Are Coworkers More Important than Leaders at Work?

Learn about the importance of coworkers for your well-being!

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We all know the old adage that people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. While leaders are crucial in determining workplace experiences, coworkers play a huge role in your working life. We often discount the role of others in our work experiences. But, research shows that coworkers are really important. This also means that your actions are really important to others. Read below to see more on how and when coworkers make a difference in your work experiences.

Why do coworkers matter?

Research has strongly demonstrated that social support makes a difference in decreasing employees’ stress and burnout. Knowing that you can rely on others to help you when times get tough is reassuring. When you actually receive support from others, it helps you to be successful and makes you feel valued at work. You might even benefit from support when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed at work and need to vent. In any event, your coworkers play a large role in your daily work experiences. However, many employees will discount the role of coworkers in their life. Instead, people focus just on their leaders. Below I’ll summarize the places where coworkers matter more than leaders in determining well-being.

coworkers and leaders are both important
Most people only pay attention to leaders when thinking about how to drive support at work. But, coworkers matter too!

How are they more important than leaders?

Across 161 studies, including close to 78,000 employees, researchers have found that there are many ways in which coworkers are actually more important to well-being at work than leaders. First, coworkers can make you more engaged in your work, compared to leaders. Second, coworkers also make you less likely to be absent or to purposely reduce your work effort. In these ways, coworkers are actually found to be more important than leaders to your well-being at work. The day-to-day interactions you have with coworkers determine how absorbed you feel in your work and whether or not you are going to show up and try your best.

Additionally, and similarly to leaders, coworkers can make your job more straightforward and understandable. This means that having support from coworkers make your job tasks more clear and make it less likely that you’ll feel overwhelmed or conflicted about how your tasks fit together. Having support from coworkers also makes you more satisfied and committed to your job. You are also less likely to want to quit your job if you have coworker support. Finally, coworker support makes you more likely to perform well and to help others who need to improve their skills. The lack of negative coworker attitudes also makes you less likely to act in ways that would harm others at work.

coworkers support each other
Coworkers can provide support for one another by building each other up when things get hard!

What can we learn from the importance of coworkers?

Particularly in jobs where you have to interact with others a lot, coworkers make a big difference in your well-being at work. Interestingly, positive coworker behaviors are more likely to predict positive outcomes than negative behaviors are likely to predict negative outcomes. So, the power of positivity can combat the power of negativity at work if it’s prevalent.

The first takeaway then is to ask a lot of questions about coworkers before accepting a new job or before moving to a new team. A lot of times, we ask questions about our boss or the organization – but the team is important! Try to meet with them to get a sense of what kind of relationships people have. If they aren’t particularly supportive of each other, that might be a good indicator that it isn’t a good move for you. You can ask questions like “Can employees count on each other when things get tough? Can you give me an example?” or “Do people share information openly with one another? Can you give me an example of how people communicate when they need assistance from the team?”. You can also ask about whether or not people encourage one another and how they specifically do that.

Second, if you’re currently on a team, it’s important to think about how you can increase your team’s supportiveness. Can you start with yourself, by encouraging others when they do a great job? How about taking time to listen to a coworker who is having a hard time? Or troubleshooting with a coworker who could use extra help? If you start with yourself, you might be able to grow the culture organically. You can also talk to your manager about the importance of coworker support and see if they might be willing to put trainings in place to help the team, based on the research outlined here. If you are a manager, dedicate resources to enhancing coworker support.

Overall, coworkers matter. We often overlook the importance of the people we work with, but we shouldn’t. Changing the culture can start with you, whether you’re an individual contributor or a manager who can lead the team to increase coworker support. Have you had positive or negative interactions with your coworkers? Have you grown a more supportive team somehow? We have talked about the importance of friends at work before, but would love to hear your tips and tricks below!

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