I have always assumed that strong work relationships are the key to productivity, as well as you feeling good and having fun at work.
Yet, in my role as adviser to small businesses, I find many people who still believe some old myths that work should never be fun, and that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes down their sense of well-being, as well as their company results.
If you are in this category, I recommend you take a look at a new book, Work Better Together, by Jen Fisher and Anh Phillips. These authors, with their own 40+ combined years of experience, bolster my own view that work can and should be an engaging experience, and that positive relationships combined with individual strengths will provide a boost to bottom lines.
I especially like their summary of six key work-style myths that undermine many business strategies, as well as the energy and commitment of the people who work there. I have added my own insights after each one:
1. Work should be all business, nothing personal.
Too many people believe that work is no place for friendships, or that they have to be friends with everyone to work together effectively. In my experience, neither extreme is realistic. I have seen that friendships increase the quality of life at work, but you should never forget that your work is business.
On the other hand, most people invest a lot of their time, energy, and conviction into their work, and that is certainly personal. They accomplish even more through carefully built relationships, and relationships don't work unless there is a strong personal element.
2. Longer work hours mean greater productivity.
Burnout is not a badge of honor at work, so you should strive for maximum results rather than setting records for the number of hours at work. Team members should all realize from personal experience that proper health care and life balance are key to long-term results, so look for that balance.
In addition, recent research indicates that maximum productivity is a paradox. The secret is always leaving some slack in your calendar to maneuver. That slack won't just help you stay sane. Counterintuitively, it will also help you get more done over the long haul.
3. Money is the primary motivator at work.
Numerous psychology studies, as well as my own experience, indicate that intrinsic motivators (such as a sense of purpose, meaning, and loyalty) are more powerful and durable than financial rewards. People are also motivated by feelings of appreciation and doing meaningful work, as well as loyalty to the business.
Recognized business leaders, including Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, have found that employees serving a higher social purpose, such as protecting the environment, are most highly motivated by this cause. It also attracts more customers.
4. Most people don't really want to work hard.
I find that few people are genuinely lazy, but everyone is prone to disengagement if they don't believe in their work, their management, or their company. Your job as a leader is to play to each individual's strength, earn their trust and loyalty, and find the higher purpose for your company.
5. Multiple work styles work against relationships.
It's true that people with different styles express strengths in different ways, but that often builds relationships, when team members trust each other and strive to learn. Cliques or isolation are usually the result of deeper fears and lack of support, and they drive down team productivity and business growth.
6. For you to win at work, someone has to lose.
I find that some people are naturally paranoid, thinking that everyone is out to win at their expense. This results in much wasted effort to protect their position, with little focus on company results. The solution is to hire carefully and then focus on personal motivators, as well as training and coaching.
The recent pandemic has made relationships and people connections harder by requiring more remote work and Zoom meetings. But these observations and recommendations still apply, so don't wait for things to get back to "normal" before attacking these issues.
Now is the time to develop a stronger workplace culture and drive more collaboration and better relationships between the people in your organization. Your well-being and the success of your company depend on it.