When workplace friendships go wrong and how to react to them as an employer

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In the third part of our Workplace Relationships series we ask: what happens when a friendship turns sour in the workplace?

As our second post discussed, the forming of friendships is inevitable, with 83% of employers saying they know of close friendships in their organisation. Most in turn agree, that these relationships offer a huge benefit to company culture and the business in general, both in terms of productivity and in retention.

Breaking up is hard to do

But it’s a sad fact of life that people fall out. Disagreements can arise over the simplest things. So while professional disagreements can show passion and determination, as two parties vie for their vision to come to fruition, a personal conflict can be hazardous to your business.

From our recent research which canvassed 4,000 candidates and over 100 employers, we found that 1 in 3 companies have faced difficulties as a result of the breakdown of friendships between staff. What’s more is that, 1 in 4 of these incidents ultimately ended in an employee resigning.

Alongside resignation, the fallout can be huge. Employers tell us that in their experience, the impact includes a decrease in productivity, which was experienced by nearly half of respondents. Perhaps more concerning is that 38% claimed it gave rise to a culture of bullying, and rumour-spreading in their office. This is perhaps why 26% said it lead to employees needing time off work for stress.

Be prepared

So how can you approach these incidents in order to limit the fallout and keep your team happy and working together effectively and harmoniously?

Firstly, we advise that employers approach these situations proactively, rather than waiting for things to blow over. As an employer, shying away from tackling these incidents allows greater opportunity for office rumours to circulate, meaning an increased risk to morale and productivity. Simply meeting each party individually can help in seeking conflict resolution. So, even if the friendship is beyond repair, their professional relationship can remain intact.

Another option, if feasible, is through restructure. We were told that 1 in 4 Employers opt to move employees into separate teams to alleviate the damage of a feud.

Understandably, for more personal matters, the employer may be unaware, or unwelcome in terms of finding a resolution, but nevertheless, it’s always best to pre-emptively define acceptable behaviour with a code of conduct. By explicitly prohibiting actions like bullying, you can limit their occurrence.

Then, by instilling this culture through training, and as part of your on-boarding process, you can protect your workplace culture, where friendships are allowed to flourish, but ensure that all employees know what is expected from them during working hours.

It’s worth remembering, that it’s not all doom and gloom, so while these incidents may occur, work friendships are beneficial to your business, with 96% of companies saying that the friendships in their company have helped create a happier environment.

Research courtesy of Totaljobs’ 2017 report, Married to 9 to 5: The World of Work Spouses

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