Businesses risk losing a quarter of employees when work relationships break down

work relationships

Two thirds of UK workers are finding ‘work spouses’ in the office – that one person who they are very close to – according to latest research.

The research featured responses from over 4,000 employees and 103 employers exploring the latest trends in workplace relationships and office politics.

While the study found that many UK workers value their work spouse relationships, when the time comes for ‘divorce’, the impact on employee retention can be significant. One in four say they would consider leaving themselves. Nearly one in 10 go as far as to say that their work spouse leaving the company would be ‘like a bereavement’.

It pays to encourage strong work relationships, with over half of employers saying strong work friendships increase productivity. 70 per cent of employers also say “it’s healthy for employees to have someone they bond with/confide in more than other colleagues”.

It is also clear many UK employees treasure their relationship with their work spouse. 60 per cent of work spouses say their relationship means ‘they look forward to going into work’, which can help improve staff retention.

It is perhaps no surprise that work socials are encouraged by employers. Three-quarters of employers organise social events, with the most common including the Christmas party; meals out; celebrating company milestones (contract wins, hitting targets); and drinks. A massive 89 per cent of employers provide coffee and tea facilities, while 67 per cent provide a kitchen with a sitting area and 47 per cent provide breakout areas to encourage more conversation.

A significant 60 per cent of employers encourage employees to socialise out of work, while in most social events are regularly organised by teams independently – 42 per cent monthly and 40 per cent quarterly.

A line was drawn in terms of seniority however, with only 24 per cent of employers believing it is appropriate for management to be friends with people more junior than them.

John Salt, Director at totaljobs, said: “It is certainly revealing that so many employees relate to having a ‘work spouse’ and someone they feel they can confide in above others. Our research shows employers recognise the value of strong work relationships, with many already offering social events. The key is to accept work spouse relationships and encourage broader team cohesion. The two do not need to be mutually exclusive: get the balance right, and employers will reap the benefits of a happier, more productive, team.”

The research also showed that work relationships are often formed out of facing adversity in the workplace. Half of those with a work spouse admit to being frustrated in their job, compared to only a third who say they are satisfied, suggesting a spouse may be viewed as some with whom frustrations can be shared.

Social media has led to a blurring of the lines in terms of people’s personal and professional lives. In fact, 42 per cent admitted they communicate with their work spouse via social media outside the office. Facebook is by far the leading social network, with 83 per cent saying they add colleagues who are at their level on Facebook, compared to 32 per cent who would add them on LinkedIn, 24 per cent who would follow them on Instagram, and 19 per cent who would message their work spouse out of office hours.

Workplace communication expert Judi James has worked with totaljobs to identify the different types of workplace friendships.  She comments, “The notion of having a ‘work spouse’ in the office is clearly a growing phenomenon. British people are notoriously hard workers, often working long hours in stressful environments so it is no surprise to see that they find a colleague with whom they can share their frustrations and celebrate their successes.

“Whilst this is perfectly healthy, it can be helpful for workers to understand how these relationships can come to be viewed and how to prepare for the inevitability of their work marriage being broken up when one party heads for pastures new. That’s why I have worked with totaljobs to create this guide to enable people to understand what type of relationship they have.”