Happiness and Relationships: Balancing Business Resilience In The Workplace

By Dan Berges, Managing Director, Berges Institute, Spain

October 3, 2023

It’s official: good relationships are the root of all happiness—an 85-year-long Harvard study has proved it.

While this may not be a groundbreaking discovery, it does mean that people now know the benefits of consciously building and maintaining healthy relationships, which can also be applied to the workplace.

People spend a lot of time at work; it roughly equates to 90,000 hours over a lifetime. Therefore, it’s within a company’s interest and its business resilience to help their employees grow their happiness by encouraging beneficial relationships. And facilitating these work relationships isn’t rocket science, nor do they cost the earth.

So, how can companies and business leaders cultivate good relationships in the workplace and improve the happiness of their employees? Time to find out.

Nurture casual relationships

When analyzing relationships and their intensity, most relationships people have are casual. So, while people have their work best friends, their day is often filled with various acquaintances, and all these relationships are essential.

In fact, a study looking at commuters in Chicago found that the participants had a more enjoyable experience talking with strangers than sitting alone, even though the participants predicted the opposite. Not every interaction people have needs to lead to a specific friendship or outcome; a short, simple connection can lead to joy.

So, the idea of nurturing casual relationships is also vital for business resilience. For example, if we only use written communication, we can lose many social cues, including the presumption of good intentions, which can cause workplace issues. This presumption is vital for forming relationships as it allows you to build trust, encourages open communication, and understand different points of view. This presumption is essential for all relationships, including family, work colleagues, students, and teachers.

Therefore, companies can offer collaborative and engaging team-building exercises to enhance people’s work relationships and bonding. Facilitating team-building activities brings employees outside of their comfort zones and encourages team members to mix with a variety of others. It’s also important for organizers to remember that everyone is different.

For instance, typically, females find connecting with others easier than men, who find bonding easier while completing a shared task. There are several different theories behind this, but research has shown that women have higher levels of oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’, which could explain why women usually find making social connections easier. Therefore, businesses need to offer a variety of team-building exercises to appease all genders, personalities, and learning styles. Team building and bonding exercises could include inter-department lunch, outdoor adventure activities, and mentorship programs. And for online businesses they could offer virtual escape rooms, online trivia, or video calls playing games like two truths and one lie.

By providing these activities—ideally during work hours—employers can encourage participation, help employees strengthen relationships and trust, establish the presumption of good intentions, and foster friendly, reliable, casual relationships. Plus, a Harvard Business Review study found that when workplace familiarity increased by 50%, defects decreased by 19%.

Create volunteering opportunities

A Deloitte Volunteerism Survey revealed 89% of respondents believe that companies who sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those who do not. The survey also found that 70% of participants believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours, which is key for business resilience.

While many workers would love to volunteer in their free time—like providing help for a food drive, assisting at an animal shelter or visiting youth centers—this is often difficult due to busy schedules. So, offering flexible hours or arranging this opportunity during work will likely be a welcome scheme.

Although this type of activity may not seem traditionally linked to happiness and the workplace, encouraging employees to pay it forward can enhance people’s sense of purpose and gratitude and allow them to take pride in their actions.

Companies can design volunteering programs to align with their business goals, whether that’s to improve the local community or become more sustainable. Through these established goals, companies can partner with charities and organizations that can help strengthen their volunteering impact and assist employees in taking responsibility for organizing events, managing participants, and arranging schedules.

Volunteering is an excellent opportunity for workers to practice new skills, like public speaking and problem-solving, with their colleagues and mix with those they may never encounter in their workday. And since adults can find forming new friendships tricky, providing a natural way for adults to bond over a common goal is a fun, engaging, and fulfilling way for workers to connect.

Ask questions and be vulnerable

Humans are naturally inquisitive, so why not encourage this natural behavior in the workplace? Asking questions allows people to discover more about each other, learn about new ideas and cultures, and offer advice. It also allows people to be vulnerable, enabling them to bond and build relationships, as it requires a level of trust. Some of these questions could include:

  • Can you tell me about your background and where you grew up?

  • Do you have any interesting travel experiences or favorite destinations?

  • Are there any books, podcasts, or movies that have had a significant impact on you?

  • What are your short-term and long-term career goals?

One way to encourage this behavior is to promote language learning. You have to learn to be vulnerable when learning a language, and you need to ask questions. You’re at a disadvantage when you’re new to a language—you can’t communicate—and it’s isolating. But by embracing this aspect, employees can display their vulnerability.

Furthermore, language is social by definition, and learning a language is a social process as it increases people’s curiosity, involves social activities, and, ultimately, the goal is to be able to communicate, which is the epitome of social. Therefore, everything surrounding language learning improves social bonds with others.

Offering free or subsidized language classes is a fantastic way to help employees upskill and provide an engaging task for employees to bond over and help each other progress.

While it’s fair to acknowledge that happy employees are good for a company’s bottom line and business resilience by reducing employee turnover and helping with recruitment, these advantages are secondary to content employees being better for everyone. So, by facilitating happiness with activities like volunteering, language learning, and shared team meals, companies can help create engaged and fulfilled workers who are productive, positive, and less likely to presume bad intent from their colleagues. At the end of the day, money is great, but happiness is priceless.

Dan Berges is the Managing Director of Berges Institute