It is 14th February, that means it is Valentine’s Day, if like me you have someone special in your life, you might want to dash out and get a card at lunchtime and a meal deal from an undisclosed supermarket chain (you’ll thank me for it later!)
On a more serious note, Valentine’s Day also puts a focus upon workplace relationships an their impact on the wider workplace.
When it comes to workplace romances, many employers don’t know what to do. Although you may be within your rights to ban them completely, more often than not this is easier said than done and isn’t without its challenges.
According to research conducted by Totaljobs, workplace romances are the most popular way to meet partners.
But although one third of those surveyed said they’d steer clear of workplace romances, simply because the two just don’t mix, two in three said they wouldn’t rule out the possibility of meeting a partner at work.
For those that have or are dating a colleague, the vast majority (76%) said they’d keep it on the downlow, compared to the mere 3% who said they’d go straight to HR.
Preventing budding romances
- If you feel strongly about banning workplace romances, you can put a policy in place to clearly set out your stance. Within your policy, you should include things like:
- Whether it’s a blanket ban or just applicable to certain working relationships – e.g. senior members and their subordinates
- Whether or not disclosure is required and, if so, who to – if disclosure is needed, it’s very difficult to put an exact timeframe on when it should be brought to your attention though
- The ground rules and expected standard of conduct in work if colleagues enter a romantic relationship, including any “red lines”
- The potential consequences if employees enter into a romantic relationship against your business’ general working rules.
- If you’re serious about enforcing your policy, it’s important that you ensure everyone has read, understood, and signed it.
They’ll never tear us apart!
If employees go against your policy (those little rebels!) and choose to date regardless, if you really wanted to, you as an employer would be within your rights to take disciplinary action. However, if you do, there are a couple of things you should consider first:
- Are you being consistent? If not, you run the risk of facing allegations of discrimination.
For example, two single employees start dating, it comes to your attention, and you let it slide. A few weeks later, it comes to light that a single employee is dating a married employee, and you go down the disciplinary road. The latter could argue discrimination against a protected characteristic; their marital status.
- What’s the impact of their relationship? And what are the benefits of taking action? Again, it’s crucial that you’re consistent, but if it’s not impacting their work in any way, it might be worth re-thinking your stance.
Especially, given so many people cite work as their most likely route for pairing up, attempting to stop it might actually be more of a hindrance than a help.
Is it really a cause for concern?
According to the research, more than one in three (35%) employees think that breaking up with a colleague would negatively affect workplace dynamics – something no business’ morale wants or needs.
If you feel like a failed relationship is starting to take its toll on the atmosphere within the team, I would recommend talking to the employees informally, to make them aware of how their relationship break up is impacting upon the wider team, and reminding them of their professional obligations and highlighting how they are expected to behave at work.
If two employees enter into a relationship, break-up, and then one party is treated differently and less favourably, or if the treatment is in response to them rejecting advances, this is treated as sex discrimination (or, to a lesser extent, sexual orientation discrimination).
This is because an employee of a different sex wouldn’t have been treated in this way, because they wouldn’t have been in a position to be in a relationship with the discriminator in the first place.
Some examples of different and less favourable treatment include unjustified disciplinary action, dismissals, performance management, assigning the employee all the worst jobs, badmouthing or gossiping, or giving them the cold shoulder.
Although this is more likely to be the case when there’s a difference in seniority as managers will likely have more power to make a subordinate’s life difficult, it can happen with employees who’re on the same level, too.
Finally, even if the treatment doesn’t result in a discrimination claim, it could still easily lead to a grievance or other difficulties within the working relationship.
Furthermore, with 14% of employees admitted that they would quit their job because of a break-up, which is not great news for your retention rates either.
Admittedly, there’s little you can do to stop an employee leaving under these circumstances, but it’s certainly something to consider when it comes to setting your workplace romance stance in the first place.
It’s a love-hate relationship
In the same study, it was uncovered that happy co-working couples did experience some less-than-lovey side effects because of their relationship too.
Three in ten employees said they felt judged by their colleagues, more than half felt that office gossip added pressure to their relationship, a quarter said they experienced jealousy, one in six said people made fun of them, and 11% disclosed they felt discriminated against.
Do you think workplace relationships are ok or a no-go? Let me know your thoughts in the comments box below!
One thought on “Love is in the air! Or is it?”
Good morning, Natalie
Sorry for the delay in responding to your post.
Workplace relationships are not discussed much. If they do crop up, it’s usually in a conflicts or PR context. Whilst I don’t have an answer for the right way to approach these things, I think we should be free to choose who we see, even if that might put us in a slightly compromising situation from time to time.
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