Personal Relationships at Work

With so much of our daily lives revolving around work, it's only natural that close relationships will be formed there, or brought into the workplace.


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


02 March 2023


11 July 2024
3 min read
Personal Relationships at Work

This can prove to be complicated when not managed properly though, so how should employers approach managing and setting boundaries for personal relationships at work?

Read on for some simple practical advice.


What Counts As A Personal Relationship?

Workplace relationships don't have to be intimate or romantic, they can also involve family ties, strong friendships, and close business partnerships which may complicate the working environment and team dynamics.

Establishing policies will ensure everyone understands what is required to happen should anything go wrong with these kinds of close relationships at work, if they should be declared, or if there are any barriers to certain relationships happening at all, such as a manager and employee.


The Impact Of Personal Relationships

Employer-employee or colleague-to-colleague relationships can become complicated when personal feelings and emotions are introduced into the workspace.

Personal relationships can impact how well co-workers collaborate, interact and perform, meaning that employers run the risk of performance and productivity being affected if close relationships in the workplace are not properly legislated for, understood, and managed.


Conflicts of interest

Conflicts of interest can all result from personal relationships in the workplace.

It's important to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly and experiencing the same working environment, no matter any close ties they may have with one another.


Setting Boundaries

It's up to employers to set boundaries for interactions between employees who are involved closely with one another.

For instance, in the case of a romantic relationship between a manager and subordinate - key decisions about career progression or disciplinary action involving the junior employee may need to be managed by somebody else.


Biased and unjustified hiring choices

Decisions around hiring or promoting someone based on their relationship with a colleague rather than their merits are never a good idea, so it's important to establish clear and objective criteria for recruitment decisions to ensure any decision can be justified fairly.


Confidentiality breaches

Employers must be wary of potential breaches of confidentiality that may arise from the combination of personal and professional relationships.

It can be easy for people to forget their professional judgment or let their guard down when talking with friends, meaning confidential information may inadvertently be disclosed.


Inappropriate behaviours

If a personal relationship at work turns sour, it can lead to inappropriate behaviours by those involved, as emotional states will be heightened.

Whether it's avoidance, rudeness, bullying or violence, every workplace needs to have a code of conduct to call upon to deal with this kind of disruption.


Bullying and harassment

Bullying does not only involve physical contact or assault; it can also take the form of verbal harassment, including insults that are intended to hurt someone else.

Personal relationships can often go through difficulties which may lead to this type of behaviour being shown.



If tensions arise within relationships at work and one party is behaving inappropriately, it could result in a complaint being made and formal grievance policies needing to be followed.


Managing Personal Relationships At Work

Managing Personal Relationships At Work

Managing personal relationships at work requires clear communication on what is considered acceptable standards of behaviour.

This can be done via a 'relationships at work' policy that is shared with all staff, and having these kinds of guidelines in place will help foster a positive atmosphere while also protecting all parties involved.

Your policy should consider factors such as:

  • Clarifying the Meaning of "Personal Relationships"
  • The consequences of not complying with this policy
  • Navigating behaviours following a breakdown in relationship
  • How personal relationships will be managed across key areas of behaviour, management and conflict of interest.
  • The procedures that will be implemented to protect both the employer and employees, such as reporting requirements, how to maintain professional interactions while at work, and setting individual boundaries between co-workers’ personal and professional lives.

What Does The Law Say?

The law doesn't prohibit relationships at work, however, employers must take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from any form of discrimination because of their relationship status so everyone must be treated fairly.

Additionally, employers should be aware of data protection laws if they become involved in a partner or family member's dispute.


Tips For Employers Managing Workplace Relationships

  • Make sure you have a clear relationship at-work policy in place and that everyone understands it
  • Consider an employee declaration form so that existing and new relationships are declared
  • Ensuring recruitment teams don't involve anyone with a personal relationship with known candidates
  • If manager and employee relationships exist, consider changing management responsibility to someone else, or transferring one of them to another team if suitable.
  • Encourage professional behaviour in the workplace that won't cause offence or embarrassment to others
  • Provide training for employees on topics such as anti-harassment or diversity and inclusion
  • Take any grievances seriously and take disciplinary action where appropriate
  • Regularly review relevant workplace policy to ensure it remains fair and up to date
  • Be aware of data protection laws when dealing with partner or family disputes
  • Avoid gossiping about relationships with colleagues; this will only lead to unnecessary drama or disagreements.
  • If dealing with an employment tribunal as a result of personal relationships, focus on the impact of the relationship, not the people involved so it's a fair case.

By establishing boundaries and enforcing a fair policy, employers can create an environment that respects the rights of all employees, regardless of their relationship status.

In doing so, they will also ensure the workplace remains productive and free from disruptive personal relationships.


Next Steps

As you can see, managing personal relationships at work can quickly become a complex and delicate task.

It’s important therefore to ensure you have the right policies in place, that everyone understands them, and that they are regularly reviewed and updated.

If you need help managing disputes, drafting or reviewing your existing policy on personal relationships at work, please do get in touch with the team at Neathouse for further advice and guidance.

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