Are Office Romances Appropriate?
In an era where people are working longer hours than ever, it naturally also increases the likelihood of coworkers dating and developing relationships since they spend so much time together.
According to the "2017 Job Seeker Nation Study," up to 25 percent of all employees have gotten romantically involved with someone they worked with. The most-concerning part of these facts for Human Resources is that out of all the total office romances reported, less than half of them lasted. Dealing with the potential conflicts that can arise in the workplace when co-workers end a romance can affect nearly everyone they encounter, either directly or indirectly.
In most work environments, the majority of healthy relationships are not a source of much concern for HR though. The real problems arise when supervisors and subordinates get together or when couples break up and bring their personal dramas into the office.
What are the biggest risks of a workplace romance handled poorly?
Forbes warns that the productivity of the rest of the staff can decrease when they find out that a manager is in a relationship with one of their colleagues because the staff members start suspecting the manager of favoritism. It also creates an opportunity for any staff member who's carrying a chip on their shoulder to lash out at the management and the company by filing a "hostile work environment" claim.
According to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations, an employer may be liable for a hostile work environment claim when unlawful discrimination takes place: for instance, when a third-party employee was qualified for, but denied, an employee opportunity or benefit because someone in a romantic relationship with a supervisor received it instead.
Another hazard is that once a relationship turns sour, the one with the biggest grudge may suddenly file sexual-harassment claims and try to prove that the supervisor "forced them" into the relationship.
Finally, you may end up losing one of your best employees if they quit just to get away from the person they were in a relationship with.
That's why The Balance cited a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) workplace-romance survey from 2013 that 33 percent of businesses ban romances between co-workers who work for the same boss. About 11 percent of companies are so strict that they don't let employees date clients or the staff of their competitors either. Those who do can lose their jobs.
What can you do to reduce these risks?
1. All companies must have documentation proving that they took clear actions to stop any workplace romances from promoting favoritism, creating a hostile environment or leading to any sexual harassment. You can do this by hosting workshops or meetings to clarify your company policy on interoffice relationships. You can also have employees read and sign your policy on relationships.
2. If any romance-related complications do occur, your company needs to have a response plan already in place to stop any further violations. Employees should know the consequences of their actions, and you should take the time to investigate the case as objectively as possible before penalizing anyone.
3. Consider including in your policy the requirement of staff members to notify HR of their relationship. This way, it becomes more manageable in a professional way. Sometimes, HR can work with management to consider whether or not it's in everyone's best interest to transfer one of them to another department or location or even change their job description so that there's less chance of their personal relationship interfering with their working relationship.
4. To minimize gossip, The Muse advises employees to use their discretion and tell as few people as possible about their relationship to maintain a more-professional environment. The main rule is always to have employees stay focused on their work while they're in the office, and then afterward, their personal life is their business.
5. Discourage rumors of illicit office affairs by encouraging coworkers not to speak to each other alone behind closed doors. Two people eating lunch regularly by themselves can also attract the wrong kind of attention.
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