The combination of the weather, the post-New Year’s blues and the ground to cover before the summer holiday season finally swings around combine to make the first Monday of February the worst day for absenteeism, so notorious as to be named ‘National Sickie Day.’ Last year, an estimated 375,000 people called in sick, at a total cost to UK businesses of around £34m. The 2015 CIPD Absence Management report revealed that only a fraction of companies met their targets for reducing absenteeism the previous year, so what more can be done?

The question seems more complicated that it actually is. The decision to call in sick is hugely influenced by the quality of an employee’s working relationships, and the level of mutual trust. As a leader, having trusting working relationships is at the core of getting things done. Where trusting relationships exist, we’re more engaged, open to possibilities and proud to belong. When we have that sense of belonging and are willing to go the extra mile, we’re a lot less likely to call in sick unless we have to.

Shpëtim Çerri identified that social interactions have the strongest correlation with trust. This seems intuitively reasonable; we base the decision to trust someone on what we believe about their character and behaviour, and we only reasonably form conclusions on these factors based on the relationship we have with them. At the core of a leader’s ability to have meaningful social interactions is their ability and emotional commitment to holding authentic, two-way human conversations.

Building a trusting relationships starts with creating a space in which a leader and their team members can better understand and know each other in terms of who they are, what they do, how they do it and above all why they do it. While this conversation goes beyond basic ‘getting to know you’-type questions, they’re an ideal starting point.

Setting the scene to build trust and discuss progressively more meaningful and personal subjects can start with an invitational question like “What would you most like to know about me that would help you understand me better?” The trust gained by open engagement can lead on to questions like “What is really important to you at work?” or even “What causes you the most anxiety at work?”

The most important part of the conversation is the motivation and mindset behind it. You need to come from a place of genuine curiosity, looking to get to know an employee far beyond their job description and day-to-day duties. This conversation can give you valuable insights which can allow you to shape and fine-tune your strategies for delegating, coaching, challenging and supporting your employees. As you gain information which allows you to create the conditions your employees need to be engaged and deliver peak performance, your team will also gain insights into your working style, and can adapt their own to create an environment which is productive for both.

Some leaders might see this process as representing time wasted on small talk, but the critical significance of our working relationships can have a transformative effect on our productivity and career progression. Relationships give our lives meaning; they are at the heart of the experience of being human. As in our diets, we can survive on mediocrity for a little while, but to thrive we need quality.

By Nigel Purse, co-author of 5 Conversations