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Dr. Jennifer BakerClick here for more photos.
Dr. Jennifer Baker

Click here for more photos.

Psychologist: Healthy relationships lead to a better workplace

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Dr. Jennifer Baker is in the business of building better relationships.

Baker, vice president of the Center for Innovation and Community Health and director of the Robert J. Murney Clinic at the School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute, said relationships play a crucial role in the community and in the workplace, and helping employees build or improve them should be top of mind for employers.

Baker - who sat down this morning at Hilton Garden Inn with Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson as the second guest of the year for SBJ's 12 People You Need to Know breakfast series - said she believes people's relationships with their significant others, their children and their parents tie into aspects of their lives outside the home, and problems that arise also can follow them to work.

Baker, a clinical psychologist, cited estimates that a full-time employee who makes $20 per hour and is going through a divorce can cost an employer $8,500 per year. This equates to lost productivity from that specific employee - more missed days but also less motivation to perform regular duties - but it also can mean that other employees are shirking their duties to provide comfort for the employee going through the relationship problem. And if these issues do reach other employees, a supervisor is likely to step in as well.

Baker said roughly 30 percent of lost work time is related to relationship issues occurring outside of the office.

"The trickle-down effect is enormous," she said, referring to lost purchasing power and tax dollars.

Baker told a personal story in which she and her husband were buying a vehicle at a local dealership. After receiving lackluster customer service, the Bakers nearly took their business to a Kansas City dealership, but decided to give the local business another chance. During the second visit, another salesman said their original contact was going through a divorce, which had affected his normal work behavior.

"Not only did that dealership almost lose the sale of the car, it almost hurt the local economy," Baker said.

At Forest Institute, Baker leads a number of initiatives aimed at building relationships through skills-based education, or giving people the tools they need to succeed outside of the nonprofit's influence.

"The Murney Clinic, in my mind, is also a relationship fitness center," she said, naming programs such as Operation Us, Hitched (or Not) and Hatching, Mystery Date Night and Better Connections at Work and at Home.

She said employers such as the Greene County clerk's office, Missouri State University and Dairy Farmers of America have utilized services provided by the clinic, and she encourages other employers to take advantage of the its programs to make preparations before relationship problems affect their own employees' productivity.

"One of the most cost-effective things we can do to help people is relationship education," Baker said.
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