10 Types of Workplace Relationships and How To Improve Them

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 29, 2021

Whether you are a mentor, a coworker or you supervise a group of people, it's important to know the behavior and types of interactions that are expected in your position. Learning how to navigate workplace relationships can help to build your network and boost your reputation as a professional. In this article, we explain 10 various types of workplace relationships and offer tips for improving them.

What are workplace relationships?

Workplace relationships are the specific expectations for interactions between people in different positions within a company or organization. They are either professional, personal or a mixture of both. Depending on the position or title of either person, these relationships can also add to job satisfaction and the overall workplace climate or culture. Additionally, learning what these distinct relationships are and how to navigate them, may help someone broaden their professional connections and make advancements in their career.

Related: 8 Ways To Build Workplace Relationships

10 types of workplace relationships

Here are 10 different relationships that can exist within the workplace:


The CEO, or chief executive officer, is the person who has the highest supervisory role within the company. This is the individual who is either the founder or president of the organization. They are responsible for setting and maintaining the vision, mission and overall company culture. A healthy and appropriate relationship with anyone in upper management should always be cordial and respectful. Most positions within a company require that employees report to people in other managerial roles before reporting to the CEO.

When you do interact with the company founder or president, be respectful of the position they hold. Show your dependability and accountability, communicate clearly and efficiently, and be positive and solution-oriented when possible.

Related: Communication Skills for Career Success

Direct reporting manager

A direct reporting manager is someone who supervises your productivity and manages workplace assignments and large projects. This person is often referred to as a direct report, and you may have anywhere from one to five direct reports who manage different components of your work.

Depending on your role, you may find that you have somewhat regular interactions with people in this position. It is also likely that a direct report will meet with you during periods of review to offer performance feedback. This person regularly sets workplace goals for many people within an organization and communicates with higher-ups within the organization to make recommendations about renewing contracts, defining or managing workplace responsibilities and suggesting people for advancement or promotion.

Team member

A team member is someone you work with to achieve a common goal or complete a project. This person might have a similar job title to yourself, or they may primarily work in a different department—and you may work in tandem or collaboration. Team leaders often manage groups of two or more people for the express purpose of completing a specific type of task, managing an assignment, solving a work-related problem, handling a client request or creating a deliverable.


Coworker relationships are based on circumstantial proximity due to a shared employer. This is someone who is a professional acquaintance. Unless your coworker works with you as a part of your team, it's unlikely for you to have an abundance of interpersonal interactions with this person. For this reason, healthy and appropriate coworker relationships are cordial and polite and typically include an exchange of pleasantries.

Related: How To Develop a Professional Attitude


A client relationship is one between yourself and a client of the business or organization. Most for-profit companies maintain relationships with the customers they provide goods or services for. Depending on your role, you may interact with Individual customers or people who represent departments within a client company.

When communicating with people you have a client relationship with, your actions and behaviors reflect yourself, your employer, your product and the company you work for. You should focus your actions on client retention and satisfaction, and your communication should be professional and solution-oriented when necessary.


A mentor is someone who advises or coaches you through a specific portion of your professional career. Having a mentor is sometimes required by your employer or credentialing system. Other times this relationship stems from a personal or professional request for guidance.

Your mentor is likely to have advanced industry knowledge and several years of experience. This is a person to come to for advice and answers to questions about work assignments, time management and gaining skills. Mentor relationships can last for a few months, or they might last for years. While the nature of the relationship is professional, mentees sometimes develop slightly more personal relationships with their mentors.

Related: How To Make the Most of Your Mentor Relationship

Work friend

A work friend is someone you interact with in a more casual, social way. More than likely, these are people you collaborate with regularly or who share your workspace or work within physical proximity of you. Your work friends are often coworkers or team members you interact with at the office. These interactions may also extend to professional events or casual events outside of the office.

Your work friends serve as part of your support system, and maintaining these relationships is usually mutually beneficial. Interactions between work friends are more personal than standard coworker interactions but are still professional and respectful. Healthy and appropriate work friendships promote a positive and connected workplace culture and add to your are overall professional network.


A mentee is an official or unofficial professional learner. If you support a mentee, your role is advisory and interactive. Your mentee is likely to come to you with questions about gaining skills, developing professional relationships and subject area expertise. Mentor-to-mentee relationships should be professional, sympathetic and communicative. As a mentor, your advice and feedback should be timely, accurate and based on personal or professional experience.

If your mentorship over a mentee is required by an employer or a credentialing system, then interactions and advice should be logged or recorded. Mandatory mentoring programs sometimes involve payment for the mentor and might include a specific design structure or curriculum for professional instruction.

People who report to you

If you hold a leadership position, you are likely to maintain relationships with people who report to you. Whether you are a team leader, supervisor, c-suite member or manager, the parameters of this relationship should be friendly, impartial, goal-oriented and communicative. Clear boundaries should be set to distinguish this supervisory relationship from other types of colleague or coworker relationships.

Life friend

A life friend is a person you have a deep personal connection with at work, and this relationship may have stemmed from a work friendship, mentorship or a connection made outside of work. Life friendships are an important part of one's emotional well-being and the development of a personal support system. These relationships require trust and often involve opening up about their lives and their experiences. While these friendships are personal and interactive, the nature of the relationship must remain professional while in the workplace.

Related: Pros and Cons To Consider When Becoming Friends With Coworkers

Tips for improving workplace relationships

Here is a list of self-improvement tips to strengthen your friendships and professional relationships at work:

Be polite and professional

Being polite and professional means showing respect and care for other people's feelings. This means using considerate language, maintaining appropriate physical distance when interacting in person and acknowledging people's strengths and abilities.

Be inclusive of others

Being inclusive of others at work means valuing people and their specific contributions. It also means keeping an open mind when interacting with people who are different than yourself. Inclusivity helps make everyone feel safe and supported at work, and it is important for increasing productivity and maintaining a positive workplace environment.

Offer clear communication

Workplace communication is the exchange of information, feedback or ideas. Whether you are an entry-level employee, seasoned professional or you hold a supervisory role, the way you speak and write should be clear and easy to understand. You can accomplish clear communication by speaking with people or writing to them directly, addressing concerns swiftly and specifically outlining the action you would like taken.

Practice active listening

Active listening is the process of maintaining full concentration and engagement when someone is speaking to you. Examples of active listening at work include making eye contact, using brief verbal affirmations and paraphrasing or asking probing questions to show understanding and engagement.

Be positive and supportive

One way to be positive and supportive at work would be to check in with colleagues or those you lead. Ask people if they need help or if they would like to collaborate, and encourage best practices and productivity.

Focus on goals and solutions

When people come to you in need of advice, it is important to focus on solving any problems or resolving any concerns they may have. Try to redirect conversations toward meeting a goal or reaching a standard. Use your professional connections and unique talents to help people move forward when they have concerns.

Hold yourself accountable

When you are tasked with an assignment, or you agree to a commitment, it's important to follow through and complete that work to the best of your ability. Holding yourself accountable in these situations is the first step in being seen as a reliable co-worker, leader or employee. You can accomplish this by prioritizing your tasks, organizing your workday, using schedules and monitoring your own performance and productivity.

Show appreciation for the people around you

Showing appreciation means expressing your gratitude for the things that people add to a workplace or team. You can do this by praising someone for accomplishing a goal or simply saying thank you.

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