How to identify toxic workplace relationships

A quick summary:

  • Bullying in the workplace ❌
  • Untrustworthy employees in your team ❌
  • The impacts of gossiping and rumours at work ❌
  • What happens when colleagues are unreliable ❌
  • Disrespectful employee and what to do about them ❌

Toxic relationships aren’t just limited to romantic couples and friends. Just like our everyday relationships with others, there are many negative characteristics and habits that occur in the work environment. Some of these are the driving force behind a poor work culture and require immediate attention to resolve. 

Here, we’ve explored what makes for a toxic workplace relationship with coworkers, and how managers should deal with these issues. Afterwards, you will have the know-how to build a culture of collaboration and harmony and support.

Signs of poor professional relationships

Below, you’ll find several traits of poor relationships that can inflict a toxic work environment on your business. Not only have we defined each characteristic, but included ways to combat them in the workplace.

Workplace bullying

You might have thought that bullying only exists at a young age, but that couldn’t be further from the truth - bullying in the workplace is very much a real problem. It can contribute to poor professional relationships and a toxic workplace.

A lot of victims of workplace bullying often hide their emotions and do not ask for help when needed. That’s because colleagues and managers may ridicule them for needing support. If you spot this behaviour in your team, it is worth speaking to your employees to get an idea of why they feel uncomfortable in the workplace.

One study found that 1 in 4 UK employees had experienced a form of bullying in the workplace - a huge statistic that can’t go ignored!

Deceit among employees

It’s often said that it’s easier to lie than tell the truth. Unfortunately, what that statement usually neglects is the repercussions of doing so. That is especially true in the workplace, where team and company success relies on communication and collaboration. 

That said, spending several hours each day working on the same tasks can provide to be difficult when concealing the truth or trying to live out a lie. In most circumstances, time will eventually threaten to bring the truth to the surface, and so lying in the workplace (or in any setting for that matter) isn’t recommended. 

As a leader, you can spot a lie by strengthening communication within the entire team. This should be a given anyway, as it’s important your team communicate regularly both on work matters or in casual conversation.

Not only does this build positive employee relations, but it also prevents relationships from going toxic due to a lack of understanding and communication. Start speaking with your team, and encourage coworkers to speak with one another - if there are lies causing a toxic work culture, you’ll likely catch them now. 

Similar read: The Ultimate guide to employee retention in 2022

Certain employees are gossiping

Unfortunately, gossiping takes place in many circumstances of life - and despite its (sometimes) unharmful intention, it causes more bad than good. That’s because one of the most popular topics of gossip is other people. And in the workplace, this means certain employees talk about their colleagues behind their backs. 

But as many of us have experienced at some point in our lives, gossiping often doesn’t stay between just a couple of friends, family members or colleagues. Before long, rumours are out, and relationships begin to feel the burden of gossiping. 

To counteract gossiping in the workplace, leaders must build a culture of trust and honesty. One that encourages open communication between different coworkers in different departments. Managers should also be open about their own thoughts and feelings and show that it’s okay to say what’s on your mind (providing it isn’t offensive).

This behaviour will break down any need to have secret conversations or gossip about others. Just like deceit in the workplace, professional relationships also need improved communication. This is one sure-fire way to avoid coworkers from gossiping. 

In a study reported by, 71% of gossip relates to “That one coworker” while 44% of gossip concerns itself with the “executive/management team”.

Unable to rely on coworkers for support

From time to time, we rely on those we work with for support. We often can’t do everything at once, and all by ourselves. One sign of a toxic professional relationship is one in which employees don’t collaborate well.

Some employees find themselves failing KPIs and missing deadlines, yet don’t ask for help from coworkers or managers. Now, there could be a range of reasons why they don’t request support, but it’s often due to believing others are unreliable. And when employees no longer work together, less can be achieved as a result. 

When this occurs, certain coworkers gain the reputation of being unreliable and untrustworthy. It may be that they need constant hand-holding, or else work goes incomplete. This leaves others with twice as much work to do, and that isn’t going to go down well. 

When we perceive coworkers as unreliable, the professional relationship also suffers. We want to collaborate and achieve great things, but realise that when others slack behind it causes poor performance for the rest of the team.

Managers should take note of behaviour like this, and try to build on both communication and team collaboration. It is worth speaking with employees about why they can’t ask for help, and what their line managers have done to address this. 

Disrespectful to everyone and anyone

The final characteristic of toxic workplace relationships is disrespect. Unfortunately, we all come across disrespectful people both in and outside of our careers. How we deal with this behaviour is what sets us apart from them. 

When we come across coworkers that are ignorant, rude and generally disrespectful, it’s hard to work in harmony and support one another. In fact, disrespect is more or less the quickest way to deteriorate employee relations. 

If your team are suffering from a disrespectful coworker, something must be done immediately. Both for the sake of relationships in the workplace, but also for the productivity, happiness and general performance of the colleagues affected. 

As leaders, we must approach disrespectful employees with the total opposite - respect. That way, you can try to get to the bottom of the problem without causing too much disruption among your employees. Here’s how to address disrespect within your workplace:

  • Check-in with all of your team about any professional relationship issues
  • Don’t just listen, act on the feedback of your team
  • Document incidents and complaints raised
  • Organise mediations between employees
  • Ensure company policy is clear and transparent for your team
  • Stay calm, remain supportive and try to be empathetic for everyone.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, these five red flags of toxic employee relationships can now be avoided in the workplace. You can begin building harmony in your team and foster a culture of support and friendship. 

Of course, preventing these red flags isn’t an overnight task, but over time, you’ll begin to see a supportive network of employees appear among your workforce.

Similar read: Demystifying absenteeism and presenteeism

How to boost employee wellbeing with Heka

As we’ve learnt above, wellbeing in the workplace is essential, and toxic environments and bad relations at work can drive a range of negative implications. From general unhappiness, weakened productivity and even absenteeism, if your team are suffering, your business will likely follow suit. 

Staying on top of employee wellbeing is important, and that’s exactly how Heka can help. We’ve built our employee wellbeing platform to support each member of your team on an individual basis. 

Through a range of available experiences, services and products, your team are put in the driving seat when it comes to personal wellbeing. There are thousands of options to choose from across more than fifty categories of health and wellbeing. 

From learning and development, financial wellbeing, fertility support, mental and emotional support and much more. 

If you’d like to find out how our employee wellbeing platform can help, get in touch with our wellbeing experts by booking a demo.

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