Office Romance – The Heart of the Matter

Love in the Workplace

Valentines Day may have come and gone, leaving only the visible reminder of empty chocolate boxes and discarded floral arrangements in the office trash can, but that doesn’t mean love isn’t lingering in the hallways.

Did you know that a Society of Human Resource Management study in 2013 indicated that at least a quarter of employees have been involved in an office romance at some point in their career? Many people have found their spouses or significant others in the workplace. Let’s face it – we spend a far greater percentage of our time at work than we do in our personal activities, so workplace relationships are bound to happen. But for every positive outcome, such as commitment and marriage, there can also come a devastating split, potentially leading to lower morale, lost productivity and even harassment claims. Which in turn can negatively impact your business.

The best way to protect both your business and your employees is to have a workplace relationship policy in place. While many organizations frown upon relationships between superiors and their subordinates, it’s a good idea for a company to put some guidelines in place when it comes to dating or marriage between colleagues and those in reporting relationships. Banning office romance or consensual relationships altogether or implementing a no-dating policy may only backfire on an employer.

Here are some tips and strategies related to establishing policies regarding workplace romance:

  • Decide on the company stance regarding relationships – whether to allow, prohibit or discourage fraternization, specifically involving supervisors and their direct reports.
  • Establish the policy in writing, not just a verbal acknowledgement.
  • Determine if you want your employees to notify you if a relationship exists; this should be a must for supervisors in a position of authority.
  • Establish your employer rights to make employment decisions of those involved; ex: transfers, changes in reporting structures or changes in schedules, etc.
  • Rules around physical conduct during work hours.
  • A strict anti-harassment policy that relates to all employees, including management.
  • Consistency in the management and enforcement of these policies.

When to get involved:

Once a policy is in place, at what point should the employer or HR get involved in an employee relationship? This is a sticky proposition. Assuming you’ve been made aware that a relationship exists and it’s causing a disruption or violating the guidelines, you may need to address it directly. Meet with the employees to address the risks, the behaviors and the potential impact the relationship has on the workplace. If it is a supervisor/subordinate relationship and the superior hasn’t reported it, you may consider disciplinary action with the supervisor, as well as make a change in that reporting structure. The employee should not be negatively impacted.

Workplace relationships can be tricky business. They have cause and affect consequences that can easily turn sideways. Having a solid fraternization policy in place and enforcing it consistently will help in keeping the workplace on friendly terms.

In addition, you should seek HR support and guidance when you are tasked with creating a new fraternization policy or handling a claim of harassment or violation of company policy.