Guest Post: Harnessing the Power of Relationships


When was the last time you thought about gravity? It plays a pretty important role in our lives, doesn’t it? It keeps us from floating off into space. It literally holds our solar system together. Gravity is vital to our survival.

And yet, unless you are a physicist, you probably haven’t thought about gravity since your last science class. It just works in the background of your perception, affecting you in so many ways you don’t notice.

There is another force in your life that is similarly important and likely just as invisible to you. It’s the effect on your life of the relationships you have (or don’t have) with other people. We call this force “social gravity.”

Chances are you notice the effects of social gravity from time to time. It’s why we say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.” For example:

  • Somehow, one of your colleagues always seems to have inside knowledge about what’s going on with the company.
  • One of your friends has a way of coming up with last-minute tickets for the best concerts and events that come through town.
  • And then there’s your neighbor, who seems to get a new promotion every 12 months.

Chances are, these individuals have learned to unleash the power of social gravity by cultivating a robust network of relationships with others. They invest time and energy building these relationships. And, these relationships pay them dividends over time.

On an individual level, it’s easy to recognize the power of relationships to positively improve our lives. It may be less obvious that the power of relationships is also what’s needed to create an engaging, productive culture at work.

For several years, I had the opportunity to study and analyze organizations recognized as Best Places to Work by their employees. I wanted to understand their secret sauce. What are they doing for employees to create these exceptionally engaging workplaces?

Year after year, the same factors emerge as the most significant drivers of employee engagement and satisfaction at these organizations:

  • Feeling valued and appreciated
  • Trust
  • Opportunity to grow
  • Being recognized for contribution
  • Connection with others

Individually, it’s not surprising to see any of these on the list. It was in looking at the list collectively that it finally hit me – these are the same things we expect in any important relationship in our life, from our significant other to our best friends. For employees, work is a relationship – and an important one when you consider how much of our time and identity are wrapped up in it.

This insight, that work is a relationship for the employee, begins to shed light on why so many organizations are struggling to create a work experience that is engaging for employees.

Most employers still view work as a contractual relationship between the company and the employee. The company pays the employee to show up and do work, and the employee complies (or else). This “work as a contract” model has resulted in most management practices and HR processes being designed with the purpose of ensuring compliance to the rules and standards of performance.

Contrast that against the expectations of an employee who experiences work as a relationship. They long for validation and belonging, for positive reinforce and encouragement. They need to know someone cares about them and recognizes their contribution. They need to be loved and cared for.

Considering this disconnect, is it any wonder that there’s a lack of engagement at work?

The best organizations recognize that they are in a relationship with their employees, and they behave accordingly. They design and reinforce a work experience that honors and satisfies the employee’s relationship needs. And employees reward them with effort, loyalty, and creativity.

Join me at WorkHuman to gain a deeper understanding of what makes for a healthy, productive relationship, and how to apply this to creating a work experience that employees will love.

(Lauritsen will present “The Relationship Comes First: A New Model for Employee Experience Design” as part of “The Organization of the Future” content track at WorkHuman, May 30-June 1 in Phoenix.) 

Jason Lauritsen (1 Posts)

Jason Lauritsen a keynote speaker, author and advisor. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. A former corporate human resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest. Jason is the co-author of the book, "Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships." Connect with Jason at www.JasonLauritsen.com.