Relationships in the Workplace

Relationships in the Workplace: Is this positive or negative for your organization?

As with all things in the Human Resource world, it depends. The outcome for your organization would vary based on the type of relationship and your company’s culture and viewpoint on relationships. Throughout our lifetime, we hear the idiomatic saying, ‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ either from others in our life, school or college, our workplace, or any other media platforms. There is some truth to that statement; however, there are also some false aspects. Just because you know that person does not mean you will get that job or promotion. Yet knowing that person may put you at an advantage. They have seen firsthand how well you perform and know how you will interact with their team and company culture.

Building a good relationship with someone who could increase your chances for growth and improvement is essential. Burn too many bridges and you may find yourself rejected by society and passed over for other candidates and opportunities.

Workplace Relationships

The Good & the Bad

Are relationships in the workplace a bad thing? For the most part, no. Work relationships with supervisors, other co-workers, clients, mentor/mentees, etc., can often increase work productivity and efficiencies. Being comfortable with communicating and encouraging good conflict can significantly benefit your organization. When a team member has a good work relationship with their supervisor, there’s usually less negative conflict, less confusion on job responsibilities, and open two-way communication. Retention for the company increases because loyalties grow, and your culture becomes more positive and united. If an issue arises, your team would be more likely to bring it to another’s attention and address it more promptly. The result would be avoiding future issues, which in some cases could become costly.

If the work relationship isn’t good or there is a hatred for each other, this will harm your company’s culture and environment. You may have an increase in complaints about a ’hostile workplace,’ high turnover, and a decrease in production because all are focused on the conflicts occurring instead of the tasks at hand. Your work relationships greatly impact a company’s culture, starting from the top. If the upper management is distant, closed off, and rigid, your team will feel devalued, ignored, unappreciated, and have zero loyalty for the company, especially if an issue is brought to upper management’s attention and disregarded.


What type of culture do you want for your organization then? If you are in that upper management position, you are in the perfect place to opt for change. Culture is NOT an overnight fix, and the transition can start small. Just checking in with a team member and seeing how they are doing can have a great impact. Some of the best supervisors will take a few minutes out of their day to ask how their team is doing and check-in, making that team member feel like more than just another number and valued as a person. You must mean it though. You cannot just ask ‘How are you?’ get the ‘I’m fine.’ response and that’s that. Truly take the time to get to know your team. If they feel you have their back and are truly going to support them, they will give you in return more productivity for the company than before because they will not want to let you down either. It goes both ways. You will get what you give. Your organization’s culture sets the precedent for the professional personalities it hires.

Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

Work relationships make sense in an organization and are common, but what about a romantic relationship? Well, there is a whole other side of life. Romantic relationships can be one of a company’s biggest headaches, particularly when they do not end well. Organizations often include a company policy discouraging personal relationships in the workplace and/or stating that they must tell their employer when they are dating so the organization can ensure that one individual is not reporting to the other, which could cause potential conflict and legal repercussions. Some organizations may even have the team members in that relationship sign a consensual agreement to discourage a future sexual harassment claim.

Be Prepared

Training on Workplace Harassment and your company policy (if you have one) with all team members and having them sign that they attended the training can benefit your organization from future legal repercussions. There must be oversight by upper management and supervisors to ensure the company policies are being followed, so make sure your managers understand their responsibilities in this. Even with your company policy in place, this does not remove all the drama which could still occur, and trying to prevent romantic relationships altogether, may not work.

We spend most of our lives working. Finding someone with a common interest and values is proving more challenging. We have dating sites and apps to increase our chances, yet we are more likely to meet someone while at work to date. The best approach for your company is to have open, honest communication with the individuals involved. Don’t hide it. Other team members will eventually find out. Remind them of your company policy and set any necessary boundaries. If they are directly reporting to one another, communicate how to relocate or transfer one to another section if available. If unavailable, determine if one will have to resign or if a secondary oversight for performance evaluations is required to ensure no favoritism occurs. Have an open conversation with them, asking what will happen if the relationship does not end well. Getting an action plan for the worst-case scenario sets the expectations for all parties involved.

In Conclusion

Good relationships can have a positive impact on your organization, just as bad relationships can have a negative one. The key is for your company to be on the same page, your company’s culture and vision to be clearly defined, and your company policies to be strictly followed. Communication and training are critical for success.

Want to know more about what to do if you have two team members in a relationship? Read our previous blog “The Love Triangle – 2 Employees & the Company”. 

Written by: Dianna Lyon-Wagner, SPHR, M.A.

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