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Explain how a working relationship is different from a personal relationship

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On this page, we will explain how a working relationship is different from a personal relationship.

Positive relationships in the workplace are essential for providing good quality care, building mutual trust and respect and increasing job satisfaction. Personal relationships with our family and friends are also important for our overall wellbeing.

However, it is important to understand that there are several differences between working relationships and personal relationships.

Personal Relationships

Personal relationships are the unpaid, social relationships that you have with your family and friends. They usually have a social commitment or family bond. These are informal relationships and you have the choice about whether you want to maintain them or not. Physical contact such as touching, hugging and kissing is appropriate in these types of relationships, as is the giving and receiving of gifts. Personal relationships can also include relationships with acquaintances, such as your neighbours or local shopkeeper.

Working relationships

Conversely, working relationships are the formal relationships that you have with the clients you support, their family, your managers and co-workers and outside agencies. They usually involve working as part of a team with a shared vision and a common goal. Unless you are a volunteer, you will be paid for your role. Physical contact will be limited and records will be kept. Gifts should not be given or received. Very often, you will know more about the client (for the purpose of supporting them effectively) than they know about yourself and they will be more dependent on you than you are on them, which creates an unequal balance of power. This imbalance of power should not be abused and you should behave professionally at all times.

Table of differences between personal and working relationships

The main differences between working and personal relationships are shown in the table below.

Difference between working and personal relationships

Working relationshipsPersonal relationships
Limited choice of whom you work withFree choice of who you choose to be your friends
Cannot be intimateCan be intimate
Bound by professionalism, policies and duty of careOnly personal boundaries
Limited by location e.g. office, care home etc.Not limited to particular locations
Limited by time e.g. shifts, meetings etc.Unlimited times that individuals may choose to associate
Purpose is to meet individual's care needs and no morePurpose is to provide mutual pleasure
Unequal power balance - care worker will know more about an individual they support and the individual may have dependencies on the support worker.Usually equal balance of power between individuals

Blurring the lines

As we have seen, the key differences between personal and working relationships are where the relationship is established and the scope and limitations of the relationship.

But there may be times when the boundaries of a relationship are not so clear. For example, you may work for the same employer as another family member or develop a strong personal relationship with a colleague outside of the work environment.

In these cases, you should try to remain professional and maintain a working relationship whilst you are carrying out your job role. This will include ensuring that you do not treat those people that you have a closer bond with more favourably than others. To try to avoid potential conflicts of interest with close friends and families working together, employers may choose to minimise the contact between such employees by ensuring that they are not on shift together to that they work in different locations/services. Your employer may have a policy relating to personal relationships at work.

Example question and answer

Explain the difference between working relationships and personal relationships

The relationships a health & social care employee have at work differ greatly from the personal relationships they may have outside of work. Working relationships are governed by professional boundaries including:

Personal relationships are much less formal and more emotive and can involve intimate touching and expression that would be illegal in a health & social care setting. In addition, a person can choose who they associate with outside work, whereas they have much less choice whilst at work and may have to work with people they wouldn’t choose to associate with

It is important not to confuse working relationships with personal relationships as this could lead to an employee being biased, either positively or negatively, whilst making work-related decisions or carrying out their job responsibilities. It could also result in breaking the law.

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