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By Michele Hellebuyck

Throughout a typical work week, employees will interact more with their colleagues than loved ones. Positive interactions between employees not only makes for a better work environment but can foster higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity. Negative or toxic relationships in the workplace can increase stress levels among employees, as well as feelings of isolation. Both stress and isolation negatively impact employees’ mental and physical health, lowering employee morale and motivation

Data collected from 17,000 employees who completed MHA’s Work Health Survey showed that 63% of employees experienced isolation because of a hostile work environment, with 63% stating that work stress negatively affected their mental and physical health. Not surprisingly, 71% of employees reported speaking poorly of their organization (including boss and co-workers) and wanting to leave their jobs. For many employees, the workplace feels uncertain, isolating, and unsupportive.

In prioritizing positive work relationships, employers can promote a creative, collaborative, and supportive workplace culture. Employers that want employees to be at their best should recognize the critical role that positive relationships play in keeping them satisfied, motivated, and engaged. Here are three ways that employers can foster positive work relationships in the workplace:

Encourage social interaction. Increasing social interactions among employees will also increase their level of comfort. When employees are comfortable with each other, they are more inclined to share ideas, provide feedback, and offer support. Employers can increase employee interaction by arranging social events that celebrate personal and professional milestones. They can also do something as simple as incorporating an occasional ice breaker during staff meetings. Employers should not only approve of these activities, but also participate in them. These moments offer a good opportunity to foster positive relationships with their employees.

Creating opportunities for collective decision-making. Assigning team work encourages employees to collaborate and communicate with each other. Employees that communicate effectively have been found to work in a more efficient manner. Through collaboration, employees can strengthen their own skills, as well as learn new ones. They can also learn how their colleagues think and complete tasks, allowing for a quick transition from working individually to being part of team. When assigning teamwork, employers should emphasize communication and collaboration, while noting that any successes or failures will be those of the team and not of one individual.

Promote Open Door policies. Positive work relationships cannot develop in a workplace culture that does not support open communication and mutual respect. Employers need to send the message that they are accessible and encourage employees to provide feedback and/or discuss any workplace issues. Employers should also learn to listen and act intently, making employees feel seen, heard and valued. Employees are more likely to seek positive relationships with their colleagues if they feel that it is something that is promoted and supported by their organizations.