Difficult work relations  

Just like in your personal life, some people at work may upset you because of the way  they behave. Their behaviour may even cause you serious problems. 

On this page: 

  • How to manage difficult relationships at work 
  • What if I have a difficult relationship with my manager? 
  • What if I’m being bullied at work? 

How to manage difficult relationships at work  

Having difficult relationships with your co-workers can be stressful. It can make work feel  harder to cope with. 

Here are some first steps you can take for managing difficult relationships: 

  • Discuss your concerns. If a co-worker says or does something that you find  upsetting, arrange to speak with them privately. You can then calmly explain the  situation and your feelings. If it happens again, or you don’t feel you can talk to  them, discuss it with your manager. If you think you’re being bullied, read on for  information about bullying at work. 
  • Try not to get involved in arguments. You won’t always agree with your colleagues. But getting your point across in a fair and polite way can avoid unhelpful debates. You could say, “maybe I’m not making myself clear” instead of “you don’t understand”. Or try saying, “I appreciate your point of view, but I see it differently”, rather than “you’re wrong”. 
  • Avoid taking part in workplace gossip. People often use gossip as a way of  bonding and finding common ground for a chat. It can however put a strain on  relationships and cause conflict. Generally it’s best to avoid getting involved. 
  • Find a common interest. You might not have much in common with your  colleagues. However, finding something that you both like – such as a sports team, TV programme or hobby – can give you something positive to discuss. In time, this could improve your relationship.
  • Keep a professional distance. Unfortunately, you won’t always have good  relationships with every co-worker. If you have to work with someone you don’t get on with, try to maintain a professional boundary. It’s not realistic to think that you will be friends with everyone. 

What if I have a difficult relationship with my manager?  

If you have a difficult relationship with your manager, your working life can feel even  harder. On the other hand, a good relationship can help you feel supported in your role. 

If your manager is the problem, you could take the following actions: 

  • Review your job description. Is your manager making unreasonable requests, or  being unclear about what they expect? Make sure you understand what your role is and what it should involve. 
  • Communicate your concerns. Request a one-to-one meeting with your manager to  discuss how you feel and what would help you. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting your manager alone, ask to bring a colleague or to record your meeting. 
  • Speak to another employee. If you don’t feel able to talk to your manager, ask to meet with another manager or somebody from HR. Some workplaces have trained staff like mental health first aiders or health and wellbeing representatives. Try to provide examples of the difficult behaviour and discuss what you’d like to change. 
  • Contact an independent body. Get in touch with the Labour Relations Division or the Workplace Consultation Promotion Division of the Labour Department, Hong Kong SAR Gov  (Labour Department – Labour Relations). It provides voluntary conciliation services for the non-government sector, advice on matters relating to the conditions of employment and the Employment Ordinance, and promotes good human resource management practices, effective communication, consultation and negotiation between employers and employees.

What if I’m being bullied at work?  

If you’re being bullied at work, it can be difficult to know what to do. Sometimes bullying  may be obvious, but other times it can be harder to identify. Bullying can have a  significant impact on your mental health. 

“When I was bullied at work I told someone how I felt and what was happening.”

If you experience bullying at work, you could take the following actions: 

  • Find out about your workplace bullying policy. The policy should outline unacceptable behaviours and how to address the problem (grievance procedures). Even without a policy, your employer has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure your health, safety and welfare at work. If they don’t take reasonable steps to protect you from bullying, they could be breaking the law. 
  • Try to resolve the issue informally. With the support of your manager or a colleague, arrange to speak with the person who is bullying you (if you feel able to). Bear in mind that this is not always possible. 
  • Discuss it with someone you feel comfortable with. This could be your manager, HR department, welfare officer or union representative (if you have one). Be prepared to provide examples of your experience of being bullied. 
  • Get independent advice. If you’re not ready to talk to someone at work about it, visit the Labour Relations Division website (Labour Department – Labour Relations).
  • Raise a formal complaint. If nothing improves, you may be able to resolve it  through formal procedures at work. You can contact the Labour Relations Division to discuss your options  and your rights. This includes advice on what you can do if you’re unhappy with  the outcome of your complaint. 

Although there’s no specific law to protect you from bullying, you might want to seek legal  advice. The Labour Legislation & Guidelines website (Discrimination in the Workplace) has more information about your rights related to bullying and harassment at work. 

Sometimes the situation might not improve, or you might feel as if you cannot take action.  In this case, you may decide that leaving your job is best for your mental health. 

If you feel forced to leave because of bullying, you might want to get further advice about  your rights. You can contact a solicitor specialising in employment law. 

Remember: you don’t have to put up with it. 

“I have been bullied in the past. I took it to the appropriate person. Unfortunately for me  they didn’t care and didn’t take it seriously. I left that place immediately.”

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