sense of social identity were more likely to withstand the effects of recessionary pressures on both employee wellbeing and organisational performance.
There is promising evidence that employers can take straightforward actions to realise the benefits of positive workplace social environments, as shown in What Works Centre for Wellbeing’s Team working review, published in August 2017.
Successful actions appear to be relatively simple to put into effect, but require certain considerations. First, employers must implement a series of different elements within a coherent programme; for example, workshops, internal mentoring programmes, action planning groups and social events.
Next, it is critical to gain favourable employee attitudes to the actions. This means that employers must involve employees in deciding what a social wellbeing programme should look like.
Finally, there must be some input from a source that is external to the targeted work groups, such as a training workshop with an external facilitator.
Organisations with successful wellbeing programmes often engage in a range of activities, rather than concentrating on one area or topic. So, although positive social environments are important, there are other things that go alongside this to make up successful wellbeing programmes. This includes having high quality work, being supported by good HR management practices and working alongside competent and supportive line managers. Organisations can also provide advice on healthy lifestyles, through workplace health promotion activities.
For employees struggling with life challenges, organisations can additionally provide support; this may, in turn, improve relationships between staff and management. Examples include flexible working for carers, structured return-to-work programmes and workplace accommodations for those coming back to work after sick leave and more innovative working practices, such as mid-career reviews for older staff.
Professor Kevin Daniels is professor of organisational behaviour at the University of East Anglia and lead for the Work and Learning Programme at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing