Towards healthier and happier workplace

With the unique position that line managers are in, building and sustaining relationships are crucial, yet challenging.

Environmental turbulence is synonymous with the working conditions in many industries across nations. The resulting volatility and the constant change place immense pressure on employees which ultimately affects their emotional wellbeing and performance.

Thus, from a human resource standpoint, there are multiple avenues that an organization can choose from to allow for a healthier and happier workplace. With the ultimate goal of having an engaged and efficient work force, organizations can invest in learning and development, growth opportunities, employee voice, non-discrimination, flexi working practices and rewards and recognition, among many other areas.

Yet, while such policies and practices are formulated, paradoxically, one must look within to a factor which arguably has one of the most powerful impacts on whether an employee makes it or breaks from an organization – the line managers whom employees report to.


This is from a post which went viral on various social media platforms, and there is indeed evidence to support this claim. A 2020 study published by McKinsey & Company states that relationship with management is a critical factor in employees’ satisfaction. In fact, the study demonstrated that interpersonal relationships accounted for 39 percent in driving job satisfaction, while specifically, relationship with management accounted to a staggering 86 percent in driving satisfaction. Furthermore, a 2022 article published by Forbes also referred to an engagement survey of 2,202 workers. In it, 56 percent of respondents had also indicated ‘poor management’ among the top 5 reasons why people quit their job.


As it has been often said, good bosses also means good performance. There is an abundance of literature which supports this notion. Broadly speaking there are two ways in which line managers directly affects the work life of employees.

1.      Work Organization: this is about how the managers make the jobs meaningful for employees. This is often achieved through provision of context, guidance, tools, and autonomy.

2.      Psychological Safety: this is related to absence of interpersonal fear which impacts the emotional health of employees. With burnout, stress and anxiety, ill health and absenteeism on the rise, the criticality of psychological safety cannot be understated.


According to a 2022 Harvard Business Review article, evidence from the field of social psychology demonstrate that managers who prioritize relationships with their employees and lead from a place of positivity and kindness witness better employee performance, lower turnover, higher engagement, productivity, and loyalty. The article further states that the most effective leaders are value driven, transparent, compassionate, humane and recognize that employees as unique individuals. In a win-win outcome, these organisations also reported higher customer satisfaction, a better bottom line and boosted share holder returns.

A 2015 study by Glassdoor also indicate that employees perform better when they feel respected and cared for, and this has proven to have had a stronger impact on wellbeing than even salary and benefits.

As the need-to-belong theory explains, humans have an innate desire to be seen, heard, and recognized. Evolution has placed immense significance in human relationships and roles with groups. This is why being undervalued at work evokes stress responses while being left out evokes a feeling of being ostracized. Similarly, self-determination theory demonstrates that in addition to autonomy and freedom, motivation at work is to a large extent impacted by feelings of connection to other people at work.

Ultimately, all this evidence indicates that benefits such as tuition assistance or employee discounts can alleviate stress, there is no refuting of the significance of interpersonal relationships, specifically that of the relationship with line managers.


With the unique position that line managers are in, building and sustaining relationships are crucial, yet challenging. Research from the realm of social psychology recommends, the following core principles as a guide to improving work relationships with employees.

1.      Empathy and compassion: a manager must genuinely care about the wellbeing of employees. Their curiosity should prompt sincerity to inquire regarding how employees are doing. The empathy shown should make employees feel safe to discuss problems, be it personal or professional and work together to find a solution. This is compassion. Research shows that when employees perceive compassion or kindness from their managers, they become more loyal to them, in turn feeding better performance at work.

2.      Gratitude: simply put, being thanked makes people feel valued. As drawn in the book ‘The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work’, the celebration of small accomplishments creates a positive dynamic where employees want to do better. Regularly thanking team members costs nothing and has enormous benefits. However, managers but be cautious and refine their capacity to feel sincere thankfulness to convey their appreciation in a genuine way.

3.      Transparency and authenticity: as the foundation of building trust; clear, consistent, sincere, and open communication are fundamental in building healthy relationships. A 1993 study on emotional suppression has proven that people register inauthenticity as a threat. In such situations, employees are likely to feel disregarded and dehumanized.

4.      Emotional Intelligence: EI begins from the inside out of each individual. It involves recognizing various aspects of one’s own feelings and emotions and working on self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Managers must be able to navigate the array of emotions felt at work, especially handling negative emotions. They must also be able to read nonverbal cures. A 2013 study on relationships showed that, relationships thrive when people are able to occasionally put the needs of a relationship ahead of their own.  

5.      Self-Care: managers who concentrate on their own wellbeing can better support others prioritize their wellbeing. Afterall, as the Wellbeing Project shows, being a supportive and compassionate manager is easier for people who are themselves aware of and at peace with their own inner state of being. This includes managers understanding which mental states burn them fast, and engaging in recovery techniques and building stress resilience, and at the same time encouraging employees to do the same.

6.      Inspiration: lifting each other up is a common trait found in healthy relationships. Research indicates that people feel inspired by someone’s perspective of them. People are motivated to improve when they feel valued through acknowledgement and celebration of strengths. This kind of interaction and appreciation of their individuality is deeply energizing, which further enhances productivity.

The importance of relationships is backed up by research. Studies show that social connections play a central role in fostering a sense of purpose and well-being in the workplace. They also impact the bottom line of organizations. However, in a hectic and demanding environment, it is challenging to build and sustain relationships for managers. It is even harder if good management is not valued or the model of leadership in an organization is primarily based on authority and personal achievement.

Therefore, top management must support the line managers so that they become better. They must help create an environment that enables good management and good relationships. Guide, support, train and coach managers.

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