Who is your “person”? That friend, family member, or co-worker that you can turn to for a sympathetic ear, practical advice, or simply a boost of morale? Supportive relationships, especially among team members, can have a big impact on the experience of work and feelings of burnout over time1.
Employees who perceive high-quality relationships with their coworkers are less likely to experience burnout like emotional exhaustion and feelings of detachment. Thus, it is in the best interest of PAC organizations to promote working conditions that improve the trust and rapport between employees. In the following paragraphs, we will outline various strategies to improve team-based relationships and support.
Peer support groups can allow staff to express their frustrations and joys and receive practical advice from co-workers. This may appeal to the employees who desire additional support beyond their direct supervisor or those who don’t feel comfortable coming to their supervisor with personal complaints. Critical to a successful peer support program is identifying a team leader who is enthusiastic and comfortable discussing emotional health and who is trusted by their peers2. The peer team lead will also need to have enough time to dedicate to planning and leading peer support group sessions. Finally, it’s also important to build a “referral network” of local resources (e.g., through the EAP or local partnerships) to connect peers, in the case that they reveal challenges that are beyond the scope of lay support.
As a case study in peer support, one non-profit healthcare system has deployed a 12-week “buddy program” that pairs staff together to help form supportive relationships3. Staff receive weekly emails that include wellness best practices and a “wellness challenge” to complete with their buddy. The challenges encourage staff to have conversations about wellness with their peers and have helped to create a more psychologically safe climate within the organization. Ultimately, the staff valued having a meaningful relationship at work that could provide emotional support.
PAC organizations can also utilize less formal ways of building relationships among team members. An in-service on effective communication and teamwork can improve the way that team members share information and work together, which often has indirect effects on the relationships between co-workers. More effective communication promotes a shared understanding of a situation’s needs and challenges4. From this shared understanding, team members build greater respect for their peers and eventually greater trust in each other.
A focus on team-based support can improve the ways that co-workers interact with each other and build mutually supportive relationships among staff. This may lead to an organizational climate where staff have greater satisfaction in their roles and improved resources to effectively complete their responsibilities. Investing in your employees’ emotional health will improve their morale and productivity, a win-win for any organization.
Fernet, C., Gagne, M., & Austin, S. (2010). When does quality of relationships predict burnout over time? The moderating role of work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 1163-1180.
International Association of Fire Fighters. (n.d.). 10 steps to build your peer support program. Accessed from: https://www.iaff.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/41972_How_to_Build_Your_Peer_Support_Program.pdf
Advisory Board. (2021). How Henry Ford stood up a peer-to-peer emotional support program. Accessed from: https://www.advisory.com/en/topics/staff-engagement-and-burnout/2021/05/henry-ford-peer-to-peer-emotional-support-program
Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness. (n.d.) Communication: the Heart of team relationships. Accessed from: https://cmoe.com/blog/communication-team-relationships/#:~:text=Effective%20communication%20between%20team%20members,heart%20of%20all%20productive%20teamwork.&text=When%20teams%20seek%20to%20understand,challenges%2C%20respect%20begins%20to%20flourish.&text=Team%20members%20who%20show%20respect,perspectives%20of%20others%20create%20trust.