Healthy relationships at work? Are you kidding me?

Healthy relationships at work? Are you kidding me?

Jill James

Jill James

Chief Safety Officer

Jill James brings an unrivaled perspective on risk, regulation and liability. With 14 years of experience as a Senior OSHA Safety Investigator with the State of Minnesota, and nearly a decade in the private sector as a safety program manager, Jill is a passionate advocate for training ROI.

Dear 2017,

I resolve to surround myself with people who fill me up, don’t suck my energy, respect me, and who, at the end of the day, will have my back. 

That sounds healthy to me.

How about you?

Do you have people like that in your personal and professional life?

In our personal lives, we know that surrounding ourselves with good people is as vital as oxygen, yet it’s something many of us struggle with as living, feeling humans. How do we identify and sustain those relationships and part with others that are unsupportive?

What about work? Who surrounds us there? If you’ve ever had an unhealthy relationship at work, you know how badly it can sting, sometimes as painfully as it does in our personal lives. I know I’ve been there; many of you have too. Walking up to the door, that dreaded walk, taking deep cleansing breathes before crossing the threshold, not knowing how your humanity will be denied that day.

Unhealthy relationships are difficult and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to such problems. I could ramble on here about what worked for me in those inevitable situations and from whom I sought advice, support, and the messy or magical endings I found from following given advice. I’m not going to do that however, because that’s applying a one-size-fits-all theory and there isn’t one.

I will say that doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always gotten. And that’s exactly how Einstein defined insanity: doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results. So if you are facing-down an unhealthy relationship, do yourself a favor and don’t apply the insanity definition in 2017. 

There are some relationships that are a little easier to navigate and assess, and those are the relationships we have with professional service providers. Think about your current vendors. Do they fill you up, not suck your energy, respect you, and at the end of the day, have your back? 

I encourage you to take the time and think about this. It’s a small, simple threshold to apply. And wouldn’t your work life be enriched if all of your contractors, service providers, or vendors, were people and organizations you could trust to have your back? 

Work life in this 21st Century developed nation, offers us a bounty of choice in the business to business sphere, so why not make a choice that serves you and your organization on a new level?

Earlier this week, I was talking with a fellow safety professional. We had much in common by way of geography, early career similarities (carrying a badge), in having investigated occupational fatalities, and, unsurprisingly, where we landed later in life with work in human resources, workers compensation, and workplace safety.

My new professional friend, Russ, shared that he had recently finished a long selection process for a new workers compensation insurance provider, and that in 2017, he had many more service providers to vet and recommend to his management team. Russ told stories of favorite service providers he’s worked with in his 30-year professional life. Each one had two things in common:  (1) Russ trusted them and (2) they were willing to meet with him personally. 

His stories got me thinking of my own experience with service providers. He and I compared notes and reminded one another of specifics to ask regarding service and expectation setting, and of how we’d both been frustrated over services promised and under-delivered. 

Immediately, I thought of Liz and Harold and why I loved working with them and their companies so much as service providers. 

Liz was my assigned claims manager with a workers compensation insurance provider. And Harold was my assigned customer service advocate for an online safety training company. I had the privilege of working with each of them for 3 years in a former job. 

At that time, I was managing workers compensation cases across 5 states, utilizing 4 different insurance companies and 1 insurance broker. Liz and her company were head and shoulders above the other providers I worked with. Our partnership really felt like an extension of my own team, something I told Liz’s supervisor, Deb, often.  

Liz and her company had my back, my company’s back, and our employee’s backs. If you’ve ever done work comp claims management, you know how tricky it can be to make wise decisions for the health of a co-worker and the financial health of your company. 

Liz understood my company, it’s management philosophy, the names of all my key management people, the names and specialties of the local health care providers, the methods they used to manage injuries, the type of work our employees did, the light duty job categories we had, and the names and stories of every injured employee case she assisted with.

Liz treated every single person with the humanity they deserved and never assumed our employees were trying to game either the system or the employer. Liz knew my employees as well as I did, and I trusted her judgment completely. More importantly, so did our injured workers. She was kind and compassionate, firm when she needed to be, and always respectful and responsive. When I’d prepare for a management team update on injuries and claims, Liz and Deb would sometimes accompany me to explain details the company owners wanted to know. Remarkably, I wasn’t Liz’s only customer —she had several. 

Then there’s Harold. He’s actually a legend where he works. As in, everyone else in a customer service role aspires to be him. Harold and I built a rapport. He understood I didn’t “get” certain technology very well, so when I was perplexed by a form or process, Harold just offered to do it for me. When the president of my company wanted a very detailed report showing utilization of the cloud software Harold serviced, he delivered by producing  a document that was nearly 100 pages long. My president—an accountant—devoured every bit of it and asked for the same report every quarter. When I needed to be the ‘prophet in my own land’, and explain to my people how the training system software would work for them, I asked Harold if he could lead a virtual meeting, even though he had never before presented virtually to a large group over several time zones before. Later, Harold would share with me he was sort of nervous talking in front of groups.

Turns out Harold and I are both Star Trek fans, so when he delivered on service I would say, “Thank you, Number One,” and he would say something back like, “You have the Con.”

Both Liz and Harold would send me a quick email if they were going to be gone for a day, or on a vacation, and would introduce me to the person who would stand in their place while they were away.  Continuity of service with trusty-worthy people was always provided.

The best part? Their combined efforts saved my company money; lots of money. When I first started working with Liz and Harold, my company was spending $1.4 million on workers compensation cases annually.  After the first year of working claims closely with Liz and using Harold’s company’s training system, our costs went down to $850,000. 

And, as a bonus, Liz and I and Harold and I became friends. We know about one another’s families and passions. If I were hand-building a team today, I’d want both of them on it. 

Both Liz and Harold and their respective companies set a high bar regarding what a healthy relationship can look like and how you can benefit as an organization and individual employee. My experience with them prompted dissolution of other services providers who didn’t measure up, making way for more healthy relationships. 

How about you?  Who are your Liz and Harold? And, which service providers aren’t cutting it?

2017 is the year to make that change.