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How to build constructive work relationships

Evidence has shown improved health and safety, and business performance is achieved by building constructive relationships and not just with your workers, but all stakeholders in the supply chain, especially your customers.

Many business owners and managers are missing the opportunity to put in place effective worker participation systems, and realise the potential of this as a tool for improving every aspect of business, not only health and safety.

The BIG question is ‘how do you build constructive relationships?’

Establishing constructive relationships with workers to manage health and safety should not be viewed solely as the job of management. The essence of any relationship is people and everyone in an organisation is responsible to mutually agree and develop working relationships.

The controls and scale of initiatives to make relationships effective are different, between the levels of organisation and along the extended value chain (relationships with suppliers, customers, contractors, unions, etc.) but the principles to build constructive relationships remain the same.

The Manager's role

Management is responsible for resource and stakeholder planning, goal setting and defining best practice behaviours and outcomes.

This  means ensuring:

  • The right people are involved
  • Goals and strategy are communicated in a clear and simple way
  • Verbalising the value (soft and hard metrics) to be secured in the relationship
  • Delivering resources to support the relationship holders to define best practice behaviours and outcomes
  • The skills are available (e.g. H&S representatives)
  • Adherence to existing standards and safeguards
  • That outcomes of the relationship result in cost-effective and value generating outcomes
  • Sustainable solutions must define process, metrics and expected stakeholder behaviours
  • Promoting ownership and accountability of relationship holders


The Worker's role 

Workers contribute to constructive relationships through positive engagement, innovation and open challenge.

Workers can best achieve this by:

  • Bringing real examples to the group to explain issues and conflicts
  • Bringing a constructive attitude: participate to improve
  • Challenging their colleagues to get best solutions
  • Recognising everyone’s ideas together will lead to better solutions
  • Seeking goals and key performance indicators (KPI) when unclear


Proven results

A recent Swedish group study on ‘Road safety improvement in large companies’ showed that working as a group, which results in having constructive relationships, delivers the most effective results. This study focused on how effective various driver incentives and management actions were in reducing road accidents and related costs.

The detailed study showed that using group discussion techniques (a standard outcome of worker participation systems) delivered the greatest improvement in road safety, whilst other methods resulted in a worse situation or in less than best-case improvement.

Characteristics of an organisation which do not have this focus on participation and constructive relationships include; staff feeling isolated, workers consistently over-loaded and more conflicts and interpersonal problems. This results in increased stress and fatigue which leads to absenteeism, increased grievances and errors of judgement and action. 

Do you have an accurate sense of how well your business is performing in this area?

Workers should see any workplace changes as an opportunity to share with management all challenges which they face on day today basis. Worker participation results in raising their own profile and influencing business in areas where they would not normally have a voice.

These conversations are an opportunity to improve process and efficiency in other areas – often with no additional investment required.

Workers should welcome constructive relationships with managers and peers, and make the most by promoting open thinking, sharing challenges and ideas, taking ownership and accountability to resolve. They will shortly find a raise in profile and ability to influence business in other areas, along with decreased stress of having to hide information or deal with unsatisfactory work conditions.

A focus on procedures and training will likely lead to further over-procedure and added stress for workers, rather placing constructive relationships on everyone’s agenda in business, from management to worker level will lead to your business achieving greatest sustainable value.

In summary, a focus on effective worker participation creates safer workplaces and benefits for all, the business wins with worker engagement leading to innovation, and workers win with ability to influence.