The Way We Are Now 2016 – an annual study of the relationships of over 5000 people across the UK by Relate and Relationships Scotland. The study was carried out by YouGov. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th June and 7th July 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+).
“Our greatest joy and our greatest pain comes in our relationships with others” – Steven R Covey.
This report reminds us that relationships are the beating heart of our lives. We share the most important times in our lives with our family, friends and loved ones, whether they be times of great happiness or great sadness. The quality of our relationships will also in large part determine how we see our lives as a whole. People who report that they have a high quality of relationship with others are also more likely to say they have higher levels of contentment and fulfilment in their lives.
These may be simple truths, however they also point to the importance of consciously prioritising our relationships, not just with our partners, but with all family members. Money worries, health problems and even the sharing of household chores can place significant burdens on all family relationships. Particular pressures also come from having children, and this report recommends that further support is needed to help people manage the transition into parenthood and beyond.
We need to care of our relationships. By understanding the key pressures on families we can begin to give the support where it is needed most, and this report will help guide us in the right direction.
Labour of Love or Love vs Labour
Meaningful and satisfying work is important to our wellbeing. But the extent to which work contributes to – rather than hindering – our wellbeing depends in large part on relationships, and there’s now plenty of evidence which demonstrates that work and relationships affect each other. On one hand, workplace relationships (with colleagues and line managers) are a significant factor in our satisfaction with our work. On the other, our relationships at home are both affected by and in turn impact upon our work, and achieving an effective balance between work and family life is essential to our wellbeing, as well, in fact, as being important to our performance at work and therefore ultimately to productivity.
When we’re overworked and struggling to balance work and family, we’re more likely to become ill, perform less well, and leave our jobs; when we’re satisfied with work and work-life balance, we’re more likely to perform better and be more productive. When we’re overworked, our relationships also tend to suffer, as the build-up of stress outside the relationship takes its toll on the ways in which we relate to one another. But, in their turn, personal relationships can also impact upon our work, when relationship dissatisfaction and distress affect our overall health and wellbeing and thereby reduce work engagement.
This report – the first in a series of reports presenting findings from our landmark The Way We Are Now survey of over 5,000 people across the UK, which provides a unique window into the state of the nation’s relationships – examines the quality of our relationships at work and the extent to which we’re able to balance work and relationships effectively.
Although some research suggests job satisfaction is on a long-term downward trend in most advanced economies, there’s good news that our workplace relationships are mostly in good health:
- Three-quarters (75%) of employees reported good quality relationships with colleagues.
- Almost two-thirds (63%) said their relationship with their boss was good.
- However, digging a little deeper, we observed some quite unequal experiences here in terms of gender, age, sexuality, social grade, disability and whether or not employees worked flexibly.
- And overall, 12% said their boss behaves in an intimidating/bullying way towards them.
In terms of balancing work and family, the picture is bleaker:
- A third (33%) of employees agreed that their employer thinks the ideal employee is available 24 hours a day
- 27% agreed that they work longer hours than they would choose and this is damaging their wellbeing
- A third (33%) agreed that their employer thinks work should be the priority in a person’s life
- Over a fifth (21%) agreed that attending to care responsibilities is frowned upon at work
- A quarter (25%) agreed that stress experienced at home adversely affects them at work.
However, the good news is that this conflict between work and relationships is not simply a fact of (working) life; there’s much that can be done to improve work-family balance as well as workplace relationships – with clear benefits not only for employees and their families but also for employers. A recurring theme across many of the findings in this report is the importance of control or autonomy at work: employees who reported flexible working arrangements were doing better than those who didn’t against many of the indicators of workplace relationships and work-family balance. Besides offering flexible work to employees, employers may also offer employees relationship support services through Employee Assistance Programmes, for example – and we found 43% of employees would support this.
Given the clear ways in which our relationships and our work are linked, there is a powerful case for employees, employers and government to take action to invest in and support good quality relationships, with important benefits for employees and their families as well as employers and productivity.
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