Just like in your life outside work, you might encounter people at work who upset you or behave in ways that cause you serious problems. This page covers:
How can I manage difficult relationships?
Having a difficult relationship with your co-workers can be stressful, and make work harder to manage. Here are some first steps for managing difficult relationships:
- Address your concerns. If a co-worker says or does something that you find upsetting or offensive, arrange to speak with them in private about this. Calmly explain the situation and your feelings. If it happens again, or you don't feel you can talk to your co-worker, discuss your concerns with your manager. If you think you're being bullied, see our information below.
- Try not to get drawn into arguments. You won't always agree with your colleagues. But getting your point across in a diplomatic way can avoid unhelpful disagreements. You may find it helpful to use phrases such as, 'I appreciate your point of view, but I don't see it that way.'
- Avoid participating in office gossip. People often use gossip as a way of bonding but it can put strain on relationships and cause conflict, so it can be a good idea to avoid getting involved.
- Find a common ground. You won't always have lots in common with each co-worker but finding something that you both like – such as a sports team, TV programme or hobby – can give you something positive to talk about and improve your relationship.
- Keep a professional distance. Unfortunately it's not always possible to have good personal relationships with all your colleagues, so if you do have to work with someone you don't get on with, it's helpful to keep focused on work and stay professional.
What if my manager is the problem?
Having a good relationship with your manager can help you feel supported and involved in your role. However, a difficult relationship might make your working life feel harder. You could:
- think about your job description, and what you understand your role to be. Is your manager making unreasonable requests or being unclear about what they expect?
- communicate your concerns. Request a one-to-one meeting with your manager to discuss how you feel and what you would find helpful from them. If you don't feel comfortable meeting with your manager alone, request to bring a colleague with you, or record your meetings.
- speak to another manager. If you don't feel able to talk to your manager, ask to meet with another manager or someone from HR. Try to provide examples of difficult behaviour and discuss what you would like to change.
- contact Acas. Acas provides free and confidential advice on resolving relationship issues within the workplace. See its website for more information.
What if I'm being bullied?
If you're being bullied by at work, it can be difficult to know what to do. Sometimes bullying may be obvious, but sometimes it can be harder to identify. Bullying can have a significant impact on your mental health, but remember: you don't have to put up with it.
The law provides some protection from bullying. See Acas for more information about bullying and harassment at work.
When I was bullied at work I told someone how I felt and what was happening.
If you experience bullying at work, you can:
- Find out if your employer has a policy on bullying and what their grievance procedure is. The policy should outline whether a behaviour is acceptable and how to address the problem.
- Discuss the problem with someone you feel comfortable with such as your manager, human resources department, your welfare officer or union representative (if you have one).
- Resolve the issue informally where possible. With the support of a manager or colleague, if you feel able to, arrange to speak with the person who is bullying you.
- If you're not ready to talk to someone at work about it, the Acas website and helpline provide independent and confidential advice on what to do if you're being bullied at work. Your local Citizen's Advice may also be able to help.
- Raise a formal complaint if you still do not feel the situation is improving. You may be able to do this through formal procedures in your workplace, or you can contact Acas to discuss your options and your rights, including what you can do if you're not happy with the outcome of your complaint.
If the situation isn't improving, or you do not feel as if you can take action, you may decide that leaving your job is the best option for your mental health. If you feel forced to leave your job because of bullying, contact Acas or a solicitor specialising in employment law for advice about your rights.
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 April 2016. We will revise it in 2019.