Poor workplace relationships


Step 1: Learn about poor workplace relationships

What is poor workplace relationships?

Poor workplace relationships are negative interactions between employees in the workplace that may be harmful. These interactions can start with behaviour such as sarcasm, mocking or social exclusion and if not addressed can lead to more damaging interactions such as bullying, violence and aggression.

Poor relationships aren't just limited to employees. Poor relationships with clients, customers or the community in general can also have a negative impact.

Some examples of poor workplace relationships include:

  • Workplace harassment, gendered violence, discrimination or other unreasonable behaviour by employees, supervisors or clients.
  • Poor communication between colleagues such as mocking, sarcasm and social exclusion.
  • Conflict between employees and their supervisors, managers or other employees due to lack of role or task clarity.
  • Hostile working environment due to unresolved conflict between employees or between supervisor and employee.

How can poor workplace relationships affect your business?

Poor workplace relationships can harm your business in several ways. They can lead to lower productivity, reduced morale and increased absences and mental injury claims. They could even lead to staff resignations, requiring additional time and money to hire and train new staff. Conflict may especially become a factor if it remains unresolved, becomes particularly intense or becomes work-related bullying.

What are your rights and responsibilities at work?

Employers must provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace, and the health and safety of others. They must also cooperate with employers to create a safe environment.

Follow the risk management process below to create a mentally healthy workplace and prevent poor workplace relationships.

Step 2: Consult your employees

Consultation can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your workplace, it can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee.

Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees, who get a better understanding of each other's views.

Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must consult with employees including health and safety representatives (if any), about matters that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect, their health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes identifying whether poor workplace relationships may be a hazard at the workplace, and working out how to eliminate or reduce the risk of them occurring. At a minimum, consultation must involve sharing information about any health and safety issues, giving employees reasonable opportunity to share their views on those issues, and taking those views into consideration.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how best to consult

Step 3: Identify hazards and risks

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like 'situations' or 'things' in the workplace that can hurt someone, either physically or mentally. The risk is the potential of the harm actually happening.

For example, a cable on the floor is a physical hazard. The risk is being physically injured from tripping on that cable. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health – these are known as psychosocial hazards.

Poor workplace relationships are an example of a psychosocial hazard. The risk is that experiencing poor workplace relationships could lead to a mental injury.

Examples of poor workplace relationships

Often multiple hazards can be present at the same time and can combine to increase the risk of harm occurring. Identifying poor workplace relationships as a hazard and understanding factors that contribute to them occurring is the best way to prevent them from happening.

Poor workplace relationships can happen wherever people work together. Some things might make poor workplace relationships more likely, such as:

  • poor communication between employees
  • leadership that doesn’t provide sufficient or equal support to employees
  • employees that work remotely, alone or in isolation
  • insufficient training including inductions

Managing these factors well should decrease the risk of poor workplace relationships.

Step 4: Assess the risks

A risk assessment will help you understand the risks to your employees' health, and how to prioritise your efforts to manage them.

It is good practice to identify hazards, both individually and together, that are creating risks to health and safety. Once you have identified the hazards, you can assess the risk of them occurring.

Risk assessment tips

Step 5: Control the risks

A control simply means 'ways to manage' an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it's really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risk of poor workplace relationships developing in your workplace.

Here are some ways that employers can take action (or 'implement a control') to create a safe workplace.

Remember to measure the effectiveness of existing controls to see if they’re working and look for new ways to control the risks.

Step 6: Share, review and improve

A safe and mentally healthy workplace needs ongoing commitment and engagement.

If you have a policy, review it every year or when new information about poor workplace relationships becomes available. You want to check whether the controls you've implemented are still relevant and effective (i.e. training, reporting).

By sharing the outcomes of these reviews, as well as suggestions and recommendations for improvements, you can keep the conversation going. This will continue to build trust and cooperation between you and your employees. Consultation must be undertaken before making any changes to the workplace, things used at the workplace, or the conduct of work at the workplace, and these changes should be communicated to your employees.

Here's an idea! Set a calendar appointment now to review your policy in 12 months.

More resources

Discover the Toolkit and subscribe to WorkWell

WorkWell supports leaders to create safe and mentally healthy workplaces. Access the WorkWell Toolkit for step-by-step tools tailored to your business size, or subscribe to the WorkWell newsletter to stay up to date and receive support direct to your inbox!

The WorkWell Toolkit Subscribe

The WorkWell Toolkit is proudly developed by WorkWell.

Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.