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Charlotte Sweeney: Is Relationship Quality a Business Issue?

By OnePlusOne, 27 January 2015 Work-life balance

Charlotte Sweeney, workplace campaigner and head of Charlotte Sweeney Associates gives an overview of the research findings from Home Start and OnePlusOne’s recent study Engaging Workplaces, Effective Relationships and explains how the findings impact on companies who want to increase employee engagement.

The initial research, Happy Homes and Productive Workplaces, surveyed employees to gain their perspectives on aspects such as relationship quality, levels of work engagement, work-family conflict (work impacting on family life) and family-work conflict (family life impacting on work life).

The headline finding from the research was the positive association between relationship quality and work engagement existed independently of other factors.  In short, work-family conflict has a stronger negative influence on both relationship quality and work engagement than family-work conflict. That is stress from work exerts a greater negative impact on work engagement and family life, compared to stress originating from family-life.

This suggests that it is in employers’ interests to recognise relationship quality as an area that should warrant focus and be supported in order to improve work engagement.

Factors that Predict Levels of Work Engagement

The following nine factors were shown to have an impact on work engagement:

  1. Relationship Quality: Those with better relationship quality reported higher levels of work engagement
  2. Gender: Women reported higher work engagement compared to men
  3. Flexibility: Those who work flexibly were more engaged at work than those who did not
  4. Work-Family Conflict: Those with greater levels of Work-Family Conflict (work-life impacting on family-life) reported lower work engagement
  5. Family-Work Conflict: Those with greater levels of Family-Work Conflict (family-life impacting on work-life) reported lower work engagement
  6. Sector of Employment (Public): Those who work in the Public sector were less engaged at work compared to those in the Private sector
  7. Level of Seniority (Junior level) (which correlates with low annual income): Those employed at a Junior level were less engaged at work than those at a Senior level
  8. Level of Seniority (Mid-level) (which correlates with middle annual income): Those employed at a Mid-level were less engaged at work than those at a Senior level
  9. Work Centrality: Those who saw work as more central to their lives were more engaged at work.

 

Factors that Predict Levels of Relationship Quality

The following five factors were shown to have an impact on relationship quality:

  1. Work Engagement: Those who were more engaged at work reported better relationship quality with their partner
  2. Parental-Status: Parents had lower relationship quality than non-parents
  3. Work-Family Conflict: Those with greater levels of work-family conflict reported worse relationship quality
  4. Family-Work Conflict: Those with greater levels of family-work conflict reported worse relationship quality
  5. Flexibility: Those who worked flexibly reported lower levels of relationship quality compared to those who do not.

This research was taken one step further to understand how the findings could be converted into practical actions that would have a positive impact on relationship quality and work engagement.  To do this, we worked with a number of large organisations, employing collectively over 100,000 people in the UK, covering both the public and private sectors and a diverse range of industries.  A number of Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) were also engaged in a number of interviews to understand their perspective

The research identified a number of key issues:

  • Senior Leaders, Human Resources (HR) Professionals and employees could identify the importance of relationship quality to employee engagement and motivation.
  • There were limited references to relationship quality or capability in organisational policies, procedures and guidelines
  • The majority of participants were able to share clear examples of where work-life and stress from work had a negative impact on their home and personal relationships or where they had seen this in a colleague.
  • All agreed that relationship quality is an important business issue and should be taken more seriously by companies, very few were pro-actively responding to the challenges.

 

What Does This Mean for Recruiting and Retaining Employees?

As the research shows, creating an inclusive working environment where employee engagement is paramount is much more than fine words in a flexible working policy or a widely communicated diversity aspiration.

Companies that are more advanced on this subject take a holistic approach and understand the impact the quality of employees personal relationships has on all aspects of their employee life cycle.

This has already started to gain traction in the United States with publications such as the Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal debating ‘How Couples Cope with Professional Stress’, ‘How A Good Relationship at Home Gives People Emotional, Cognitive and Physical Vigor, Which is Advantageous for the Workplace’ and ‘Companies Work to Please Spouses – Happy Relationships Lead to Productive Workers’.

For companies to consider how this could have a positive impact within their company consider the following five questions when working on your next recruitment project or reviewing workplace policies and behaviours:

  • If hiring candidates for positions where they may be required to relocate their family, what support do we give them to maintain good family relationships throughout?
  • If candidates / employees spend a significant amount of time away on business how do we support them to maintain effective personal relationships?
  • If candidates / employees are required to change their flexible working arrangements for business reasons how do we consider the impact this may have on their personal circumstances and how do we support them through that?
  • How do we ensure our shared parental leave offerings consider the impact of personal relationships at such a critical life stage?
  • How do we ensure that relationship capability is considered throughout our employee offerings such as onboarding, pay and benefits, health and wellbeing?

Although in its infancy, to create a truly inclusive company and ensure everyone is able to be themselves in the workplace more and more consideration should be given to relationship capability and the impact this has both at work and at home.

 

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