Over half of us have a 'work enemy'

Employees across the UK are feeling the impact of workplace relationships turned sour. 

In new research released today, Totaljobs has found 62% of people in the UK workforce say they have a colleague they consider to be their ‘work enemy’. 

  • Newsurvey reveals 62% of UK workers have a colleague they consider a ‘work enemy’
  • 77% of those caught up with a workenemy are unhappy at work, and 70% would consider looking for a new job as a result
  • 1 in 3 have lost sleep over unhealthy workplace relationship
  • Desktop diplomacy needed, 23% say direct communication leads to resolution 

Defined as a colleague with whom people struggle to get along with, work enemies are causing many of us to experience difficulties within our place of work and often make it harder for us to switch off at home.

Speaking to over 7,000 people in the UK, the research has given a clear picture of those who we consider beingour work enemies. Overall, they tend to be of the same age as us or older (71%), the same gender as us (65%) and are people we interact with on a daily basis (68%). With one in four (28%) considering their line manager to be their enemy, it’s easy to see how a breakdown in office relationships might impact on an employee’s wellbeing. 

When it comes to the charge sheet, the majority (60%) of UK workers gave the same two reasons for considering someone a workenemy: the worst offenders typically “bend the truth to make themselves look good” or “comment on others’ work performance”
In what should be cause for concern for any workplace, 37% said that their work enemy had said insulting or disrespectful things about them. 

Selfishness and a lack of community spirit also feature highly: nearly one in five (18%) respondents were irked by a colleague that regularly adjusts the thermostat to suit themselves, while 7% reported they have a colleague that clips their nails at their desk.

People also struggle with being interrupted (57%), being spoken to passive-aggressively (57%) and being treated dismissively (54%). 

How this impacts employees and the workplace

The impact of having a workenemy shouldn’t be underestimated with 70% of those who took action saying that they would start looking for a new job to resolve the issue and over a quarter (26%) saying they would avoid work-related social events. Productivity is also being impacted, with 17% of people having ‘pulled a sickie’ just to avoid another day with their work enemy.

The feeling of being mistreated by a colleague triggers very different emotional responses in men and women: women are most likely to get tearful, with 62% saying they cry or get emotional because of their work enemy. Men, on the other hand, are most likely to respond by isolating themselves from others (39%) or getting angry (29%).

The situation can also spill over into our personal lives, with a third of respondents (30%) reporting that they’ve lost sleep over an unhealthy relationship at work, and 22% saying that negativity at work has caused them to take up or increase a bad habit, such as smoking.

Despite this, some individuals were determined not to let the situation get to them. Men were more likely to turn the negative energy into a positive, with 32% taking up a new activity or hobby in a bid to leave their workplace stresses behind, compared to only 12% of women. 

How employers can resolve friction

However, things weren’t always this way, 85% say their relationship with their work enemies started out well, suggesting that there is room for resolution. 

In fact, 14% of workers said things got better if they talked to their peers and a higher number of workers (23%) said things got better if they talked directly to their ‘enemy’. 

Where possible employers should identify any friction within the workplace and take a closer look at the causes. Often issues can be solved through conversation and encouraging employees to communicate is advised before the situation escalates.

Martin Talbot, Group Marketing Director at Totaljobs, said: ‘Difficult workplace relationships lead to people taking up bad habits, losing sleep or calling in sick, meaning the concept of ‘work enemies’ is something we should take seriously. Not only does it affect the productivity and dynamics of a team, but most importantly the wellbeing of employees.

But while the issue is common, often the solution can be direct and straightforward. Our research also showed that by talking to others,and in particular to the individuals that have caused offence, in some cases unknowingly, 14% stated an improvement when they talked to someone else and 23% stated an improvement when they talked directly to their enemy.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their team of employees are productive, engaged and work within a healthy environment, this can be achieved by promoting open dialogue and positive solutions.” 

 

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