If you work full time you spend more of your waking hours at your workplace than at home. And that means you spend more time with your work colleagues than with your friends and family.

A survey by Relate suggests employees are as likely to have daily contact with their work colleagues as with their own children, with more than twice as many having daily contact with their bosses than their friends.

So is it any wonder that, for most of us, work relationships are important?

Having good work relationships can help make our work feel more worthwhile. And without them, our work lives can seem lonely and isolating.

Fostering good relationships between employees has benefits for employers too. According to the global research organisation Gallup, links have been repeatedly revealed between having good friends at work and the amount of effort employees put into their job, as well as a stronger sense of work satisfaction.

Common causes of conflict at work

While work relationships are important, they can also easily become damaged, and even the happiest of workplaces can become tense every now and then. One of the reasons this happens is the only thing you may have in common with your colleagues is the job itself – you may have different backgrounds, cultures, values, perspectives and temperaments, not to mention different styles of working. And any of these things can – and do – lead to conflict.

The good news is there are several things you can do to maintain positive relationships at work, as well as heal any work relationships that have been damaged:

Be more positive at work

If you want the people around you at work to be positive, aim to have a positive attitude yourself too, as your mood can be contagious. Instead of being pessimistic and constantly complaining about the things you’re not happy about, try to stay upbeat as much as possible, and you may be surprised at how quickly others will follow your example.

Being more positive also means leaving your personal problems at the front desk every morning. Whatever may be troubling you in your personal or home life – an argument with a partner or family member, for example, or problems with your finances – try to recognise that work is not the place to talk about it. Bringing personal issues to the office can, make your co-workers feel uncomfortable, and that can have a negative effect on your relationships with them.

Avoid office gossip

Just about every office does it, but even the most entertaining gossip can be harmful to work relationships. Instead, try to only speak positively about the people you work with. Nothing stays a secret in a work environment for long, so if you only have good things to say about a co-worker you’ll strengthen your bond with them when they eventually get to hear about it. If someone you’re talking to starts talking negatively about a colleague, try to change the subject tactfully or make an excuse to leave the conversation.

Boost your emotional intelligence

Having emotional intelligence means you are able to interpret the way someone else is feeling, helping you to act accordingly and understand and communicate with them better – all of which can lead to a better relationship.

Start by trying to empathise with your colleagues and seeing things from their point of view, especially when you’re planning to do something that would affect them. Why not find out more about it by joining us on our one-day Emotional intelligence for success course?

Try to accept the differences between you and your work colleagues. Accepting people as they are will make them accept you too. You may also find that differences of opinions can lead to more creative problem solving, which is of benefit to everyone concerned.

Get co-workers involved

Try inviting your colleagues to help out with some of the things you’re working on, especially any tasks you may need help with. Working together on tasks and projects can help you to get to know each other better – plus it will help you learn to enjoy working with others and you may even achieve more during your day.

You could also ask your colleagues if they need any help with anything. Having a positive team attitude can help you form closer connections with your co-workers, plus helping them to meet their goals will result in better appreciation all round.

Get to the bottom of the matter

Conflict is never far away in any work environment, but if it happens to you, try to build greater understanding between you and the colleague in question. Don’t let things fester or turn into a more serious situation. Have a sincere heart-to-heart conversation with your colleague about what’s happening between you, including what’s bothering you both.

Try to be sincere, courteous and a good listener – let them have their say, and they’ll be more likely to let you voice your opinion fully too. Neither of you may like what you’re hearing at first, but by getting things out in the open you’ll be laying the groundwork for a solution – and a stronger relationship in the future. Don’t forget to take responsibility for your role in the situation, and apologise if necessary.

For more information the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has a useful booklet for managers about resolving work conflicts you can download.

How CABA can help

From the moment you begin your training, throughout your professional life, and into retirement we're here to help - in all kinds of ways. And we're not just here for past and present ICAEW members - close families can access our services as well.

For advice and information call us on +44 (0) 1788 556 366, email enquiries@caba.org.uk or chat to us online.

Was this article useful?