Are You Spending Enough Time on Work Relationships?

people working together

Nothing is more important to an organization’s well-being than that of its people. One of the biggest factors that influence employee well-being? Work relationships.

Having supportive and meaningful connections can provide emotional support, reduce stress levels, and create a sense of psychological safety. As such, the relationships team members have with their leaders and each other determine the organization’s performance.

Having a relationship with someone means you’re connected to, engaged with, and care about the other person. The key to getting things done in the workplace is to build transformational relationships. That is, connections based on interactions through which each person shares and receives value, learns, and grows. 

In my research, I’ve found that despite the importance of relationships, most leaders spend only 20% of their time on relationship-building. So today, I want to explain why relationships are important enough to be the foundation of the Human Leadership operating model. I also want to share just how common it is for leaders to neglect relationships in the workplace—and why that needs to change. Then I’ll give you some tips to help you prioritize and practice relationship-building.

Why Are Relationships So Important?

I cannot overstate the importance of human connection and positive relationships in the workplace. Relationships influence every aspect of work in an organization. That’s why it encompasses everything in this visual of the HUMANS framework I created to expound on the Human Leadership model in my book, Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance.

Human Leadership is a people-first operating model. In essence, it is a relationship-based way of leading to meet people’s need to feel valued at work. No matter what you do, everyone has the same fundamental needs: to be seen, heard, understood, appreciated, inspired, and feel they matter. 

Meeting these needs through nurturing workplace relationships positively impacts organizational performance. Some of the benefits include:

Enhanced Collaboration and Teamwork

Numerous studies and books like “You, Me, We” from my 100 Coaches colleague Morag Bennett reveal that strong relationships foster open communication, trust, and collaboration among team members. 

When individuals have positive connections with their colleagues, they are more likely to share ideas, support each other, and work together effectively. This leads to improved teamwork, increased productivity, and better problem-solving capabilities.

Increased Job Satisfaction and Engagement

Research also shows that positive relationships contribute to a sense of belonging and satisfaction in the workplace. 

When employees feel connected to their peers and have supportive relationships with their leaders, they are more likely to feel engaged, motivated, and committed to their work. This, in turn, can lead to higher job satisfaction, reduced turnover rates, and a more positive work environment.

Improved Communication and Conflict Resolution

Healthy relationships facilitate effective communication, both within teams and across the organization. When people have strong connections, they are more likely to engage in open and honest conversations, express their opinions, and actively listen to others. This helps reduce conflict. Open communication promotes better understanding, reduces misunderstandings, and facilitates smoother conflict resolution.

Enhanced Well-Being and Resilience

Positive relationships at work contribute to employee resilience. When individuals have meaningful relationships with people who make them feel valued, respected, and cared for, they are better equipped to navigate challenges, adapt to changes, and maintain their overall well-being.

Increased Creativity and Innovation

Building positive relationships based on trust and psychological safety encourages team members to share diverse perspectives, take risks, and explore new ideas. This creates an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their creativity, leading to increased innovation and problem-solving, both within teams and across the organization.

Positive Organizational Culture

When we nurture transformational relationships throughout the workplace, they contribute to a positive organizational culture. A culture that values human connection, collaboration, and respect creates a supportive and inclusive environment. This, in turn, attracts and retains top talent, enhances employee loyalty, and contributes to the overall success and reputation of the organization.

Long story short, positive human connection in the workplace has far-reaching benefits—so many that relationships are too important not to invest in! Leaders who prioritize relationship-building create an environment where employees thrive, leading to increased productivity, innovation, and overall success.

Why Aren’t More Leaders Focused on Relationships?

When asked, the leaders I interviewed for my research listed several factors for why they don’t prioritize relationship-building. The most prominent reasons were lack of time, lack of trust, and focus on their own work.

(Perceived) Lack of Time

Many leaders spend a significant portion of their time on non-people-related tasks such as special projects, inefficient meetings, developing, modifying, deploying, and following processes and procedures, status reporting, and administrative work like email and calendar management. This leaves them with limited time to invest in building relationships. The pressure to deliver results and meet objectives often takes precedence over dedicating time to connect with others.

