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Post #20 (Mishpatim) - Oppressed but engaged?-- The benefits of workplace relationships

“Employees engage with employers and brands when they’re treated as humans worthy of respect.” Meghan M. Biro

“When you acquire a Hebrew slave, that person shall serve six years—and shall go free in the seventh year without paying anything” Exodus 21:2.

“But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children: I do not wish to go free,’ his master shall take him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall then remain his master’s slave for life” Exodus 21:5–6.

Among the first statutes declared after the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai was God's injunction in consideration of Israelites who, in the future, would be compelled to submit to being an indentured servant due to financial distress. The master was allowed to retain the worker for up to six years, then release him. Having endured slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were commanded to exhibit particular sensitivity to enslaved people and other weak members of society. This kind of economic slavery was not prohibited, but it was time-bound. Nonetheless, if the servant spurned his release, preferring to remain with his beloved master and family, a formal rite was instituted to anchor his status.[1]


Work Relationships = Engagement

Do you ever feel trapped in your job? While some workers may feel trapped or may call their salary slave wages, we no longer subscribe to slavery as an employment option. But what keeps employees in their work despite less-than-optimal conditions, such as low pay, unsatisfying tasks, long commute? The answer? Employee well-being and general job satisfaction have consistently been associated with positive relationships at work. Social factors have been shown to trump work content and are manifested in overall job satisfaction.[2] Employees’ well-being is generally enhanced when work interactions are trusting, collaborative, and positive, and when employees feel valued and respected.[3]

Thus, good relationships can mitigate stress and promote greater engagement in the workplace, factors that can lead to enhanced productivity. The highly researched Gallup Q-12 employee engagement survey [4] comprises 12 questions reflecting the degree of worker engagement as an indication of the worker's sense of commitment and connection to the organization. Notably, almost half of these critical indicators tap interpersonal factors at work: "In the last 7 days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work," "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person," "There is someone at work who encourages my development," "I have a best friend at work," "In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress."

Cultivating trusting interpersonal relationships at work can serve as an antidote for many of the stressful challenges individuals confront. "Money can't buy work engagement" reflects another essential insight: In low-engagement organizations, pay raises do not seem to neutralize or override the absence of other crucial factors. In the modern era of high worker turnover, employers are learning this lesson the hard way.

In a widely quoted Gallup poll of over 1 million workers in the US, several factors were found to be responsible for individuals considering leaving their jobs voluntarily. Analyzing these findings, Gallup concluded that about 75% of the surveyed employees cited a cluster of motives linked to manager-related considerations.[5] Given the high cost of worker turnover and recognizing the manager's critical impact on workforce stability, these findings have spurred many organizations to invest substantial resources to improve managerial hiring.

Career tips:

  • Making job comparisons is common among acquaintances. You may hear them citing concrete, measurable, extrinsic criteria, such as monetary benefits, vacation days, and commuting time, and parking spaces. However, the intangibles at work are harder to compare. Friends might lead you to rethink career decisions in order to upgrade your tangibles. Beware! Be sure to think long and hard about the factors that have satisfied you in your current position, and carefully weigh the benefits of shorter commutes vs. giving up your colleagues' companionship or putting off your passion.

  • Investing in positive relationships at work benefits the individual and the organization. These relationships expand your social and professional network, slow down burnout, and contribute to a positive organizational climate that helps increase your and your colleagues' work engagement, which we have seen is a critical factor in job satisfaction.

  • Try this:: Hybrid work formats have inspired new ways of interacting and creative ways of maintaining engagement. Among these are no longer relying on chance face-to-face meetings with colleagues. Since actual "face time" may be less spontaneous, these interactions will require more planning than in the past. More virtual connections call for initiating more formal and spontaneous emails, WhatsApp, or intranet messages to ensure that all are in the loop and adequately consulted. As we have noted elsewhere, while remote meetings can be expanded to facilitate informal exchanges, they are no substitute for periodic non-virtual meetings.

[1] Exodus 21:5–6 [2] Morgeson, F. P.., & Humphrey, S. E. (2006). The work design questionnaire (WDQ): Developing and validating a comprehensive measure for assessing job design and the nature of work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(6), 1321-1339. [3] Mastroianni, K., & Storberg-Walker, J. (2014). Do work relationships matter? Characteristics of workplace interactions that enhance or detract from employee perceptions of well-being and health behaviors, Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, 2(1), 798–819. [4] Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F.L., Killham, E. A., & Agrawal, S. (2009). Q12 meta-analysis: The relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes. Gallup, Inc. [5] Robison, J. (2008). Turning around employee turnover. Business Journal.


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