The Boardroom series: How 1-to-1 relationships can improve employee wellbeing

Last month, I shared the first in our series of three articles about low-cost, high-return ways you can increase levels of wellbeing and engagement in your workplace. 

This month, I’m focusing on the importance of 1:1 relationships in the workplace, beyond the manager-team member relationship. In this article, I’m going to give you three ways to create more opportunities for colleagues to build 1:1 connections with colleagues in the business and beyond. 

Building a community in a hybrid world

As many organisations transition to a hybrid or remote working model, most businesses are, unsurprisingly, considering how they can optimise connectivity and communication, and maintain a sense of community in the organisation. 

At the same time, many organisations are currently struggling to retain talent. Some of the companies that I have spoken to believe that the reason for this is that hybrid working has resulted in employees feeling less connected to the culture, purpose, and people of the business, and are therefore more easily motivated by financial incentives from competitors. This position is backed up by a vast body of research which demonstrates that interpersonal relationships at work are a key driver of staff loyalty.

The key message is that whether you work in face-to-face environments, such as hospitality or retail, in remote workplaces, such as telecommunications, or in hybrid working models, strengthening cross-organisational colleague relationships is a must-have for business success, inspiring higher levels of engagement, enhancing job satisfaction, and promoting resilience, all of which are key components of wellbeing at work.

1:1 relationships matter

In most organisations, there is a heavy focus on building relationships between managers and their direct reports, and efforts are being made to facilitate group gatherings, in teams or as a business. In doing so, many organisations are failing to recognise the importance of 1:1 peer-to-peer relationships in the workplace, unrelated to hierarchy, department, project, or role. It is these relationships which underpin the culture of an organisation and set the tone for other interactions.

Three 1:1 relationships that can support your workplace culture and wellbeing 

  1. Revitalise your mentoring proposition

HR Director magazine hailed 2022 ‘The Year of Mentoring’, emphasising the benefits to both mentor, mentee and the businesses as a whole. While more than 80% of organisations have mentoring programmes, less than a third of those believe that these initiatives are being used to their full potential and only 37% of professionals have a mentor. This is an opportunity lost. Having a mentor, or being a mentor, has been shown to increase motivation, engagement, career progression, job satisfaction, and wellbeing. (That’s right, the benefits are equal for both mentor and mentee.) Furthermore, 86% of employees say that having access to a mentor is a crucial factor in them staying at their organisation.

With that in mind, if your organisation has a mentoring programme which is not being used, revitalising this initiative, could be one way to bring back a sense of community, inspire organisational loyalty, and boost collective resilience. Equally, if you are one of the 70% of senior leaders who are considering quitting your job to improve your wellbeing, finding someone to mentor might be a way to reignite your spark and passion for your work. Or, if you are a team member who feels a little lost and is looking for more purpose in their work, finding a mentor might be the light you need. Mentoring is a low-risk, high-reward way to boost motivation, create a sense of belonging, and enhance wellbeing for all.

2. Establish buddy systems

In our work, we often discuss with employees what aspects of their workplace they value the most. What we hear is that buddying systems are not only helpful to new starters as they get to know a business, they are valued by employees at all levels of the organisation, from intern to board level, supporting wellbeing, engagement and resilience. 

If your organisation doesn’t have a buddying system in place, here are three ways that our clients have recently adopted this approach, which I hope may inspire you to do the same: 

  • Onboarding buddies: Pairing new starters with more long-standing team members offers them a direct 1:1 connection from day 1. This is one very simple way to reduce the 22% chance of staff turnover occurring within the first 45-days of employment, as well as giving long-standing employees a new sense of meaning or purpose. 
  • Accountability buddies: Inviting people to have monthly check-in calls with colleagues to support both parties to stay accountable for their personal or professional goals. The monthly check-in ensures that the goal stays at the front of their mind. 
  • Wellbeing buddies: Asking team members to check-in with another colleague, on a semi-regular basis (fortnightly or monthly), inviting them to speak about their wellbeing. This doesn’t mean they have to share anything personal, it could be as simple as asking “how are you?”, sharing personal successes or learnings from the month, or discussing challenges they have faced, if they wish.

3. The ad-hoc coffee chat

At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of companies tried to recreate the ‘watercooler moments’ of the office by setting up ad-hoc coffee chats between people from different departments. This consisted of people being randomly paired with a colleague with whom they would arrange a 15-minute casual chat with no agenda or goal. The feedback I heard was that these were (in the exact words of one client) “occasionally awkward but always valuable and energising, offering a momentary escape from working which often generated new ideas”. 

Two years on, we see that for most organisations, these initiatives have lost momentum, but they have not lost their value. Ad-hoc coffee chats are a simple way for people in different teams to meet, supporting people to see how their role supports the purpose and mission of the organisation and promoting diversity of thought. 

Your takeaway

While manager-team member relationships are crucial to workplace satisfaction, performance and wellbeing, so are other 1:1 connections. People who have strong, personal relationships with their colleagues are not only happier and healthier, but they are also seven times as likely to be engaged and are more likely to stay in the business. It also boosts resilience, on a personal and organisational level, because when you know and trust your peers, uncertainty, challenge, and stress, all seem more manageable. So, whether you are a leader looking to invest in your own wellbeing, or to support the wellbeing and performance of your team, investing in 1:1 connections is one simple way that you can make a difference today.

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