Employee relationships are an essential component of a productive and harmonious work environment. However, even the best teams can encounter toxic dynamics that negatively impact morale, productivity and overall workplace culture.

The media’s focus on the fallout between This Morning‘s Phil and Holly, in terms of both their public working relationship and their private friendship, has shed light on the importance of addressing deteriorating employee relationships promptly and effectively.

Recognise the Signs

Identifying toxic employee relationships is crucial for addressing the issue promptly. Common signs include frequent conflicts, disrespectful behaviour, passive-aggressive communications, excessive gossiping, absenteeism and an overall decline in team morale. Left unchecked, it can impact your organisation’s recruitment, staff retention and reputation. In the case of Phil and Holly, rumours of tension and discord began to circulate among their colleagues, affecting the atmosphere on set and potentially diminishing the show’s overall quality. HR personnel and line managers should remain vigilant and responsive to early warning signs to prevent the situation from escalating further.

Promote Open Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship, including those in the workplace. Encourage staff to express their concerns and frustrations openly by providing opportunities and a ‘safe’ culture for dialogue, which should be encouraged and modelled by line managers and HR. HR could be invited to facilitate regular team meetings and/or one-to-one discussions. Where appropriate, anonymous feedback channels could be set up to ensure concerned employees feel heard and supported.

Mediation and Conflict Resolution

When tensions escalate between employees, it’s essential to intervene promptly to avoid matters becoming entrenched. HR personnel could potentially intervene, facilitating constructive conversations between the parties involved, offering a neutral perspective and implementing conflict resolution techniques. Alternatively, employers may prefer to outsource this to a third party mediator for added objectivity and to support with employee engagement and confidence in the process. Mediation can help employees to understand each other’s perspectives, find common ground, and develop strategies for working together effectively.

Set Clear Expectations

To mitigate the potential for toxic relationships, employers should establish clear expectations for workplace conduct. This includes defining acceptable behaviour, establishing boundaries, and promoting a culture of respect and collaboration. Policies, including Dignity and Work and a Staff Code of Conduct, can capture the expected standards so that staff can be monitored and held to account. These policies should be signposted during every employee’s induction in the workplace, and routinely mentioned. By outlining these expectations from the outset and regularly revisiting them, HR can provide a framework for healthy working relationships and minimise the risk of toxicity arising.

Provide Training and Support

Investing in training and development programmes can equip employees with the skills necessary to manage conflicts and promote positive relationships. HR teams could include CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and training which offers workshops and seminars focused on conflict resolution, effective communication, emotional intelligence and empathy. These initiatives can empower employees to navigate challenging situations, promote understanding and foster a supportive work environment.

Document Incidents

It’s vital to maintain detailed records of incidents related to employee fallout. HR should encourage employees to report instances of inappropriate behaviour, and they should be investigated thoroughly. Things can develop over time, and each incident in isolation may not appear to be significant. Documentation helps to establish a factual basis for intervention and provides a record for future reference. If events arise again, the trail of evidence will give valuable insight and context, as well as guiding appropriate actions.

Take Appropriate Action

Once the toxic nature of a relationship is confirmed, HR must take appropriate action to address the issue. Depending on the severity and persistence of the toxic behaviour, solutions can range from offering coaching and counselling, to implementing disciplinary measures. Ultimately, employers may need to resort to dismissing one or more employees if staff are unable to work together despite reasonable interventions. It is crucial to consider the best interests of the individuals directly involved, whilst also balancing the overall wellbeing and reputation of impacted colleagues and the wider organisation.

The recent fallout between Phil and Holly on This morning serves as a powerful reminder of the detrimental effects toxic employee relationships can have on a workplace. Employers, acting through HR and line managers, play a pivotal role in mitigating such situations, as set out in the guidelines above. By proactively addressing deteriorating relationships, organisations can foster a healthy work environment, enhance productivity and preserve the wellbeing of all their employees.

If you would like more help with any of these issues, mediation, or any other HR concerns, please contact Jo Bradbury in our team, on 07570 372118.