A big portion of our stress comes from the relationships and interactions we have. Many nations recognize and emphasize the importance of wellness in the workplace. While work styles are becoming flexible under the diversified needs of individuals, unique power balance structures that come with customized contracts and benefits are creating a complex situation at work. How do we cope with stressful relationships under these unique work environments?

Workplace Relationships Affects Everyone

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It’s not that difficult to avoid stressful situations if it’s within personal relationships. You can usually cut ties with a person or create distance so that they can’t distract you.

However, when it comes to stressful relationships at the workplace, it can be impossible to avoid certain people due to work responsibilities. Unavoidable work stress can cause mental illnesses when they’re left unattended.

The Impact of Stressful Relationships at Work

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Stressful work relationships are continually listed among the top 10 reasons why an employee quits their job. Not everyone leaves their job for positive reasons and sometimes, their mental health can be way too damaged by the time they leave their job.

High Risk of Depression and Burnout

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There’s a risk to a person bearing through high-stress environments for long durations. Long-term stress is known to lead to possible mental illnesses.

A prominent mental illness due to prolonged depressed feelings and anxiety is depression. Workplace stress can cause unhealthy conditions for your mental well-being, as well as physical symptoms like insomnia and fatigue. As a result, some serious cases may even cause difficulties in getting out of the house in the end.

Burnouts are typical symptoms due to high stress. This happens to people even when they used to enthusiastically work before, but lost any motivation to move forward. It is said that burnouts strongly correlate with depression.

Mental illnesses that stem from stress require immediate attention. Once a person recognizes the state that they’re in, they should go seek professional help right away. For some, it may be hard to understand their state from an objective perspective. It’s important to create a work environment that allows people to look out for each other so that everyone can recognize when someone is “off.”

How to Deal With Stressful Relationships at Work

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How vast of a relationship you need to hold depends on your industry and type of job, but most of us need to maintain relationships with a variety of people. As much as diversity is important, the differences in age, background, and type of employment can all easily become a blocking point as well.

What kind of stressful relationships exist in the workplace and how can we deal with them?

1. Workplace Harassment

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Workplace harassment is a huge issue when we consider stressful situations and relationships at work.

Below are a few possible categories of workplace harassment:
Discriminatory Harassment – based on race, age, gender, religion, etc.
Power Harassment – a person in power harasses a victim who is lower on the office hierarchy
Physical Harassment – based on physical attacks and threatening behavior
Psychological Harassment – discrediting, isolating or belittling a person
Sexual Harassment – includes unwanted sexual advances, conduct, or behavior

In many cases, the problem lies in the fact that the harasser is not aware of what they are doing. No matter how humorous, genuine, and encouraging they “think” they are, their words and actions could be taken differently by the receiver.

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<How to Improve The Situation>

To stop harassment, you must let the harasser know so that they become aware of what they are doing. Social dynamics may make it difficult for you to directly speak up or confront the person in power. If so, try to talk to someone who is in an adequate position to raise your concerns for improvement.

If it’s difficult to voice your opinion on your own, talk to someone who is in a similar position as you. Submitting concerns as a group is more effective than doing it alone. If there is no one that you can talk to, you should consult a lawyer or get in touch with the U.S. EEOC.

Workplace harassment can be solved through action. There is no need to stay quiet or hold it all in. We all need to take part in creating an environment that will not tolerate any kind of harassment. Our individual awareness of this issue is essential for ourselves and for any other potential victim.

2. There’s Somone You Dislike

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When we spend long hours at work, naturally, there will be stressful people that have challenging personalities and different ideologies. They don’t necessarily do anything intentionally bad towards you, you just don’t get along with them that well.

Projects that involve close teamwork with managers and coworkers we dislike can cause long-term stress. There are people we grow close to through frequent communication, but there will always be a few that we have difficulties with.

According to studies, people who easily hold a strong distaste towards others tend to have low self-esteem. In other words, people who have no self-confidence are more critical towards others. This means that building self-confidence could help reduce our dislikes. When we truly accept who we are and reach a point of confidence, there’s no behavior that can really bother us. Even if tension arises between another person, we can brush it off optimistically when there’s confidence.

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<How to Improve The Situation>

We should always stay calm when friction arises so that we can think through the issues objectively. An open mind with a rational view can give us an opportunity to look at things with less bias.

For example, if a boss got upset at your mistake and you only focused on the fact that they were “upset,” an emotional response might be that we feel angry and stressed. However, an objective view would help us switch things into a positive narrative, where we feel thankful that our mistakes were corrected early on so that they won’t happen again.

Verbalized thoughts are effective in gaining objective perspectives. Talk to someone you trust or write a diary. It can even be an internal conversation with yourself. All of these things will help you organize your thoughts to see things more clearly and objectively.

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The Positivity of Healthy Relationships

On the other hand, positive relationships at work can be the best medication for our mental health. A coworker you can talk to daily, or a great boss can all help reduce stress.

Good relationships at the workplace are known to:

・Improve teamwork and collaboration
・Improve employee morale
・Increase employee productivity
・Lead to higher employee retention rates

As we can see, relationships can be both toxic and helpful for our wellbeing depending on the situation.

There are no straight answers on how to solve relationship issues. Everyone seeks their own path to reach a conclusion. A shift in perspective or new ways of thinking can hint us towards a better direction to improve our relationship at the workplace.

Looking to improve your mental wellbeing? Try the SELF MIND app FREE for 1 week!
If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!


McFarlin, K. (2019, February 5). Importance of Relationships in the Workplace. Small Business – Chron.Com. https://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-relationships-workplace-10380.html

Nagatomi, Y. (2015). Psychological harassment and mental health at work. Journal of Osaka University of Economics, 66(1), 223–233. https://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/120005616521

Nagatomi, Y. (2016). Stress trigger and process under workplace harassments. Journal of Osaka University of Economics66(5), 243–248. https://doi.org/10.24644/keidaironshu.66.5_243

Ostuka, Y., Suzuki, A., & Takada, M. (2007). Mental Health at The Workplace: Recent Trends and Stress Coping Realities. The Japanese Journal of Labour Studies49(1), 41–53. https://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/120002099808

Yahnke, K. (2020, June 12). 11 Types of Workplace Harassment (and How to Stop Them). I-Sight. https://i-sight.com/resources/11-types-of-workplace-harassment-and-how-to-stop-them/

About the Author


As a writer, worked on many medical-related articles based on academic papers. Specializes in articles on mental health and stress care.

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