Productivity, Performance… and Personal Relationships

Happy people are more productive. Common sense tells us that. One of the things that can make us happy and content – or not – is our marriage or relationship with a “significant other”.  In fact, it’s probably the main thing that makes us happy or sad.

Which means it’s one of the main things that make us productive or not at work.

There’s a whole raft of research confirming that people who are happy in their home relationships are more productive at work.

But the issue of the quality of people’s domestic relationships is rarely if ever, addressed by employers. That includes the really good firms that invest heavily in the well-being of their staff.

When people are emotionally distracted, productivity inevitably takes a dive through absence – physical and also mental.

This mental absence makes relationship breakdown in the corporate world especially damaging because the nature of the work is so mentally demanding… that client pitch that could spell the difference between missing or hitting your targets for the year… that £multi-million deal (or was that multi-billion) that requires super focus to close without losing several people’s net worth!

The challenge in the corporate world is that the very nature of the work itself can create or exacerbate relationship problems.  High stress, long hours and often extended time apart to travel on business, take their toll.  And when you add to the mix the high-octane combination of power, success, the trappings of wealth, and multiple rounds of corporate entertainment that often abound in these environments, the temptation is generally in no short supply.

The vulnerability that can come from being surrounded by beautifully presented people, each throwing off warmer vibes than the daggers that were being shot at you as you left home under stress that morning, is not to be underestimated!  Without a doubt, working in this high-performance, high-pressure environments brings rewards, but they come at a high price for individuals and for the organisations themselves.  With long-term couple relationships breaking up at a rate of 1-in-2 in the UK and much of the developed world, it stands to reason that this break-up rate and loss of productivity is mirrored in organisations, especially in high-pressure environments like professional services.  

The problem is no one is measuring the impact of relationship breakdown on performance and productivity, despite the fact that the shrapnel of relationship breakdown is everywhere.  If employee engagement and well-being are indeed major concerns, we can’t sweep this one under the carpet anymore.

Over the last 20+ years, we’ve gathered case-loads of anecdotal evidence – both first-hand from working in this space ourselves, and also from working with countless couples experiencing challenges – confirming that corporate professional environments top the charts for “the double whammy” on relationships– stressful relationships at home negatively impact workplace productivity, and lower productivity creates more stress on the job which then further increases unhappiness at home and less productivity at work. In these kinds of environments, as one divorce lawyer eloquently puts it, the “circle of distraction” is complete.

As a corporate employer then, the simple question is what can you do?

For starters, consider the impact of relationship breakdown as a root cause or source of well-being and mental health issues, and include a proactive approach to supporting relationships in well-being initiatives.  It’s great having gym memberships and mindfulness at work, but the problems at home still greet you at the door and fuel the “circle of distraction”.

Companies should regard it as a huge opportunity to help breathe new energy and vitality into their workforces by supporting them in the relationships that matter most, especially where the nature of the job impacts home life.  

In our 20+ years’ experience, we have found that there are basically 4 fundamental habits that ALL successful couples exhibit. Equally, every failing relationship we’ve ever seen has lacked one or more of these habits.  Equipping people with the skills to develop these habits supports them in getting over the hurdles that every relationship faces and reduces the chances of them becoming part of the breakdown statistics. The four fundamental habits are :

  • Be CURIOUS, not critical– which helps people get over the hurdle of frustration that comes from unmet expectations.
  • Be CAREFUL, not crushing– which helps people get over the hurdle of poor conflict resolution approaches and the damage they can cause in relationships.
  • ASK, don’t assume– which helps people get over the hurdle of frustration that comes from mistrust and disrespect that can creep into relationships over time.
  • CONNECT before you correct– which is all about getting better at communicating real value and appreciation, and holding back on that need to give “constructive feedback” that so many of us are all too good at! 

Indeed, equipping employees with these skills means they build better relationships around them – at home, at work and in life and turn up as their “best selves” more often than not

What if organisations equipped their people with key relationship skills at transition points that challenge relationships the most – like having a first child, promotions to positions that demand more time away from home, and going on expatriate assignments?  Instead of just waiting on relationships to fall over and offering late-stage counselling, what if being equipped with the fundamentals of building great relationships was a natural part of personal and professional development?

In the blog we did 18 months ago, we also quoted research confirming that :

“A 10% increase in well-being spend correlated with 5% increases in job performance, 6% more “best work” days per month and decreases in presenteeism by 24%… and a host of other performance benefits for the firm.” 

Relationship capability is the missing link in the well-being puzzle.  Your people deserve that 10%, and the potential gains are huge. 

A black couple in office clothes leave for work.

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