Poor Workplace Relationships

Poor Workplace Relationships

Poor workplace relationships includes negative interactions in the workplace such as sarcasm, mocking or exclusion. If left unchecked these can develop into more high-intensity and damaging interactions such as bullying, violence and aggression. 

It is important to remember that these interactions can be either verbal or non-verbal (ie. in writing, body language). Poor relationships can exacerbate stress, anxiety and depression. Proactive steps need to be taken to prevent or reduce conflict as early as possible. 

Examples of poor workplace relationships include: 

  • Workplaces where harassment, gendered violence, or discrimination is present. 
  • Poor relationships between managers, supervisor, employers and workers. 
  • High levels of conflict between employers and workers particularly when the former are unwilling to negotiate for improvements to workers conditions, respond to workers complaints or consult with HSR's and workers. 
  • Persistent arguments, disagreements or hostility between team members
  • Threatening body language
  • Abusive or offensive emails or messages
  • Power struggles and conflicts of interest between individuals or groups within the organisation
  • Micromanagement or excessive control from supervisors, leading to strained relationships
  • Resistance to change and conflicts arising from differing perspectives or approaches
  • Employer's discouraging union activity. 
  • Exclusion of workers or a group a workers. 
  • Inappropriate behaviours between workers because of  alack of fairness and equity in dealing with organisational issues or where performance issues are not managed properly.

When managing the risks of poor workplace relationships, employers must be proactive and implement control strategies which prevent risks from occurring or minimise their impact if they do occur. Employers must identify and eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks so far as is reasonably practicable. How long (duration), how often (frequency) and how significantly (severity) workers are exposed to psychosocial hazards impacts the level of risks.

Examples of control measures and risk management strategies include: 

  • Strong systems for setting and managing behavioural expectations. These must be made in consultation with workers and health and safety representatives and be applied fairly and equally without regard to workplace hierarchy. These systems could include: 

     - Conflict resolutions processes like mediation or facilitated discussions to resolve conflict. 
     - Codes of conduct 
     - Independent investigations into serious misconduct. 

  • Strong systems for consultation and incorporating workers perspectives into tasks. 
  • Encouraging open communication between workers and management. 
  • Regular team meetings to discuss work pressures. 
  • Recognising that differences in workers ideas can be opportunities to improve tasks and work design
  • Managing issues in a consistent and timely manner
  • Training managers to respond to workers issues in a sensitive way.
  • Safe, confidential and responsive reporting mechanisms for when issues occur 

Examples of strategies that can be used as an HSR to identify the hazard include: 

  • Using anonymous surveys and tools to assess psychosocial risks in the workplace and ascertain issues co-workers are having 
  • As an HSR, using your powers under section 69 of the OHS Act to request information about the health and safety of workers. This information could include absentee data, anonymised incident reports, complaints, time-off records, injuries or incidents. 
  • Examine co-worker interactions. 
  • Consider the intersection of poor workplace relationships with other hazards such as low job control, poor environmental conditions etc. This systems based approach takes into account that oftentimes a poor workplace environment with the presence of other psychosocial or physical hazard is creating stress which leads to tension between co-workers and consequently, poor workplace relationships. 

Additional Resources 

OHSReps has extensive resources on workplace bullying that can be accessed here 

OHSReps has extensive resources on gendered violence that can be accessed here

Mind Your Head has an excellent database on psychosocial hazards. It breaks down hazards into their impacts and the risk assessment and control measures that can be used. Find it here.

Updated July 2023