Informal contact between collegues: crucial to our wellbeing
If the COVID-19 measures forced you to work from home in the spring of 2020, you may have become (more) aware of the importance of high-quality relations between colleagues. A survey among over 8,000 of our members has revealed that no less than 42% of home-based employees miss informal contact between colleagues. The most unpleasant aspects of the coronavirus crisis turned out to be the uncertainty as to the duration and the substantially different work situation. The major impact of good contacts with colleagues on our professional wellbeing is well-known, but we would like to take this opportunity to highlight this insight once more. After all, high-quality and supportive relations between colleagues do not come about of their own accord: they need to be developed and invested in.
Collegial bond: important yet not self-evident
The interpersonal aspect influences how we feel at work in various ways. Did you know, for instance, that this factor is often more important for our wellbeing than an optimum work-life balance? More than a source of social contact, a warm collegial bond provides a lot of support in terms of the work itself. Colleagues who trust each other rely on one another to find solutions to problems.
Like no other, your colleague knows how much work you do and what difficulties you had to overcome to complete a particular task successfully. This enables you to share positive emotions as well as setbacks or frustrations.
But such a bond does not come about spontaneously. You share a common background with your family, while friendships are the result of more or less conscious choices. You can’t choose your co-workers. You work together with people who have diverse profiles, various communication styles and particular ambitions and who sometimes come from different cultures. It is naive to expect that this diversity will automatically dissolve into a professional rapport. Good working relations are an asset that is well worth your space, attention and time.
Efforts to be made by the employee as well as the employer
It’s not a matter of course for you and your colleagues to understand each other, but you can do your bit. You can establish a rapport by showing interest, asking questions and listening without judging. You contribute to a pleasant atmosphere by paying attention to your colleagues’ workload and by sharing your knowledge. Clearly communicating what’s troubling you also helps to bring tensions out into the open.
However, individual good intentions are often not sufficient if the employer fails to create a climate that structurally focuses on collegial relations. An occasional team-building activity may be fun, but it is not nearly as important as the formal work organisation. Do you have sufficient time and space to pay attention to one another? Are mutual help and knowledge sharing encouraged or discouraged? Does the employer take your interdependence into consideration when setting individual objectives? Do the bonus and assessment systems guarantee that you don’t have to assess each other or that one co-worker is not set against the other? Are there any initiatives that promote personal contact with international colleagues you seldom see in person? Does the employer enable groups who work together as colleagues but have a different legal status (e.g. permanent workers and freelancers) to establish a rapport or does he play them off against one another?
Key topic in social dialogue
As an employee organisation, we consider the connection between colleagues as our core business. It is our job to connect employees with each other and to serve as a platform for sharing concerns and creating support for improvement proposals . Moreover, not only do we seize the opportunity of social dialogue to create space for high-quality and supportive relations between colleagues, but we also rely on relations and consultations to achieve a constructive and result-oriented social dialogue. We firmly believe in this approach.
Guy Bleyenbergh, employee representative at AXA Bank
“After about two weeks of lockdown, we thought it was high time we make our voice heard as a trade union. We normally communicate with our members on a monthly basis, but this time we sent out a message to all colleagues. In doing so, we tried to hearten them and express our trust in the employer’s efforts. Afterwards, we conducted a survey among our members and asked them the following questions: How are you? How do you experience the current situation? What has gone right or wrong? One hour after sending out the survey, we had already received a quarter of the replies. The response rate was excellent and the input was positive. We provided the participants with feedback on the results of the survey and with a few tips. In view of the lack of contact with co-workers, which weighed heavily on many employees, we advised them to plan a five-minute informal one-on-one Skype meeting every now and then. We repeated this initiative a few weeks later. We wanted to encourage colleagues to show understanding for each other’s situation. If you’re at home with young children, you may be more irritable than usual. And if you spent the past weeks on your own, you are probably in need of a chat. Moreover, it is important to share your concerns. In all probability, you are not the only one in that situation. This way, we make it possible to talk about these issues and find a solution together.”