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Guest blog: The hard facts of 'soft' skills in the new world of work

When you stop to think about it, it’s amazing to see just how much the vocabulary in the world of work has changed in the last decade or so.  Today, words like authenticity, transparency and belonging have become commonplace, and many talk about psychological safety and performance reviews in the same breath.  Somewhere, somehow, the language of emotions has become a key part of the world of work.

And that was even before COVID-19.

Life under lockdown took this to the next level, highlighting the vitally important and inextricable links between relationships, wellbeing and performance, and further crystallised the importance of ‘soft’ relational skills to the corporate bottom line.

Truth is, getting relationships wrong (both at work and at home) has been costing corporates big time – they just haven’t been connecting the dots.

From as far back as 2006, the CBI estimated the annual cost of workplace conflict in the UK at £33bn, and other studies have since showed that around 20% of management time is spent resolving conflict in teams (though not necessarily always succeeding).  And with the workplace continually becoming more intercultural, more virtual and more remote, the likelihood of misunderstanding and conflict continues to compound.

When we get it wrong the results can be devastating.  In their 2016 report Relationships in the 21st century: the forgotten foundation of mental health and wellbeing, the Mental Health Foundation issued the stark warning that quality relationships are so fundamental to our mental health and resilience, that ignoring them carries even greater health risks than obesity and lack of exercise.

On top of that, as our Jan 2020 Relationship Breakdown and the Workplace report confirmed, work pressures continue to impact home relationships, and home relationships when they break down, negatively impact wellbeing and workplace productivity.  The underlying YouGov survey revealed that high earners (with household incomes of £100k+), typically the leaders and decision makers in organisations, are three times more likely than the national average to have personal relationship challenges.  And when they do, their work performance suffers.  Four out of every ten respondents reported reduced productivity due to home relationship challenges.  Others reported needing time off and in a few cases leaving the job altogether.

And that was before anyone had to do life together under one COVID roof! 

Interestingly, the 42.8 per cent survey figure of reduced performance due to personal relationship challenges is uncannily similar to the predictions around mental ill-health.  The 2014 UK Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey reported that 43.4 per cent of adults will experience mental disorder of some form in their lifetime.  And the costs are significant.  In their January 2020 update, Deloitte estimated that mental health issues were costing UK companies between £42-45bn per annum (up 16% over two years) in absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover.  Somewhere in those figures is the actual cost of the cycle of work impacting home and challenges at home impacting productivity – we just weren’t measuring it yet. 

And then came the pandemic.

In the New Normal, leaders have had to step up in their ability to maintain team collaboration and productivity, and support individual wellbeing, while balancing their own personal circumstances at home.  For many, this demanded a level of relational intelligence that they never had to demonstrate before, having one-on-one conversations about issues previously outside their comfort zone – like mental health concerns and personal relationship challenges.

Team members had to learn to navigate life ‘up close and personal’ with loved ones while embracing new ways of collaborating and staying connected with the team long distance through virtual technology.  For many, stress levels soared as they felt pressured to maintain office-like availability and performance levels while juggling other responsibilities around childcare, vulnerable adults and a surge in household chores.  Even those who were home alone struggled to manage the bleed of work into personal time – and often struggled to talk about it.

Quality relationships both at home and at work became the glue that held people together – as individuals, as families, as teams and as organisations.  Where relationships were strong, they provided a source of resilience – an emotional anchor helping manage fears, calm anxieties and find creative ways to overcome challenges.  Where relationships were weak, cracks widened – increasing stress levels and reducing performance. 

In a very real way, quality relationships at work and at home have become central to employee resilience, mental health, wellbeing and performance. 

And as we move into a future world of work with increased levels of working-from-home likely to be a permanent feature, helping everyone change behaviours to ‘turn up better’ in all their relationships (both at work and at home) will be pivotal for organisational success.

The reality is that every one of the current strategic priorities around:

  • employee engagement and belonging;
  • talent retention;
  • building trust and working effectively as virtual teams;
  • inclusive cultures;
  • emotionally intelligent leadership; and
  • employee mental health and wellbeing

...has ‘building quality relationships’ as the golden thread connecting them to future success. 

Building strong Relational Intelligence across the organisation is mission critical for the new world of work. 

Equipping people with the skills to build relationships across distance and difference means that one by one, people, teams and organisations will change behaviours to create more inclusive, psychologically safe environments where everyone can work well and be well.  No one as yet knows the blueprint for success in the post pandemic world, but it’s clear that stronger relationships at work and at home will be fundamental to achieving healthy bottom-line results.  Thriving, productive workforces depend on it.

A huge thank you to Jon and Andrea Taylor-Cummings for writing this brilliant article for our newsletter/blog. 

Jon and Andrea's first book 'The 4 Habits of All Successful Relationships: Improving Your Relationships at Home, at Work and in Life' is out now! More info here

Here is a little more about them: 

Dr. ANDREA TAYLOR-CUMMINGS | CO-CEO Andrea has over 30 years’ experience as an organisation development consultant, specialising in relationship-centred behaviour change, creating inclusive cultures and ‘people’ strategy.  She has worked internationally (Jamaica, UK, Japan and Korea) in both the public and private sector, as a consultant with ‘big four’ and niche consultancies, and as an entrepreneur.  She offers extensive experience in designing and delivering leadership / people development programmes for diverse, global audiences, using both live and online workshops to achieve clear business goals.  Andrea is a Rhodes Scholar, holds a First-Class Honours degree in Computer Science from the University of the West Indies, and both Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Management Studies from Oxford University.  

JONATHAN TAYLOR-CUMMINGS | CO-CEO Jon has spent much of the last 30 years in professional service environments, helping both blue-chips (Credit Suisse, Bank of America Merrill Lynch) and start-ups (Redington) grow and develop corporate assets and client relationships to deliver a wide range of services across the banking, pensions and consulting sectors.  He offers strengths in building client engagement, aligning operations and developing relationships.  Jon holds a Master’s degree in Management Studies from Oxford University, a First-Class Honours degree in Electronic Engineering with Computer Science from the University College, London, and is a graduate of Seth Godin’s altMBA online leadership and management program.


Published: 17th June 2021