What exactly is a Work Relationship?

“…there are people who try to look as if they are doing a good and thorough job, and then there are the people who actually damn well do it, for its own sake.” John D. MacDonald, Free Fall in Crimson

Further to the first article, I wrote “Work is a relationship” on the nature of work and the relationship we have with it, I got some interesting and thought provoking feedback:

“It is strange that work is so often NOT seen as a relationship.  Even though we hear the words ‘The Psychological Contract is strong (or broken)’.  The Psychological contract (whatever its state) is a relationship.  There is something in our culture that seems to want to keep the word ‘relationship’ off (or even under) the table.

Maybe it is time to wake up to the fact, there is more going on in the workplace than we have been acknowledging  in many instances!”

I completely agree that the idea the working relationship is often ignored.  If you consider that on average you spend over 50 years working and the majority of your waking week is spent at work (on average over 40 hours plus);  its importance is so often missed. People often refer to “employee engagement”, but it is more than this; much more. If you disagree, please feel to comment.

Where does the level of personal engagement come into it?  Like all relationships, is it the level of commitment to deliver; often in challenging and difficult situations; versus just turning up?  Is it commitment, or is it engagement built on trust? This got me thinking about what is the “work relationship”? What are its key characteristics? Is it, in fact, any different from a personal or social relationship?

I want to see if the work relationship is a fallacy or is in fact real. Also, what is your understanding? I believe the following are elements that go to make a “work relationship”:

  1. Having common Values – nor necessarily the corporate ones, but a sense of belonging to a common set within the workgroup
  2. How you get along with each other – how you work, talk, engage, and interact with each other
  3. Respect each and every person – consistent and truthful respect, is the glue
  4. Emotional Intelligence and Responsibility – this is a separate topic in its own right 
  5. Empathy, Compromise, Patience, Flexibility, Acceptance and Openness – speaks for itself

  6. Simple kindness – to one another and to oneself
  7. Mental flexibility – to deal with the stress of the work environment
  8. A sense of humour – laughter, fun, affection and connection
  9. Conflict – how you manage and handle conflict. In addition, how you learn through conflict
  10. Trust – that you support each other for the highest good
  11. Finally, something unsaid; a feeling; an untold emotion. Or to use a phrase, “Je ne sais quoi” – an indefinable, elusive quality,

I think the list is pretty comprehensive, but if you feel that there are other aspects that need to be added, please feel free to comment.

In addition, it would be interesting to see if there are differences across the generations. For instance, is there a stronger work commitment for those who are Generation  X (born between the 1960’s and the 1980’s)  than Generation Y (those born between the 1980’s to 2000)?  For those that are Generation Z (2000’s onwards) who are just starting to enter the work world, what is their perception?

I aim to follow up on the work relationship elements in subsequent posts, as well as the difference across the generations and would appreciate your insights and feedback.

Finally, I believe the general world of work is changing. And it’s changing fast. It’s rare that a week goes by without new evidence proving this. The World Economic Forum believes a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is imminent, and that the role of humans in the workplace will change in favour of smart machines and automation. Something, I’d like to follow up on as well.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote which really struck a chord with me.

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” Thomas Merton


Work is a Relationship thing


“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Studs Terkel

For many people here in the UK, this is the first full week back at work. It certainly felt like it with the level of commuting traffic on a Monday morning. This got me thinking that like it or not, but work does define your life. I know some people will argue it does not, but for many of us, it does. We spend more time working than ever before. We have moved way beyond the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday work life of our parents. According to one survey, we are working over 42 hours per week. If you add on the commute time of an average of 3 hours per day, to and from work, you are talking about 52 hours per week, of work related time. Our culture has become an “always on” one. We are travelling further and working longer than ever before.

However, it is not just the amount of work that we are doing, it is how we are now engaged in the world of work that I think is important. What often gets ignored is that just like the personal relationships we develop, we also develop a work relationship. I don’t mean with the people at work itself, I mean with the work itself. For many of us, the type of work that we do, also impacts how we engage in a broader sphere.

For some people, putting on shirt, tie and suit in the morning is like putting on armour, ready to go to battle. For some, work is about being authentic and consistent. For others, trying to help and support others around them is important. For many though, people are more often feeling part of a work machine. Work defines us in so many ways. Ways we sometimes forget.

I worked for a long time for a US technology company, called Hewlett-Packard. When I applied to the company it felt as if I was joining a special group of people. The work was hard, the hours were long and the level of commitment expected was high. However, in those early days, I did not feel at all that I was just part of a work machine. Perhaps that is rose-tinted hindsight, but I don’t think so. In nearly all the years I worked there, I never felt part of a machine. I felt that I could grow, develop and enjoy myself. I felt that I was recognised both as an individual, as well as for the contribution that I made.

Leap forward in time and I don’t think the world of work is the same any more. Many people I know that work in many different companies are mentioning to me a similar set of questions, along the lines of: “I don’t feel recognised as an individual”; “Work does not hold the same meaning any more”; “I feel I am not achieving what I set out to do”; “How can I help make a difference?”  

Perhaps it is an age thing? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is a perception thing? I am not sure. What I do know is that for the vast majority of us, what work we do defines us and the relationship we have with work also impacts how we interact with the world.

I came across a really interesting infographic on the changing dynamics of work. You might want to check it out here.

As always, I leave you with the following quote.

“People are more difficult to work with than machines. And when you break a person, he can’t be fixed.”  Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth

You can’t argue with ignorance

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays 2, 1926-29


When life imitates farce, you know that it is time to lighten up a little. Whether it is in the business world or in the social world, you have to interact, engage, and collaborate with many different people. When you start to notice the lunacy of life, you know you have to step back and take stock.

Sometimes, people put all their passions and efforts into activities that to others seem pointless and trivial. Or get so focused on something, that they exclude everything and everyone else from their world.

In addition, people might believe that their way is “the right way”. The “only way”. “My way or the highway”. You get the picture.

I have come across many people like this during my working life. In fact, some people might suggest that I have exhibited those traits myself at some point or other. And, in fact, they would be right. We have all done it at some point. If you feel passionate about a subject, person, event or fact, you will seek to develop it, justify it and ultimately defend it. Sometimes, no matter what. I dare you to reflect for a moment and think about something you have felt passionate about and how you acted.

However, what many people find intensely annoying is those people who argue, defend and otherwise seek to maintain that their way “is the right way” despite the facts pointing to the contrary.

These people fight in the face of the obvious. For these people, I came up with the expression that is the title of this article “you can not argue with ignorance”.

I use it myself at work and also in social situations. Never to the person’s face directly. After all, they probably would not even understand what I am saying. But, I use it myself to reflect internally. That you can not argue with someone when they believe so much in their perception of reality. So the next time you are faced with someone of that ilk, feel free to use the expression.

I leave you with the following quote that encapsulates the idea…….

Genuine ignorance is… profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas the ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas.  ~John Dewey