Home / Comment / In brief

How relationships can enable fulfilling work

How relationships can enable fulfilling work

Looking over conversations with more than 30 guests on his podcast The Right Work, Andrew Grey explores what it means to thrive at work. 03/06/2024

How many skills are listed on your CV? What level of qualifications do you have? How impressive are the achievements on your LinkedIn profile? In the relentless pursuit of career advancement, these markers often seem crucial for career success. But what if thriving at work is about something altogether different?

My friend Arjun Sahdev and I, fascinated by this question, have explored it extensively with over 30 guests on The Right Work podcast. They have been from careers as diverse as politics, comedy, media and healthcare – but have unanimously agreed that flourishing at work is about more than CV points; it’s fundamentally about strong relationships.

This point was vividly illustrated by Elizabeth Oldfield, who, citing writer David Brooks, emphasised prioritising not simply our ‘resume’ or ‘CV virtues’, but our ‘eulogy virtues’: the qualities that people will really remember us by at our funerals. While people may not mention that we had a degree in biology or managed a department, they’ll almost certainly remember if we were kind, funny, or caring. As Elizabeth put it, you could be a Nobel Prize winner, but also unkind to your colleagues.

Echoing this sentiment, Dr Kathryn Mannix – drawing on 30 years’ experience as a palliative care consultant – observed that the depth of our human relationships, rather than our career achievements, was consistently what mattered most to people at the end of their lives.

So if more workplaces reflected this prioritisation of human relationships, what eulogy virtues would we see demonstrated?

Empathy and compassion

The recent, rapid advancement in AI’s capabilities has left many of us both impressed and alarmed at its ability to do what we’ve always relied on people for.

Tom (Lord) Watson, former government minister and deputy leader of the Labour Party, suggested this advancement highlighted the importance of valuing uniquely ‘human’ work, such as social care, teaching and nursing. Such work fundamentally requires virtues like empathy and compassion. (And even if AI can emulate these – it can never be authentically human in its behaviour).

Watson echoes what Hannah Rich argues in Theos’ Love’s Labours: that relational jobs such as care work have been devalued and under–resourced, preventing the conditions that enable care workers to have the time and value to build relationships with the people they care for.

He also highlighted the central role of relationships in the work of MPs in the British political system, where even the Prime Minister has a constituency to represent and support. This requires MPs to connect with and understand the needs of their constituents, who so often face very different and much more challenging circumstances to them.

Authentic connection

Beyond politics, businesses increasingly recognise that staff want more than simply pay or promotions to stay motivated, and that building relationships is fundamental to their fulfilment. This attests to the central notion in Catholic Social Teaching that our human nature is relational.

Richard Taunt, a former senior civil servant – like thousands of founders and CEOs around the world – was inspired by Fred LaLoux’s Reinventing Organisations to adopt ‘teal’ principles for his organisation, Kaleidoscope Health and Care. These principles include that people should be free to bring their whole selves to work, and full participants in a decentralised decision–making process.

At organisations like Kaleidoscope, this movement enables open and collaborative cultures, and strong relationships with each other’s authentic selves instead of their professional personas.


Inclusive behaviour and leadership are a vital set of virtues. By fostering inclusive cultures, leaders powerfully affirm the inherent dignity of all human beings – especially those from historically marginalised groups who may not have always felt this to be the case.

But as behavioural economist Dr Grace Lordan, Associate Professor at LSE, attested – inclusivity is not only valuable from a moral perspective; it leads to better results and stronger workplaces. Inclusive leaders hear diverse voices, maximising their chances of hearing the strongest ideas and avoiding groupthink. Moreover, they build a stronger workforce, and are more likely to be in demand as leaders themselves. Facilitating more inclusive relationships at work benefits leaders, their teams, and their work as a whole.


So far we have considered workplace relationships; but how can employers honour the often more important relationships people have outside work, with friends and family?

Generations expert Dr Eliza Filby reflected on how the nature of our workforce is changing, as more millennials and gen Z workers want to be respected as human beings with complex relationships and lives. They aspire to be more than simply robots who exist to perform functions for their employers.

In response to this, employers can embrace flexibility – abandoning the unrealistic expectation that people can always be available from 9am to 5pm five days a week. Whether it’s childcare at unpredictable hours, or the responsibilities of our 6 million unpaid carers, employers should respect what Paul Bickley describes in Theos’ Working Five to Nine as the many forms of unpaid work that people do outside their main jobs.

With the rapid rise of AI and automation, and a constantly evolving labour market, none of us knows exactly what workplaces will look like even 10 years from now. But if employers and employees embrace eulogy virtues, people will have more fulfilling careers and organisations will be stronger. Most importantly of all, it will lead to flourishing human beings who demonstrate virtues that will be valued by those they love.


Interested in this? Share it on social media. Join our monthly e–newsletter to keep up to date with our latest research and events. And check out our Supporter Programme to find out how you can help our work.

 Photo by Marc Mueller on Pexels

Andrew Grey

Andrew Grey

Andrew Grey is co–host of The Right Work podcast with Arjun Sahdev. He has a BA and MPhil in Theology and Christian Ethics from the University of Oxford.

Watch, listen to or read more from Andrew Grey

Posted 3 June 2024

Relationship, Work


See all

In the news

See all


See all

Get regular email updates on our latest research and events.

Please confirm your subscription in the email we have sent you.

Want to keep up to date with the latest news, reports, blogs and events from Theos? Get updates direct to your inbox once or twice a month.

Thank you for signing up.