Is Work a Relationship or a Contract?

May 1, 2019 Erin Miller

2-minute read

Give Way Sign

Decades of research have shown that when employees feel valued, they’re more engaged, productive, and happier in their jobs. How can we help employees feel valued in the midst of deteriorating levels of trust across the globe? To address this question, Workhuman Live 2019 speakers like Jason Lauritsen, Kevin Martin, and Rhonda Spencer challenged traditional ideas about employee experience, collaboration, reward, and motivation.

Create positive emotions in the workplace

Employee experience is foundationally about intentionally shaping the day-to-day work experience for employees to create positive emotions that support their performance,” said Jason Lauritsen, author of “Unlocking High Performance.”

Jason proposed that work is a relationship that needs to be functional and healthy, just like any other relationship. The characteristics of meaningful relationships include trust, acceptance, communication, support, and reciprocity. How does this translate to work? It starts with appreciating people. Having a mechanism in place where everyone in your organization can show appreciation is step one in achieving a culture of strong relationships and a sense of community. Perceiving work as a relationship can completely transform your approach to performance, engagement, and retention.

Measure and reward team contributions

Kevin Martin, chief research officer at i4cp, shared eight leadership behaviors that shape purposeful collaboration. The one that stuck with me was: “Measure and reward based on team-based contribution.” This is extremely important for growth and culture. You may have some employees who manage up and others who are unsung heroes and go unnoticed. It’s impossible for a manager to have a full picture of an employee’s contributions at all times. Having recognition and rewards distributed across the company allows for more people to be recognized, especially individuals that contribute to a team goal or project.

Continuous improvement for a culture of community

Rhonda Spencer, chief people officer at Barry-Wehmiller, recommends a “disciplined way to listen to people.” Are your leaders asking for feedback first? Do leaders and peers deliver feedback in a way positive and clear way? She reminded us that humans need five positive interactions for every negative interaction. If you’re not creating a safe environment for these genuine moments, you aren’t focused on work as a relationship.

What’s the risk of keeping work as a contract?

If you’re not actively nurturing a sense of appreciation, value, and belonging in your organization, you won’t retain top talent. The job market is hot and employees want to work where they feel like they belong and are making a difference. Companies spend more than $700 million on employee engagement technology, but the issue can’t be solved with technology alone. Progress will only be made when we start seeing work as a relationship that you nurture, and not a signed contract.


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About the Author

Erin Miller

Erin Miller is the Vice President of Human Resources at PrecisionHawk, a drone technology company based in Raleigh, NC. She is a progressive people leader with a passion for driving innovative human resource and people-first practices within organizations looking to scale.

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