Workplace relationships

Workplace relationships are unique interpersonal relationships with important implications for the individuals in those relationships, and the organisations in which the relationships exist and develop.[1]

Studies show that workplace relationships directly affect a worker's ability to succeed.

Because workers are spending on average 50 hours a week in the workplace, these long work hours are resulting in the formation of workplace friendships. These connections can be both positive, and have the potential to become harmful. Since these relationships are becoming more common this page will briefly overview relationships in the workplace.

Workplace friendships

Friendship has been defined as a "voluntary interdependence between two persons over time that is intended to facilitate social-emotional goals of the participants, and may involve varying types and degrees of companionship, intimacy, affection and mutual assistance".[2] According to Lee and Park,[2] friendships that develop in the workplace called blended friendships.

Gordon and Hartman [3] reported that people spend approximately 50 hours per week in the workplace. Because so much time is spent at work, people often develop friendships within the workplace. Individuals are more likely to have more workplace friendships than any other kind of relationship in the workplace (ex: boss-subordinate, mentor-protégé).[4]

Blended friendships can have a positive impact on an employee's productivity. Workplace friendships lead to more cohesive work groups, more satisfied and committed employees, greater productivity, greater goal attainment, increased positive feelings about the organisation, can make both good and bad jobs better, and are a factor in preventing employee turnover and employee desire to leave the company.[3] However, although workplace friendships tend to have a positive impact on the employee's overall production and attitude toward the job, they can also lead to competition, envy, gossip, and distraction from work-related activities because there is a more tightly webbed emotional, and occasionally physical, connection that goes beyond a typical co-worker relationship.[3]).

In the workplace, a person cannot choose their co-workers but they can choose which of their co-workers with whom to be friendly and whom to socialise with. These relationships are distinguished from regular workplace relationships as they extend past the roles and duties of the workplace.[5] Workplace friendships are influenced by individual and contextual factors such as life events, socialising, shared tasks, physical work proximity, work related problems and slack time.

Significance in America

Workplace friendship is directly related to several other areas of study including cohesion, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and intention to leave. Perceived cohesiveness of a workplace is also positively related to opportunities for friendships in the workplace.[6] Career success and job satisfaction are both related to the quality of workplace relationships.[7] A positive relationship also exists between job satisfaction and the friendship opportunity in the workplace.[8]

Significance in China

Many social ties in China are socially constrained or at least socially dictated. This applies to the workplace as well. According to a study done in Tianjin on worker relationships, 76% of workers include at least one co-worker in their self identified social networks, which is twice the number as American workers. This higher rate of workplace friendships may also be related to the higher rate of kin within the workplace for many Chinese citizens. However, it is clear that workplace relationships are equally important in Chinese society as they are in the United States.

Boss-subordinate relationships

The Hawthorne effect grew out of a series of studies. The theory states that participants will act and react in different manners because they are aware they are being watched. Specifically in McGregor's X and Y theory states that the manager's approach effects the outcome of the worker. "If you give your employees even a little attention, they will equate that attention to "special" treatment that is different from the treatment that others receive."[9] The basic understanding to boss-subordinate relationships lies in the foundation that the habits of the managers hold the power to create productive or counterproductive environments[10] Kohn and O'Connell point out 6 major habits of highly effective bosses. Habit #3 Following ‘Golden Rule’. This habit is fundamental in many relationships stating that you should treat others as you wish to be treated. If workers know that their bosses are treating them with the same respect and dignity then they feel less of a condescending subordinate relationship. Habit #4 Maintaining Proper Boundaries. The key to this habit is judgement and self-control. When speaking of this habit Kohn and O'Connell go beyond the obvious inappropriate manners and into those "grey" areas that actually leave some boundaries blurred.

Another theory that explains boss-subordinate relationships is Workplace Relationship Quality and Employee Information Experiences,.[1] This study was conducted by Patricia Sias, and points out the theory of Leader-Membership. This theory is believed to be the most widely accepted theory regarding superior-subordinate relationships The main point being that employees with the best access to information are the most likely to succeed.[1] Furthermore, employees with a higher quality relationship with their supervisor have more access to such information and will be more likely to succeed in the workplace.


