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Relationships at work – breakdown in relationships between colleagues 

It is a fact of life that we won’t get along with everyone; for the most part, when we are unable to build friendships we are able to form working relationships which are amicable, and that is all that you as employers can ask for. There are times however, where relationships can break down between colleagues. That can be for a number of reasons such as: 

  • Miscommunication or lack of communication 
  • Conflicts over responsibilities or job duties 
  • Differences in work ethics or values 
  • Personal disagreements or personality clashes 
  • Competition for promotions or recognition 
  • Perceived favouritism or unequal treatment 
  • Stress and burnout 
  • Power imbalances or workplace politics 
  • Changes in company policies or management. 

What can employers do to resolve a breakdown in relationships between colleagues? 

Grievance Process 

Informal approach 

Usually, when there is a breakdown in relationships, an individual is being bullied or is treated unfairly by a decision-maker, the employee will invoke the grievance process. Grievances may not always come in letter form, headed with formal grievance, they can be more subtle than that. Employers should watch out for any form of complaints and work with the individual to determine if a more serious approach should be taken or if it can be dealt with informally.  

Employers should be careful not to take on a parental role in the employment relationship. Where relationships do breakdown, particularly for personal or trivial matters, employees should be able to resolve their conflicts of their own accord.  However, where conflict has a direct effect on the business, or employees, it should be handled swiftly.  

If managers notice slight issues or employees raise them, they can for the most part be dealt with informally. Employers will need to ensure to establish the facts and then communicate with all involved. Maybe there has been a misunderstanding, or someone reacted badly due to a stressful commute. Potentially, the employee just needs support from their manager to have a word with the individual.  

File notes should be written and stored accordingly.  

Formal approach 

There are occasions when complaints about colleagues should be taken more formally; for instance, bullying, harassment or unfair treatment from a decision-maker.  

Once a formal grievance process is started, it is important for a completely unbiased manager to determine why the relationship has broken down. Firstly, the manager should hold a grievance hearing with the effected employee, aim to determine the detail. What happened? Where did it occur? Who was involved? Was this the first incident? When did it occur? Were there any witnesses? During the hearing, it is vital to understand how the employee wants the grievance to be settled – or the relationship to be restored, if possible. 

The manager should then go away and fully investigate the matter ensuring not to take sides with either party. The person(s) who the complaint is against should have the right to explain their side of events and witnesses should be interviewed. Only once all the facts are established should a recommendation be presented. Recommendations are specific to each case but could include: 

  • Moving to a disciplinary procedure 
  • Deploying a workplace mediator 
  • Reviewing internal decision-making processes 
  • Redeployment of staff 
  • Separating individuals or assigning to a different team. 
Workplace Mediation 

Where informal action is unable to produce a resolution or a formal grievance process recommends it, mediation is a brilliant form of conflict resolution.  

Workplace mediation is a conflict resolution process where a neutral third-party mediator facilitates a conversation between conflicting parties to help them resolve their differences and reach a mutually acceptable solution. It is important to note that both employees need to voluntarily enter mediation, it cannot be forced upon them.  

Mediation allows the parties involved to express their concerns and perspectives in a safe and confidential setting, and the mediator helps them to communicate effectively, identify the root cause of the conflict, and find a mutually acceptable solution. 

Mediation can be beneficial in resolving conflicts in the workplace because it: 

  1. Encourages open and honest communication between parties. 
  1. Focuses on finding mutually acceptable solutions. 
  1. Provides a neutral and confidential setting. 
  1. Can be less formal and less time-consuming than other forms of dispute resolution. 
  1. Can help to improve relationships and maintain a positive work environment. 

By resolving conflicts through mediation, workplace productivity can be improved, and employees can feel more satisfied and engaged in their jobs. If you would like to know more about mediation, take a look at our ‘Workplace Mediation – An Overview’ blog. 

Here at ViewHR we are able to expertly handle grievances or guide employers through the process. We also have fully trained workplace mediators on hand to support. If you would like to have a conversation about how we can help you, get in touch