HR Headaches Series: Tips for Handling Office Romances

Is love in the air at your workplace? Here’s how HR should handle office romances.

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HR headaches_Romance at work

Did you know that 1 in 4 employees would be open to an office romance, while 58% of employees have engaged in an office romance at one point or another? Whether you’re thinking about this or not as an HR professional at your company, it’s important to get ahead of the issue and consider the implications that office romance has on your organization.

Most people loved watching Jim and Pam from The Office as their workplace romance bloomed, but unfortunately not every scenario ends with comedy and wedding bells. Avoid an HR headache by following these 4 tips.

1. Understand your objectives 

When thinking about your office romance policy, what are you hoping to achieve? Perhaps you want to:

  • Stop office romance from happening all together
  • Set ground rules
  • Protect employees who are engaging in office romances
  • Protect the company in case of a sexual harassment claim

Preventing office romance from happening

Doing this may stifle culture, as it can be viewed as a form of control and micromanagement. It may also lead managers to terminate otherwise very strong employees.

In many instances, like in the state of California, you may not be able to legally terminate someone because of an office romance. Thus, you won’t actually be able to follow through on any repercussions.

So, before you slam down an anti-office romance policy, make sure you’ve done your research and thought through the long-term implications it could have on office morale and retention.

Protecting employees and the company

There may be some employees who are currently in interoffice romantic relationships. In this case, having a policy in place can protect them and your organization should the relationship go sour.

ADP reports that “19% of those who have been in a relationship with a colleague said they have felt pressure to be part of an interoffice romantic relationship (in order to advance their career, stay in their current role, to be considered for favorable projects, etc.)”. In these situations, having policies in place can help protect employees from things like unfair power dynamics and harassment.

2. How will you enforce these policies?

In some cases, employees will be asked to come forward with their relationships, and sign a contract which stipulates that the relationship is mutual and consensual. This can help prevent a situation where one employee makes legal claims against the other or the company.

Laying out the plan for reinforcement will also help guide employees on what they need to do should the relationship end, and they need consultation on how to proceed or get help.

Another point to consider is how you’ll enforce the rule across different levels of seniority. Whatever rules you set forward, must be fairly applied across the board.

With everything happening in the world, and the changes to remote working, consider how the policy you create translates to virtual work and what avenues you’ll create in order for employees to come forward virtually should they require.

3. Outline the boundaries of specific behaviors

In some cases, your policy may outline what the realities of appropriate behavior looks like. For example, when you’re in the office, how are employees in a relationship expected to act around one another? Lay out clear guidelines so there is no grey area. You might say that it’s appropriate to pass by one another’s desk and have lunch, while it is not appropriate to have a personal argument with your partner in front of colleagues.

Another point to consider are the reporting structures. Are superiors allowed to have relationships with their subordinates? If this does happen, are the two allowed to continue working together? This could lead to real power struggles, and even one person’s career being stunted if the relationship ends.

4. Set the ground rules

Whether these policies live on your intranet, an employee handbook, or are discussed early on in a new hire’s onboarding. It is important to let people know early on about these policies. If you do know that an office romance is happening, be sure to sit down and have a conversation with these employees to make sure they understand the policy, and support available for them.

Equally important when defining appropriate behavior in the workplace is having an anti-harassment policy in place to make sure that all your staff are protected against inappropriate behaviors.

Whether you’ll like it or not, love will always be in the air when people fraternize at work. The reality is that it can get messy for your employees. For this reason, having a plan in place can help you get ahead of a crisis before it happens. Check out this great template by Workable for inspiration as you craft your policy.

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