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Office romance – managing workplace romances
It is often said employees should steer clear of office romance, but they still happen. Over 60% of adults have engaged in a romantic relationship at work.
In the past, many organisations did not permit office romance to avoid potential issues and conflicts. But romance is not unusual in the workplace, a recent survey by Forbes Advisor reports that over 60% of adults have engaged in romantic relationships. Most businesses understand that banning office romance is impractical and not feasible. Employees will likely continue their relationships. Organisations may also lose talented team members because of antiquated policies.
Associated risks with office romance
Office romances encompass all the familiar risks and rewards of any other romantic relationship, but they come with an additional layer of complexity. For instance, a conflict of interest may arise when an employee is dating their manager or a senior executive within their team or department. Romantic relationships involving a manager whether that’s a junior, middle or senior manager and a team member may lead to preferential treatment. This may also impact decision-making for performance reviews, pay reviews and other employee relations issues.
An office romance may affect the perception of an employee’s progress in the workplace. Depending on who the employee is in a relationship with, these perceptions can be negative or positive. For example, whether it involves a senior manager dating a junior member of the team, or it’s two team members both relatively junior.
The challenge in managing office romance is keeping the relationship professional at work and establishing boundaries in the workplace. If an employee is in a romantic relationship with a direct report or someone they work very closely with, the risk is giving preferential treatment. Where feasible, it is better to change the line manager. This is because not being responsible for managing the employee they are in a relationship with will help alleviate or limit the risk of them giving preferential treatment, or the perception that they are.
Managers have a responsibility for managing their direct reports and the functions that they are responsible for. It is not a manager’s responsibility to keep track on people’s relationships. If the relationship becomes a workplace issue and a disruption to the employees involved and others, then management together with HR have a responsibility for addressing the impact on the workplace.
If the relationship goes sour, it is important to be able to manage the fallout and not let it affect professionalism at work.
Workplace romances can adversely affect morale and productivity. They can influence people’s perceptions and erode trust and respect. It can also lead to:
- abuse of power
- confidentiality breaches
- retaliation scenarios
- workplace distractions
Romantic relationships in the workplace can also fuel workplace gossip, making the working environment uncomfortable for all parties.
As businesses strive to retain top talent, prohibiting workplace relationships could therefore be counterproductive. For this reason, company leaders and HR must establish policies and procedures to manage the potential risks associated with office romance. Employers also have the duty to protect employees.
What should employers consider when formulating policies about workplace relationships?
When devising policies about workplace relationships, employers must be clear about what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviours from employees. The relationship must not result in preferential treatment or favouritism. In the same vein, an employee must not suffer detrimentally due to the relationship. The employer should communicate the requirement for employees to declare their relationships and specify whom they should inform. Is it the manager, HR or both? It must also be clear whether one of the parties involved may have to change jobs. In extreme cases, the policy may prevent employees from engaging in romantic relationships within the workplace.
It is important to ensure that employees do not experience harassment or bullying in the pursuit of workplace romance. No means no. Not maybe.
Policies should also be clear on how employees can report inappropriate relationships or conduct without fear. Employers need to be clear on the process for raising concerns in the workplace. Employees must be able to report on improper relationships they are aware of. Employers must conduct investigations for any such concerns and document their findings and any necessary actions that they may have taken.
The culture of the organisation must enable and empower employees to raise such concerns.
Having well-established policies can mitigate many of the potential risks of workplace relationships. The aim is to reduce the potential for harm and avoid:
- conflict of interest;
- inappropriate behaviour;
- abuse of power and harassment.
If you are looking to implement policies to help govern romantic relationships in your workplace and are seeking assistance, we can help you source an HRi accredited HR consultant to work with your business.
Author: Mary Asante | HRi