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Articles 13.2.17

Love is in the air – workplace relationships

Articles 13.02.2017

According to a 2014 survey by Careerbuilder.com, 37% of workers had dated a co-worker. A similar survey by Vault.com (also 2014) revealed a figure of 51%.

In the majority of situations, across the globe, people will spend more time with their work colleagues than their own family. Therefore it should come as no surprise that colleagues may become attracted to one another and start a relationship. Organisations may be concerned about the effect that any workplace relationships could have on their business; with a general assumption that they could negatively affect morale, communication and even productivity. In extreme circumstances there could be claims, such as harassment, brought against the company. However, if organisations are willing to put in place policies and processes to manage office relationships then they can actually improve output and office atmosphere.

Two sides to every ‘love’ story…

If office relationships are not managed effectively then it can cause problems. For example, there may be accusations of favouritism when it comes to matters of ideas, work distribution, promotion etc. The couple are likely to become the subject of gossip as there can be a tendency for the relationship to become everyone’s business.

Individuals in a workplace relationship may find it harder to concentrate at work. Couples may have longer lunches together or take time off for holidays at the same time.

In smaller organisations, the opportunity to separate a couple working in the same department or team is limited. This can prove awkward for other team members as it is natural to treat someone differently if they are dating your manager. Some employees may feel excluded, particularly in teams of three where two members are dating, as couples will have more time to discuss casework and internal issues outside of the office. Individuals may not feel comfortable confiding in a work colleague in case they share it with their partner.

Managers dating subordinates need to retain objectivity in all their decision-making. They may prefer to ignore any issues of absenteeism, sickness or poor performance when it comes to someone they are dating. On the whole it is recommended to change reporting lines if a manager is dating a subordinate.

When an office relationship breaks down and ends then the impact can be greater. Employees may take sides causing tension in the office. There could be an increase in absenteeism as the couple come to terms with the break-up. Productivity could decrease and communication restricted. If the break-up was particularly bad then there could be claims of harassment.  Does your organisation have an appropriate policy to manage this?

When it works…

There are obvious advantages of meeting and dating someone that you met at work. People may have more time to gain insight into a person’s values, personality and work ethics whilst in the workplace. This can offer more security then meeting someone in a bar or club. When stressed about work it’s easier to talk to someone that understands your work and empathises with you.

Office relationships can positively impact upon performance and communication. Shared interests and similar attitudes can help to form a strong bond that will benefit the organisation. The key is to treat everyone with respect, as equals and as adults. Firms should not prohibit workplace relationships but manage them.

Top tips for managing workplace relationships

  1. Establish a culture of open communication. Make sure that employees feel comfortable enough to disclose their relationship with a colleague or management. Organisational culture can play a key role here.
  2. Think about your reporting lines. Wherever possible, avoid having an employee reporting into their partner.
  3. Introduce and communicate key policies such as harassment, bullying and IT.  A robust IT policy should discourage individuals from using company email and social media to spread gossip or malicious rumours and prevent abusive messages.
  4. Consider introducing a ‘romance in the workplace’ policy. According to People HR, 42% of companies have an official policy for romance in the workplace, written or verbal, which establishes guidelines for workplace relationships. In 99% of romance policies, the policy banned employees from dating their manager. A 2014 Survey by the Society of Human Resources Management revealed that 5% of organisations ask individuals in a romantic relationship to sign a ‘love contract’. Employees agree that the relationship is consensual and that they will act professionally and will not take legal action against one another if the relationship ends.

Office relationships are not something to be frowned upon or feared. If they are managed effectively and kept as a personal matter then they can actually improve team morale, communication and productivity.

Further information

CBW offers a wide variety of services to help you manage any HR requirements you might have. For more information, please contact the author as below.