Main article: Workplace romance

Romantic workplace relationships involves the degree of intimacy between coworkers. These connections can be categorized into three different classifications: romantic partnership, sexual partnership, and combination partnership. Romantic partnerships involve a strong emotional attachment and close connection between partners without sexual relations. Sexual partnerships involve a partnership with no intimate connection, strictly a physical, sexual relationship. Combination partnerships involve a combination of both sexual and romantic relations amongst individuals.[11]

Romantic workplace relationships play a complicated role for those involved in the relationship and employees working with the partners. They have been known to create polarization in the workplace, employee distraction, and feelings of awkwardness among other employees.[12] Those involved; however, have had positive results in the work place of increased performance, higher motivation, and overall job satisfaction.[13]


Small and large family businesses are unique to the organizational world based on their patterns of governance, succession, management and ownership by influencing their business’ goals, structures, strategies and the approach owners take in the process of designing and implementing.[14]

According to many researchers studying the field of family businesses, they agree that succession is the most important issue families will face. Family business succession is defined as "the passing of the leadership baton from the founder-owner to a successor who will either be a family member or non-family member that is a, ‘professional manager’." Many also argue that the responsibility of providing succession lies with the owner or founder of the business (2). The succession process has been divided into four common stages: (1) stage of owner-management where only a member of the family is involved in the business, (2) a training and development stage where the owner’s children learn the business, (3) a partnership stage between a parent and child, and (4) a power transfer stage where responsibilities shift to the successor.[15]

Family businesses have many strategic advantages such as their sharing of family language, values and background. These advantages filter into their large respect towards each family member and their roles to, if necessary, sacrifice their individual tasks for the wellbeing of the business.[14]

Unfortunately, conflicts and problems can arise due to the lack of or absent of common goals for the business. A frequent issue within a family business is whether or not the separation of business and family roles are clear. Also, making a difficult decision between what is best for the business or what is best for the family. "Nearly 70% of all family firms fail before reaching the second generation and 88% fail before the third generation. Only a little over 3% of all family businesses operate at the fourth generation level and beyond."[14]


  1. 1 2 3 Sias (2005). Communication Studies. 56 (4). doi:10.1080/10510970500319450 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. 1 2 Lee, H.E.; H.S. Park (2006), Exploration of the relationship between friendship at work and job satisfaction: an application of balance theory., pp. 1–44
  3. 1 2 3 Gordon, J.; R.L. Hartman (2009). "Exploration ofAffinity-seeking strategies and open communication in peer workplace relationships". Atlantic Journal of Communication. 17 (3): 11–125.
  4. Sias, P.M.; D.J. Cahil (1998). "From coworkers to friends: the development of peer friendships in the workplace". Western Journal of Communication. 62 (3): 273–299. doi:10.1080/10570319809374611.
  5. Sias, P.M.; G. Smith; T. Avdeyeva (2003). "Sex and sex-composition differences and similarities in peer workplace friendship development". Communication Studies. 54 (3): 322–340. doi:10.1080/10510970309363289.
  6. Buunk, B.P.; B. Doosje; G. Liesbth; J. Jans; L. Hopsaken (1993). "Perceived reciprocity, social support and stress at work: The role of exchange and communal orientation.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 65: 801–811. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.65.4.801.
  7. Markiewicz, D.; I. Devine; D. Kausilas (1997). "Friendships of women and men at work: Job satisfaction and resource implication.". Journal of Managerial Psychology. 45: 153–166.
  8. Morrison, R. (2003). "Informal relationships in the workplace: Associations with job satisfaction, organizational commitment and turnover intentions.". New Zealand Journal of Psychology. 3: 114–128.
  9. Lee-Kim, Julia (2006). "6 Habits of Highly Effective Bosses". Business Communication Quarterly. 70 (1).
  10. Kohn, Stephen (2005). 6 Habits of Highly Effective Bosses. Career Press. ISBN 978-1-60163-907-3.
  11. Banker, J.E.; C. E. Kaestle; K.R. Allen (2010). "Dating is Hard Work: A Narrative Approach to Understanding Sexual and Romantic Relationships in Young Adulthood". Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal. 32 (2): 173–191. doi:10.1007/s10591-009-9111-9.
  12. Wolgemuth, L. (2010). "Be Wary About Chancing a Workplace Romance". U.S. News & World Report. 147 (11): 56.
  13. Pierce, C.A. (1998). "Factors Associated With Participating in a Romantic Relationship in a Work Environment". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 28 (18): 1712–1730. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1998.tb01342.x.
  14. 1 2 3 Barker, R.T.; G. W. Rimler; E. Moreno; T.E. Kaplan (2004). "Family business members' narrative perceptions: Values, succession, and commitment". Journal of Technical Writing & Communication. 34 (4): 291–320. doi:10.2190/h78u-j2af-6qwc-x46j.
  15. Handler, W.C. (2004). "Succession in family business: A review of the research. Journal of the Family Firm Institute". Journal of the Family Firm Institute. 7 (2): 133–157.

Further reading

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