Flourishing via Workplace Relationships: Moving Beyond Instrumental Support

Flourishing via Workplace Relationships: Moving Beyond Instrumental Support


Taxonomy of relationship functions: These are identified functions that give an understanding of how relationships gives rise to outcomes like meaningfulness, positive emotions, and life satisfaction, which are indicative of employee flourishing. The functions are important in today’s workplace. The taxonomy of relationship functions includes: task assistance, career advancement, emotional support, as well as growth, friendship, and the opportunity to give to others.

Who conducted the study?

Amy E. Colbert (University of Iowa), Joyce E. Bono (University of Florida), & Radostina K. Purvanova (Drake University)

What did they find?

The researchers suggest that positive work relationships play an important role in promoting employee flourishing. There are significant associations between functions and outcomes. They are as follows:

  • Task assistance is most strongly associated with job satisfaction.
  • Giving to others is most strongly associated with meaningful work.
  • Friendship is most strongly associated with positive emotions at work.
  • Personal growth is most strongly associated with life satisfaction.

How did they find these results?

The researchers did a series of qualitative and quantitative studies. They developed a model of the functions of positive work relationships and focused on the role that relationships play in employee flourishing. The researchers created a scale called the Relationship Functions Inventory and developed a theory suggesting different linkages between the relationship functions and outcomes that indicate employee flourishing.

First, the researchers developed a taxonomy of the full range of functions that work relationships benefit. Second, they established predictive validity for the taxonomy of relationship functions. They included personal growth, friendship, and giving to others to help them understand how relationships support outcomes that indicted employee flourishing. Third, they demonstrate the affects each relationship function has by studying them together, which allowed them to understand unique contributions of relationship functions. Lastly, they introduced and validated a comprehensive scale designed to measure the full range of work-relevant relationship functions called the Relationship Functions Inventory.

Why are these findings important?

This study highlights the benefits of positive, high-quality work relationships for individual employee well-being and flourishing. It specifically pinpoints task assistance, giving to others, friendship, and personal growth as factors that benefit an individual’s flourishing rather than being ambiguous in its findings. These elements are beneficial to both work-relevant support and personal growth and friendship. The findings provide a more specific view of the rewards that positive work relationships can create for employees.

Where can these results be applied?

Considering how important emotional support is in employee flourishing, employees can build stronger relationships by being open to different perspectives and viewing each other as people rather than as coworkers just as Jules Schroeder, the founder of CreateU did. She first suggests being willing to feel uncomfortable in situations with coworkers when conflicts arise. In uncomfortable situations, many people want to leave, but experiencing another’s genuine emotions allows for trust and safety in a relationship to build. Secondly, Schroeder suggests not thinking about how one “should” feel in situations because it prevents the actual emotions from being expressed. Trusting one’s own feelings as what they are supposed to feel allows for authentic expression, which will make intimate connection easier with others. Lastly, one should be empathetic and understanding of another’s experiences. Paying attention to nonverbal communication as well as acknowledging and showing care for others’ experiences are great ways for relationships to grow.


Colbert, A. E., Bono, J. E., & Purvanova, R. K. (2016). Flourishing via workplace relationships: Moving beyond instrumental support. Academy of Management Journal, 59(4), 1199-1223.

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