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SMART Work is Relational

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The letter R in the SMART framework stands for Relational.

Relational is defined as the extent to which an individual experiences a sense of support, purpose and social contact in their role.

Social support refers to the extent to which an individual feels supported by those they work with, including their supervisors. Task significance describes how much an individual feels their work is important in relation to the lives of others and society more broadly. Social worth concerns the amount that a person feels their work is appreciated. 

As humans, connection to both others and the purpose of our work is a necessary ingredient for feeling satisfied and fulfilled with our jobs.

Characteristics of Highly Relational Jobs

Jobs that are highly relational are likely to involve:

  • Employees and supervisors who support each other and show personal interest

  • consist of tasks which add a clear sense of value to the organisation

  • contain a degree of feedback from outside the organisation, leading to sense of feeling valued

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"People can be having the worst day ever, but they have their hair done and feel better. I like making people happy."


- Hairdresser


“You get criticised when you're injured and literally can't use your leg form the pain.”

- Professional Dancer

Characteristics of Less Relational Jobs

Jobs that are less relational are likely to involve:

  • teams and supervisors which offer insignificant social support to one another

  • tasks which provide minimal, if any feedback on their value within the organisation

  • minimal opportunities to feel valued for efforts by people outside the organisation

What are the Risks of Jobs with Poor Relational Design?

From a mental health perspective, research shows that individuals with a low level of social support are at a 24 – 44% level of increased risk for experiencing poor mental ill-health. Interestingly, there was no reported difference in effects between whether this support came from co-workers or supervisors [1].


From an organisational perspective, a lack of relational aspects in work such as social support have been linked to a broad range of outcomes including job stress, job satisfaction, burnout, organisational commitment and employee wellbeing [2] [3].

Research Spotlight

Several studies have shown that structuring jobs so that workers experience a sense of contact with those their work affects has demonstrated positive effects. In one study, call centre agents were given brief contact with beneficiaries – in this case, individuals who received a scholarship due to funding raised by callers. Compared to controls, these callers significantly increased the time they spent on calls in the subsequent month in addition to their average weekly revenue [4].

A study based in an Australian hospital looked at the effects of introducing increased support through the introduction an advanced practice nurse to assist with junior doctors working on after hour’s shifts. It was found that this change greatly improved the social characters of the work design for junior doctors due to increased support, feedback and interdependence. As a result, junior doctors experienced less uncertainty and improved their proactivity, carrying out more self-initiated rounds of wards compared to previously [5].

Strategies to make Work more Relational

Whilst some jobs will naturally offer more opportunities to connect with others, there are a number of practical steps you can take to make your work more relational. Below are a number of recommendations to try out.

Here are some tips to make your work more relational:

  • If your work does not have a social club, consider starting one. If there is a social club, make a conscious effort to attend and get to know your colleagues better by showing a personal interest in their lives.

  • Try implementing ‘team lunches’ where members of a team, department or business unit meet once a week and have lunch together. This simple measure can help to boost feelings of connection whilst better understanding how different business units work.

To learn more strategies, check out our training opportunities.


[1] SafeWork NSW. (2017). Review of evidence of psychosocial risks for mental ill-health in the workplace. New South Wales, Australia.  

[2]  Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893-917.

[3] Parker, S. K., (2015). Does the evidence and theory support the ‘Good Work Design Principles’: An educational resource. Safework Australia. 

[4]  Grant, A. M., Campbell, E. M., Chen, G., Cottone, K., Lapedis, D., & Lee, K. (2007). Impact and the art of motivation maintenance: The effects of contact with beneficiaries on persistence behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 103(1), 53-67.

[5] Johnson, A., Nguyen, H., Parker, S. K., Groth, M., Coote, S., Perry, L., & Way, B. (2017). “That was a good shift” Interprofessional collaboration and junior doctors’ learning and development on overtime shifts. Journal of health organization and management, 31(4), 471-486.

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