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4 MAY 1999
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Relationships between staff as a function of job satisfaction

Jane Walton

"I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime."

This was written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and may be considered a good basic principle on which to work for good relationships on the job – which ultimately lead to job satisfaction. For the purpose of this paper I will be discussing collaborative relationships, group relationships and conflict in work relationships.

Collaborative relationships
Much co-operative effort is involved in providing good child care. That is, there should be interdisciplinary collaboration. This should occur at several levels. A collaborative relationship is one in which there is equity among the workers, i.e. a sense of team and team work. Their skills and abilities should complement each others' and should be aimed towards a common goal. This goal may be defined by one member of the team, who then gathers others with whom to collaborate in its pursuit. There may not be constant equality in decision-making, but in the course of any task, decisions and tasks become shared evenly. For example, the psychologist may prescribe a reward programme for a behaviourally disturbed child, but as the psychologist cannot supervise this programme on a day-to-day basis, the rest of the team is responsible for the plan's implementation. They must all have the same expectations of the child and see that his programme is adhered to and that there is no bending of the rules. Constant feedback is necessary in case the programme needs to be revised, in which case each team member can contribute.

Team membership
Full 'equality' in every way on a team can give rise to competition and conflict, whereas 'equity', which seeks a fair and just arrangement, recognises that no one person has all the knowledge, skills or resources to meet a goal; therefore the team members must be willing to interact. In Management and being Managed by Teddy Langford, ten points are listed as being necessary for effective collaboration. (See below).

Evolution of relationships
Collaborative relationships may evolve and change over time. S.R. Jacobson outlined typical phases in the evolution of an interdisciplinary collaborative group. At first there may be early enthusiasm with a sense of unity and co-operation. Then the members may show interest in finding out about the others' backgrounds and want to explain their own. Insecurity could follow and participants may question the need to collaborate and may acknowledge external pressures. They might fear loss of professional identity and status, of exposure of failings or worry about criticism. Open recognition of negative attitudes towards others and their profession may follow. Feelings of hostility and anger may occur. Next, attempts could be made to think, speak and work in relation to others and to come to terms with any conflicts. Lastly, there may be a revival of sureness, freedom and easy collaboration.

Working together
The group's function is to accomplish a common goal. Irwin Rubin in Managing Human Resources in Health Care Organisations (Reston, 1978 p.152) says a group should ensure that everyone's communications are heard, that there is encouraging, harmonising and compromising. These are mutually supportive features. Without these there may be an increase in conflict. The group needs to have norms or rules that govern the group's interaction. They decrease uncertainties in relationships and ensure that the group reaches its goals. There are roles such as information giver and seeker, clarifier, compromiser, etc. These represent contributions necessary to group function.

Different personalities will fit different types of behaviour, and in some cases multiple roles will be performed. Some of these roles can be taken by a leader, but in an effective group the tasks are shared. A special group role is that of the leader. This person has traits which are recognised by the group. He brings the group together, speaks for the group, is sensitive to the needs of the individual group members by giving support, and he should be able to compel members to work together to reach their goal. A leader may be elected by the group, or has been given authority and responsibility. The leader acts as arbiter and also gives orders. Carolyn. C. Clark in The Nurse as a Group Leader (New York: Springer, 1977) p. 10 says: “Leadership functions also include clarifying the group goals, identifying group tasks, promoting co-operation by helping members see where group goals are in their best interest, promoting security and trust, encouraging creative controversy, teaching problem-solving to group members, and teaching them to evaluate their group outcomes." Leaders may be autocratic or democratic. A group may function efficiently with either of these styles of leadership, but the leader should be able to vary his styles depending on the situation.

In child care there are two important groups: The primary work group (those working with the children) and the special task group (the planners and specialists). The reasons for the existence of such groups or teams are that there may be tasks for which creative input may be provided by the group, or peer support or peer pressure may improve qualities of a member, and group relationships can be vital when dealing with external challenges and threats. Sometimes conflicts develop quickly into serious problems. Sometimes they build up slowly. Both may produce discomfort for the people involved. Conflicts in work relationships not only affect individuals and their emotional states, but also their work output. There can be interpersonal and intergroup conflicts which may be covert or overt. Covert conflict may arise from antagonistic psychological relationships, e.g. inconsistent goals and value systems. Overt conflict can arise in verbal differences and arguments or major face-to-face problems.

Most people see conflict as a negative phenomenon. However, Stephen Robbins in Managing Organisation Conflict (Englewood Cliffs, N. J: Prentice-Hall, 1974, p 23.) states that an interactionist view of conflict represents a more productive approach, which sees conflict as part of human interaction. He assumes that conflict can have positive functions, but does not seek to create conflict. Robbins states that conflict can be functional or dysfunctional. If it supports the goals of the organisation it is said to be functional. Changes may be stimulated by conflict. Conflict which does not further the goals of the organisation is said to be dysfunctional. Robbins lists three sources of conflicts: communication, structure and personal behaviour factors.

Conflict arises when communicators are operating at different levels in their ideas. Organisation structure produces conflict when reward systems seem unfair or limited and must be competed for or where there is difficulty with access to information. Personal behaviour factors producing conflict are low self-esteem, dogmatism and authoritarianism. Not all conflict can be resolved. Usually conflicts can be reduced but not always eliminated.

Fred Luthans suggests three ways that can be used in dealing with conflict:

Other methods of dealing with conflicts in relationships are avoidance or withdrawal, smoothing out, compromising, authoritative commands or rational problem solving, agreeing upon a goal or confrontation. Conflict at work can produce discomfort but that discomfort can produce positive change. Conflict should be acknowledged in working relationships and staff should work towards resolving and managing it. It is the children's happiness and progress that gives one intrinsic job satisfaction, but being a member of a communicating and co-operative team comes a close second and improves ones own self-worth. Just as in direct practice in child care work one must go in prepared to be adaptable, co-operative and taking the lead where necessary while also following instructions, so all of this applies to our role in the staff group.

Ten Requirements for Effective Collaboration

1. Share a mutual respect for the expertise of colleagues

2. Define a common goal through discussion

3. Accept mutual responsibility for reaching the common goal

4. Participate in mutual review upon reaching a common goal

5. Communicate in an honest, open face-to-face mode

6. Share decision making power as peers, equitably

7. Share knowledge for the benefit of the group of collaborators

8. Offer support to collaborators through positive statements regarding their contribution

9. Understand the common language or terms common to the problem at hand

10. Have mutually acceptable roles.

From Langford: Management and Being Managed.


Josefowitz, N. (1987). People Management .London: Columbus Books Limited.

Langford, T (1981). Managing and Being Managed. London: Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs.

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