As he does every year on 14 February, Cupid shoots his arrows and romantic relationships begin. The odds are that some of those arrows will probably strike a few co-workers who will start celebrating a romance together.
Due to the nature of our busy lives and spending more time at work, many people meet their significant other in the workplace.
Whilst there are many “happily ever after” moments as a result of these romances, some relationships may become very messy and cause ongoing issues for employers.
Regardless of the headaches for managers and Human Resources, workplace relationships and romances are a reality of the workplace. Here are some facts so that you are prepared when Cupid hits your workplace!
Research suggests one in four employees don’t see a problem with engaging in romantic relationships in the workplace. It is important to know that number as it is a reasonable chunk of your workforce that support behaviour that may ultimately lead to ongoing issues with broader effects for the organisation.
Also, over 20% of married couples met through the workplace. That should give you an indication on how often these relationships occur and that no workplace is immune from this. Dating between colleagues is predictable and an organisational response can and should be planned for.
Establish the rules
To prepare for these relationships, it’s important to have strong policies. A good idea is to have these policies somewhere near the sexual harassment policies. This proactive approach will help your organisation avoid a number of drawbacks and avoid any potential awkward circumstances. Make sure your policies are clear on the potential conflict of interest caused by a personal relationship between colleagues and that there is a process for notifying the conflict and managing it effectively.
Policies and procedures may be a way of attempting to discourage employees from engaging in romances within the compounds of the office, however; workplace romances will happen regardless of any outright ban. A better policy approach is accepting that romantic relationships at work happen and encouraging employees to discuss their relationships with HR especially when relationships become serious or where there is any indication of conflict of interest or power imbalance. The more open employees can be with management, the easier it’ll be to mitigate any risks to the individuals and the company.
Take a sensible approach to any work sponsored socialising even when romance is not in the air: have a defined finishing time to office drinks, nominate a manager who is ‘in charge’ during work related events and please rethink open bars with little or no food as a form of bonding!
Exception to the rule
The one exception of completely forbidding workplace relationships is between managers and their direct reports. These relationships can easily lead to complaints of sexual harassment or bullying for the manager and/or their employers and can seriously dent the positive culture an employer is trying to establish.
For the direct report employees in the relationship, they will be viewed and judged by their peers as being favourites and receiving all the recognition and may be resented throughout the general workforce. This will make it a very difficult employment relationship for that employee and difficult to maintain if the romantic relationship with the manager breaks down.
Things can (and will) get messy
Gossip, breakups, taking sides and office politics are only a few of the messy issues arising from broken hearts in the office. A sour workplace relationship has all the ingredients to turn into a sexual harassment complaint which can be damaging on several levels.
Human Resources must play a proactive role in monitoring and managing these relationships and ensure all parties involved know what they are getting themselves into, the potential consequences and what the policies are.
Have a plan
When you find yourself facing the fallout of a workplace romance gone wrong, you need to take a step back and assess the situation, so it doesn’t get bigger or worse for the organisation or the employees. The business still must run, targets have to be met and clients have to be satisfied.
At Worklogic, we will handle these issues and provide constructive and sustainable solutions through training, mediation and conflict resolution so you can focus on the more important things that matter to you and the success of your business.
About Marc Dib
Marc Dib conducts workplace investigations and reviews for Worklogic’s government and private sector clients.
Marc has extensive expertise in transnational and complex investigations in areas including fraud, intelligence, anti-corruption and professional standards.