Relationships are the scaffolding of good wellbeing

Written by Nigel Girling CMgr FCMI Tuesday 06 April 2021
Here’s why not mentioning work can boost relationships and wellbeing and stop 'transactional' conversations
Colleagues having a coffee together

All of us have faced challenges during 2020 and 2021: working from home, being furloughed or carrying the workload of others who are on furlough, losing our jobs as organisations restructure or go under; facing an uncertain future at home and work, dealing with daily news of sickness, death and danger... It’s been a tough time for almost everyone.

In more ‘normal’ times when under threat, we’ve often fallen back on the relationships we have with those around us and in our support group – our colleagues at work, our friends, family members and even those whose job it is to support us such as HR and our line managers.

Most of us have found this much more difficult in the last year or so; we’ve often been disconnected from that support network and they’ve had their own challenges to face.

What we know from years of research into mental health and wellbeing, is that we generally need those networks to keep us positive, make us laugh, share our frustrations, have a good rant about something (or someone) and generally help us maintain our equilibrium. Take that away and we’re all skating on pretty thin ice.

So what can we do about it?

This is an issue that needs to be considered from the perspective of the leader and the follower – those of us in management roles tend to fall into both categories. We lead our teams and follow our own leaders or stakeholders.

  1. As a leader, you need to be very aware of your people’s circumstances, their potential for isolation, their behavioural responses that may provide indicators of how they are feeling and the reasonableness of the demands you are placing upon them.
  2. You need to be mindful of the potential for every interaction to become merely transactional or focused on a task or outcome. Relationships are usually built and strengthened on a personal level, so if you had good relationships with team and colleagues before, you need to value that and continue to build it. Arrange a chat with them one-to-one or as a team and then don’t mention work. Build in some time at the beginning and end of a meeting to chat informally. Share your own story and encourage them to do the same. If you didn’t have those relationships before, it will be harder to start to build them now – but not impossible. Empathy, compassion and a genuine interest in who and how they are can carry you a long way. You should also reflect on why you didn’t do that naturally before, as it may provide you with some leadership clues…
  3. Phone them up. When possible again, meet them for a face-to-face coffee and a chat. Research has shown that a phone call is often less stressful than a video meeting. It also means you can walk about outside while speaking, and so can they. Green spaces and fresh air can be hugely beneficial for wellbeing, posture and clearing the head – for both of you.
  4. As a follower, consider the same issues upwards. Your own leader may be under very significant pressure and stress, especially with financial devastation visited on so many organisations. So how can you support them and help them to deal with it? This isn’t just being kind and altruistic – though that is undoubtedly part of the point – because we also know that helping someone else is very beneficial to our own wellbeing. Perhaps nothing else builds relationships faster than being there to help and support someone in their hour of need. It will not be quickly forgotten and it will give you a reason for gladness and pride – two crucial factors in your own mental health and wellbeing.

From a more self-interested standpoint, supporting your own leader(s) in getting through this can raise your profile in the organisation, mark you out as a rising star and put you in the frame for future opportunities – though it is best if you are doing this primarily to be helpful and supportive rather than from solely a more cynical desire for gain.

Our relationships are our ‘scaffolding’

Relationships keep us true in good times, and upright in bad ones. You need to value them as your support, your network, your refuge and the place where you belong. You need to nurture them, for they will give you strength and courage when you need it most – and in doing so you’re building reciprocity for when you need their support – as you undoubtedly will.

For further resources on looking after your mental health and your team’s wellbeing, visit CMI’s wellbeing hub.


Nigel Girling CMgr CCMI FInstLM FIIRSM FRSA is renowned as an influential thinker and is a regular contributor to expert panels, think-tanks, conferences and professional journals. As a Chartered Companion of CMI, he is one of a select group of thought leaders seeking to transform leadership for the new world. After 35 years as a CEO, influencer and mentor, his articles are often entertaining, challenging and definitely a sideways look at the key issues of leadership.

Nigel is head of centre at Inspirational Development Group. (@InspirationalDG)

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