Lack of Trust

I’ve talked before about how building relationships requires a foundation of trust. That’s why giving trust first is one of the leading principles of Human Leadership

Some leaders retain the outdated belief that team members need to earn trust over time. This hinders developing connections. Trust is essential for fostering open communication, collaboration, and mutual support. Without trust, people may hesitate to share information, take risks, or engage in meaningful interactions, which can impede relationship-building efforts.


Another factor that can hinder relationship-building is the leader’s ego, or self-focus. Some leaders prioritize their achievements, status, and personal agenda over investing in connections with others. This approach can make it challenging to create an environment of openness and collaboration, as the focus tends to be on individual gains (“what’s in it for me?”) rather than collective growth.

In addition to these main factors, several others can get in the way of building relationships, including:

Communication Barriers

Effective communication is crucial for building relationships, but various barriers can hinder it. Differences in communication styles, language barriers, and cultural differences all affect communication among team members and leaders. Poor communication or misinterpretation of messages can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and a lack of trust, thereby hindering relationship-building efforts.

Workload and Stress

High workloads and excessive stress can create a challenging environment for relationship-building. When leaders or team members are overwhelmed with their responsibilities and under constant pressure, they may prioritize tasks over investing time and effort in building connections. Stress can also affect interpersonal interactions, leading to strained relationships or a limited capacity for empathy and understanding.

Organizational Hierarchy and Structures

Hierarchical structures within organizations can create barriers to relationship-building, particularly between employees and higher-level leaders. Power dynamics and formal reporting lines can make individuals hesitant to initiate conversations or express their ideas openly. The fear of negative consequences or a lack of opportunity for meaningful interactions with leaders can hinder the development of strong relationships.

Lack of Shared Purpose or Common Goals

Building relationships becomes more challenging when people don’t feel they share a common purpose or goals. When everyone has divergent objectives or conflicting interests, it can be difficult to establish strong connections and collaborative relationships.

It’s important to note that these factors may vary depending on the organizational culture, industry, and individual experiences. By recognizing and addressing these obstacles, individuals and organizations can create a more conducive environment for relationship-building, leading to improved workplace collaboration, engagement, and overall well-being.

How to Improve at Relationship-Building

Now that you understand exactly what you’re dealing with, you can invest your time and energy into overcoming these obstacles and practice relationship-building. Here are some tools and actions you can use to get better at human connection:

Shift Your Thinking

Understand that relationship building is not a separate activity from work but an integral part of it. Embrace the role of a Human Leader and view yourself as a chief relationship officer.

Shift Your Actions

Change your behaviors to align with being a Human Leader. Inspire, coach, facilitate, and create space for growth among your team members. Adapt your behavior to foster relational connections, even in virtual settings.

Shift Your Perspective

Recognize the importance of relationships and prioritize the human element in your interactions. Challenge and change any negative beliefs you hold about colleagues, peers, bosses, or direct reports. Embrace the perspective that relationships drive performance.

Garner Trust and Integrate Relationship-Building

Make relationship-building part of your day-to-day interactions and work processes. Show interest in each person, respect boundaries, and demonstrate care through your actions. Create a safe space for trust to flourish among team members.

Grow Your Focus

Shift your focus from how your work benefits you to how it brings value to others. Be generous, positive, and supportive. Share information, ask thought-provoking questions, provide guidance, and recognize the contributions of team members. By giving to others, you build stronger relationships.

If you want to learn more about how to do all this, grab a copy of Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance. In it, I walk you through my framework to equip you with everything you need to know to be a Human Leader who excels at leading hearts and minds with excellent human and relational skills.

Not sure where to start? Take the complimentary Human Leader Index™ on my website to evaluate where you currently stand in your leadership capabilities. Use the personalized report to form a strategic plan for growth areas you want to address first.

Additionally, be sure to subscribe to my bi-weekly LinkedIn newsletter and visit my blog every other week. I share high-value content full of resources, anecdotes, and actionable advice to help you elevate your leadership.

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