As it is Valentine’s Day we have been reflecting upon workplace romance, and particularly what employers and employees need to be mindful of if cupid strikes in their office. Most of us will have either had a workplace romance, or know people that have.
It is easy to understand why it is so prevalent given the number of hours most of us spend at work. When things go well, issues should be limited, but when a relationship breaks down a number of problems can be brought from home into the office. These are some of the common concerns that employers face.
This occurs when employees are more interested in their new love interest than their work. It may include longer lunches, hours spent on internal instant messenger, or perhaps informal meetings within office hours. This is best overseen by the managers of the individuals who have responsibility for monitoring performance and breaks taken. They can then escalate to HR is there are particular concerns they have been unable to manage.
Furthermore, in many cases when relationships break down, the performance of the employees may be negatively impacted as well as reducing the output of colleagues who step in to mediate and/or offer comfort.
This one might happen where the relationship is between a manager and subordinate as others within the team might be suspicious that the subordinate in the relationship is receiving preferential treatment. In these situations it is typical for one of the individuals involved to be moved to another team to avoid team dynamic issues. It also prevents the difficulties that would arise from appraising a subordinate who is also a partner.
This is the particularly unpleasant side of office romances, but there are many cases of one party involved in the ‘relationship’ filing a sexual harassment claim. This could be for many reasons such as genuine harassment, or a false claim as they were scorned. Or one party might not want a relationship to end and continue with unwanted advances. Regardless of the reason, this is a burden on the organisation to investigate and deal with the claims.
When relationships go wrong, it can be difficult for the individuals involved to work together, which might motivate one or both to leave the organisation. This can be damaging to business performance, if the employees had been particularly strong or had a large bank of intrinsic knowledge.
In the UK many employers have a policy which covers the dos and don’ts of office relationships, but under the Human Rights Act, employees have a clear entitlement to a private life outside of the workplace. This means that employers cannot legally discipline an employee for engaging in a relationship with a colleague, unless of course it is to the detriment of their work.
Workplace romance has been going on for as long as people have gone to work. Sometimes it will have negative consequences for the employees and the organisation, and on other occasions there will be no issues whatsoever. Employers cannot ignore this and should be prudent and have a policy in place. Furthermore, employees should be adult and professional in the way in which they conduct themselves in the workplace, but as with all matters of the heart, that can be easier said than done. Happy Valentine’s Day!
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