It’s a Balancing Act – Personal Relationships in the Workplace

Personal Relationships


As a small business owner or manager, you wear many hats. You’re the leader, the strategist, and sometimes even the friendly face of the company. This close-knit environment fosters a sense of camaraderie, but personal relationships can also become a double-edged sword.

Navigating Personal Relationships

Here’s how to navigate these dynamics and ensure a smooth (and productive!) work experience for your team.

Set the Stage with Boundaries: Politeness extends to the workplace. While after-work bonding can be great, encourage a professional demeanour during office hours. Discourage excessive gossiping or personal information sharing. This fosters a respectful atmosphere and avoids blurring the lines. As a manager you should be a role model – so walk the walk and talk the talk!

Transparency is Key:  If employees develop relationships, especially between colleagues with a reporting line, encourage transparency. Having them disclose their relationship to you allows you to address potential conflicts of interest proactively. This might involve reassigning reporting lines or creating clear guidelines to prevent favouritism accusations. It can be a challenge for other employees if a manager is in a relationship with a more junior colleague during the period of the relationship, as well as for both the colleagues in the relationship if the relationship fails. BP is one organisation to have recently introduced a policy on personal relationships after it all went wrong at the most senior level.

The Art of Disagreement: Disagreements in the workplace are inevitable, and sometimes ever healthy but remember, you set the tone. When conflicts arise, encourage a calm and direct approach that focuses on the work-related issue, not personalities. Foster a collaborative spirit where solutions are sought together. Perhaps even suggest a cup of tea (or coffee!) to diffuse tension.

An HR Consultant is Your Ally:  Having a clear workplace relationship policy is crucial. If situations arise that make employees uncomfortable, encourage them to speak to your HR Partner, and if you don’t have one now, consider whether you would benefit from this expert support on an outsourced HR basis. Whether it’s unwanted advances, excessive gossip, or anything disrupting the work environment, HR can offer confidential guidance and mediate conflicts. Remember, HR is there to maintain a positive and professional atmosphere for everyone.

Work First, Friends Second:  We all spend a lot of time in the workplace so friendships in work are a bonus, as long as you ensure work remains the priority. Casual chats and after-work outings shouldn’t derail deadlines or productivity. Strike a balance – a little light-heartedness is good, but work goals come first.

Understanding Your Team:  The workplace can foster indirect communication. This can lead to misunderstandings. Encourage open communication and clear delegation. If your team seems hesitant, ask clarifying questions – it’s always better to be clear than have misinterpretations slow down progress.

Building a Supportive Team:  Boundaries are important, but fostering trust and camaraderie can be incredibly beneficial. Organise team lunches, participate in social events (if that suits your team!), or simply encourage team members to get to know each other on a personal level (within professional boundaries). This builds a supportive environment where collaboration thrives.


By implementing these tips, you can ensure that personal relationships within your small business enhance productivity and create a positive work environment. Remember, a healthy balance between friendly banter and professional conduct is key to a thriving team. So, lead by example, address concerns transparently, and watch your business flourish.

The CIPD has a great factsheet if you’d like to read more about how to manage romantic relationships in the workplace. If you would like help to create a policy for your business, or to help to manage grievances which have arisen out of them, please get in touch to see how we can help. You can see how we have helped other organisations with HR policies and grievances on our case studies page.