A major new survey published by Relate, the UK’s leading relationship support organisation, and Relationships Scotland, The Way We Are Now 2014 is one of the largest studies of its kind. It provides a window into the most important areas of our lives – from couple and family life to sex, friendships and interactions with colleagues and bosses.

Friendships at work

Surprisingly, the survey found that two-fifths of people (42%) in work didn’t count any colleague or boss as a close friend, although the majority of people (58%) had at least one close friend at work with over a fifth (22%) having three or more close friends amongst their colleagues.

When it comes to the quality of these relationships, thankfully, the survey results reveal that the majority of people are positive about their working relationships: 70% described their relationships with colleagues as good or very good, while six in ten people (59%) described their relationship with their boss as good or very good. A small minority described their relationship with colleagues as bad or very bad (2%), although more described their relationship with their boss as bad or very bad (7%).

The survey looked for a pattern in terms of the quality of workplace relationships and how good we feel about ourselves. The figures revealed that 87% of those who describe very good relationships with colleagues felt good about themselves sometimes, often or all the time in the two weeks before the survey, compared to 83% and 69% respectively for those who describe their workplace relationships as good or average.

Why working relationships matter

For many of us, the majority of our waking hours can revolve around work – if we’re not physically in the workplace we’re on the daily commute, working at home, or thinking about work.

The survey asked people about their contact with significant others, including face-to-face, telephone, text, email, and other online contact. And found that among those in full-time work, contact with colleagues and bosses by far exceeds contact with many other family members.

In fact, we’re about as likely to have daily contact with our colleagues (62%) as we are with our own children (64%), and much more likely to have daily contact with our bosses (44%) than with our mums (26%) or our friends (16%).

Given the amount of time we spend with them, it’s hardly surprising that the quality of our relationships with colleagues has a substantial influence on our mental wellbeing.

Poor workplace relationships can contribute to stress, result in lower performance, and – more fundamentally – can reduce our wellbeing. Employers would do well to take note: given that many of us leave our jobs because we don’t get on with our boss or colleagues, the quality of these relationships is vital to retaining talented employees and maintaining productivity.

Working 24/7

The survey found differences depending on income levels as to whether people felt more pressure from employers to prioritise work over family life. Less than a third of employees with a household income of under £20,000 felt pressured to put work before family, compared to almost two-fifths of people with a household income above £70,000. This is unsurprising and could reflect the differences between those paid on an hourly rather than salaried basis.

However, these results do not represent the full picture, as people on lower incomes are increasingly likely to take on additional hours or other part-time roles to make ends meet. In the wake of the great recession there has also been a rise in the number of self-employed workers and people on zero-hour contracts, where the pressures to balance work and family life can play out in different ways.

An interesting finding in the survey is that people aged 25-34 were the most likely to believe that their employers viewed the most productive employees as those who put work before family life – with almost two-fifths agreeing or strongly agreeing with this statement, compared to less than three in ten people aged 55-64.