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How to be mentally healthy at work

Learn how you can be mentally healthy at work, with suggestions for what you can do and where you can get support if you experience poor mental health.

Difficult work relations

Just like in your personal life, some people at work may upset you because of the way they behave. Their behaviour may even cause you serious problems.

On this page:

How to manage difficult relationships at work

Having difficult relationships with your co-workers can be stressful. It can make work feel harder to cope with.

Here are some first steps you can take for managing difficult relationships:

  • Discuss your concerns. If a co-worker says or does something that you find upsetting, arrange to speak with them privately. You can then calmly explain the situation and your feelings. If it happens again, or you don't feel you can talk to them, discuss it with your manager. If you think you're being bullied, read on for information about bullying at work.
  • Try not to get involved in arguments. You won't always agree with your colleagues. But getting your point across in a fair and polite way can avoid unhelpful debates. You could say, "maybe I'm not making myself clear" instead of "you don't understand". Or try saying, "I appreciate your point of view, but I see it differently", rather than "you're wrong".
  • Avoid taking part in workplace gossip. People often use gossip as a way of bonding and finding common ground for a chat. It can however put a strain on relationships and cause conflict. Generally it's best to avoid getting involved.
  • Find a common interest. You might not have much in common with your colleagues. However, finding something that you both like – such as a sports team, TV programme or hobby – can give you something positive to discuss. In time, this could improve your relationship.
  • Keep a professional distance. Unfortunately, you won't always have good relationships with every co-worker. If you have to work with someone you don't get on with, try to maintain a professional boundary. It's not realistic to think that you will be friends with everyone. 

What if I have a difficult relationship with my manager?

If you have a difficult relationship with your manager, your working life can feel even harder. On the other hand, a good relationship can help you feel supported in your role.

If your manager is the problem, you could take the following actions:

  • Review your job description. Is your manager making unreasonable requests, or being unclear about what they expect? Make sure you understand what your role is and what it should involve.
  • Communicate your concerns. Request a one-to-one meeting with your manager to discuss how you feel and what would help you. If you don't feel comfortable meeting your manager alone, ask to bring a colleague or to record your meeting.
  • Speak to another employee. If you don't feel able to talk to your manager, ask to meet with another manager or somebody from HR. Some workplaces have trained staff like mental health first aiders or health and wellbeing representatives. Try to provide examples of the difficult behaviour and discuss what you'd like to change.
  • Contact an independent body. Get in touch with the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). It provides free and confidential advice on resolving relationship issues in the workplace. You can find more information on the Acas website.

What if I'm being bullied at work?

If you're being bullied at work, it can be difficult to know what to do. Sometimes bullying may be obvious, but other times it can be harder to identify. Bullying can have a significant impact on your mental health.

When I was bullied at work I told someone how I felt and what was happening.

If you experience bullying at work, you could take the following actions:

  • Find out about your workplace bullying policy. The policy should outline unacceptable behaviours and how to address the problem (grievance procedures). Even without a policy, your employer has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure your health, safety and welfare at work. If they don't take reasonable steps to protect you from bullying, they could be breaking the law.
  • Try to resolve the issue informally. With the support of your manager or a colleague, arrange to speak with the person who is bullying you (if you feel able to). Bear in mind that this is not always possible.
  • Discuss it with someone you feel comfortable with. This could be your manager, HR department, welfare officer or union representative (if you have one). Be prepared to provide examples of your experience of being bullied.
  • Get independent advice. If you're not ready to talk to someone at work about it, visit the Acas website or call its helpline. Acas provides independent and confidential advice on what to do if you're being bullied at work. Your local Citizens Advice may also be able to help.
  • Raise a formal complaint. If nothing improves, you may be able to resolve it through formal procedures at work. You can contact Acas to discuss your options and your rights. This includes advice on what you can do if you're unhappy with the outcome of your complaint.

Although there’s no specific law to protect you from bullying, you might want to seek legal advice. The Acas website has more information about your rights related to bullying and harassment at work.

Sometimes the situation might not improve, or you might feel as if you cannot take action. In this case, you may decide that leaving your job is best for your mental health.

If you feel forced to leave because of bullying, you might want to get further advice about your rights. You can contact Acas or a solicitor specialising in employment law.

Remember: you don't have to put up with it.

I have been bullied in the past. I took it to the appropriate person. Unfortunately for me they didn't care and didn't take it seriously. I left that place immediately.

This information was published in December 2020.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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