Paid work can have positive and negative effects on personal relationships, and vice versa. This toolkit offers employers resources to assess their workplace and implement initiatives to maximise staff morale and productivity.
Helping employees deal with difficult working relationships and encouraging practices that enhance good personal relationships at work and at home will lead to happier staff, more stable relationships in the workplace and a better work culture.
Positive relationships outside the workplace can be models for good relationships with colleagues. Employers can enhance the benefits of employees' good personal relationships while taking steps to minimise the negative impacts of poor personal relationships on the workplace culture.
Similarly, work problems can cause or influence relationship breakdowns. Employee wellbeing can be affected by extra stress, depression and anxiety brought on by financial impacts of divorce, childcare responsibilities and loneliness. These can in turn impact on workplace productivity and safety, staff morale and retention.
The establishment and maintenance of relationships and social networks can be affected by the type of work people undertake. Certain types and patterns of work are more likely to have detrimental affects on family life or networks. Influencing factors include the type of role, the responsibilities of the work, pay structure and time demands.
These roles may demand long work hours due to workplace culture or to meet specific goals, deadline pressure, travel (either frequent short-term or long-term commuting), relocation through transfer or for career progression, and intrusion of work into personal time through cell phones, blackberries, email etc.
Low paid workers often need to work long hours to meet basic income requirements, often through multiple part-time jobs. Other factors which impact on relationships include shift work and irregular or unpredictable hours.
Many low income couples with children work opposite shifts so one is always available to cover childcare. These employees are often unable to participate in social and family activities, and have higher divorce rates than regular day workers. People working shifts may also miss out on work social events held in evenings and on weekends.
Work-life initiatives are often available only to full-time permanent workers. If work is offered at short notice, casual workers may have to cancel prior social engagements with a consequent negative effect on their relationships.
The quality of personal relationships depends on time spent together free of work interruptions or preoccupations. A conflict between work and home life can result in tension, stress, separation or divorce. If work demands are a problem for one partner in the relationship, even if the other partner is happy with the work-life balance, it will affect the relationship.
Men who work long hours or whose work intrudes on personal time may be putting their relationships at risk if it affects the time they spend with their partner or friends, or the distribution of household labour, even if they don't mind the hours themselves. Women who spend more time at work are less likely to receive support from a partner prepared to tolerate this choice.
Long hours make maintaining a relationship difficult; when one or both partners work long hours they often don't have enough time to spend together. Lack of secure work can make it difficult for young people to maintain a relationship to the point of establishing a family. Young people often combine study and part-time work, which can reduce time available for meeting people and developing friendships.
Workplace policies that exclude gay/lesbian partners from benefits available to partners of married employees disadvantage their gay/lesbian staff. Such benefits include relocation or travel arrangements and provisions, and inclusion in work functions or social events. This type of exclusion can limit career advancement opportunities and affect relationships.
Friendships are important networks that support performance at work and contribute to personal wellbeing. Employers should bear this in mind when considering the social context of employees' lives. Friendships are often an important precursor to marital type relationships. For single people, friends can be an important source of support. Although they may be important facets of employees' lives outside of work, friends are rarely invited to workplace social events or recognised in company bereavement leave policies.
Relationships between workmates can suffer when work pressure creates friction or tension amongst staff. Employers need to be aware of ways to avoid or diffuse these situations or they may impact on staff performance and morale.
The workplace has become an important place for meeting people and romantic relationships can often develop. Long work hours mean workmates tend to spend more time together and may find they have more in common with their colleagues than with their marriage partners. This can result in "the office affair", which can have negative outcomes for the organisation and staff, such as bias, harassment, bullying, confidentiality or mitigation issues. For this reason some workplaces have guidelines on romantic/sexual relationships between staff.
At the other end of the scale, people in non-standard, shift or casual work can find it difficult to develop workplace relationships and may be excluded from workplace social activities and functions. This isolation or exclusion can also occur when employees are on parental, study or extended sick leave.
Good supportive relationships have a positive impact on employees' wellbeing and health and can improve workplace performance. Often important interpersonal skills are learnt from relationships outside the workplace. Couples that have been for relationship counselling may acquire skills that are transferable to the workplace, such as communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, role modelling and positive reinforcement skills. Employers that promote family days, social activities and family-friendly work options are likely to benefit from higher staff morale and retention rates.
Friendships and social support systems contribute to a sense of self-worth and personal wellbeing. Friendships between women are a major source of reciprocal childcare provision and provide resource and responsibility exchange. This can have a positive spill-over into the workplace. These networks can offer employees emotional sustenance and can act as a buffer when dealing with workplace stress or relationship problems.
For New Zealand's new migrants, particularly those with English as a second language, relationships and friendships in the workplace are an important part of the language development process and cultural integration. Migrants' networks within their own communities may generate customers or new employees, while communities in their home countries may become important contacts abroad.
Relationship problems can lead to stress, preoccupation, reduced sleep and fatigue. These symptoms can cause a loss of productivity and drop in safety standards in workplaces, and an increase in absenteeism. Employees facing problems at home may look for work that has minimal impact on their personal relationships, leading to increased staff turnover.
Surveying staff can help identify any relationship issues that may be relevant to, or affected by, work demands. Employers can use the sample questionnaires and checklists in this toolkit or hold focus groups with staff.
It is important to communicate clearly with your employees from the start of the research procedure to ensure they know what you are doing and why.
Suggested steps to take when you begin the research process
You may decide to use the questionnaire or the checklist tool below to research your organisation. Your decision may be influenced by the size of your organisation or work team, the gender breakdown of employees, the ways you normally communicate with your staff and if you already use a staff survey tool.
This survey method may be appropriate where the organisation or work unit is large, confidentiality is important, employees are not comfortable with face to face discussions and where written literacy is reasonably high.
The questionnaire is designed in modules. You may not need to use them all. Questions can be adapted or added. The language and distribution method (electronic or hard copy) may need to be adjusted to suit your organisation.Relationships sample questionnaire (Word doc 89K)
This research method may be appropriate where the organisation or work unit is small, communication is generally less formal, people prefer to talk rather than write and there are clear opinion leaders in the organisation.
You can adapt these checklists to use in focus groups, discussions at a staff meeting or tea break, or interviews with key people or opinion leaders.
The prompts under the topics are designed to assist the discussion and are suggestions only. You may need to change the language to suit your organisation's culture.Relationships sample checklist (Word doc 26K)
Research shows that positive relationships, both at work and at home, help create a productive and enjoyable work environment.
Workplaces can implement flexible work options and family-friendly initiatives that are conducive to positive personal relationships and support work-life balance. It is important to ensure that senior mangers are committed to these initiatives and are good role models.
How employers can encourage good relationships at work
How employers can encourage positive relationships outside of work
Develop a healthy workplace culture
Provide fair relocation and travel arrangements
Consider shift-work and on-call implications
Offer Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) counselling
Include partners/friends in social events
Offer flexible leave provisions