Employees often demand a sharp divide between their personal lives and their careers. However, some workers willingly blur the line with office romances. As an employer, you have to be ready for these relationships and create an appropriate policy to deal with them.
An office romance may qualify as borderline taboo in most workplaces, but the practice is far from rare. One set of data, for example, showed that 42% of survey respondents said they had a casual relationship with a coworker. In addition, 29% said they engaged in a long-term relationship with someone they met at work.
With a third of people willing to engage in an office relationship, employers have to be ready to deal with the fallout. That’s why a policy on employee relationships is essential.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating a relationship policy in the workplace:
Consider Romance from the Company’s Perspective
You aren’t interested in controlling the personal lives of your employees. As such, don’t craft a policy with that objective in mind. Instead, you want to anticipate the likely negative impact that office relationships could have, and do what you can mitigate those.
To do this, don’t slip into moralizing. Instead, stick to concrete planning, with the company’s interests in mind. Consider both legal and practical outcomes and create a policy that will protect the firm.
Provide a Transparent Policy
The key to managing office romance is to anticipate consequences. Don’t wait until something happens and build an ad hoc policy in response. This approach will leave you constantly reacting to events, with loopholes and inconsistencies appearing as you go.
Instead, take a more formal approach. From the start, craft reasonable procedures surrounding the subject. This way, you will have a well-thought-out process in place when the situation arises.
Communicate the Policy
Having a policy won’t do you any good if your employees don’t know what it is. Romance, and employee personal lives in general, can be touchy subjects. No one wants their work life to intrude on their outside activities. That said, office romance is all about the potentially inappropriate crossing of the work/home barrier.
As such, it’s appropriate to have a policy in place. Don’t be shy about talking about the subject. Make it part of your training routine, and post the details where they are easy to find, like the employee handbook.
Corporate cultures can vary significantly from firm to firm. No single set of policy directives can adequately cover every company. You’ll have to look at your specific situation and put together the best set of directives for your circumstances.
That said, there are some standard office romance policies you can use as models. Here are a few of those:
- Require mandatory disclosures when a relationship occurs. Employees would have to inform HR when they begin a romantic attachment.
- Provide a paper trail. Sometimes, these are called “love contracts,” though it doesn’t mean the company is playing matchmaker. Instead, these agreements are more like disclosure documents, making sure everyone is consenting and is aware of any applicable anti-sexual harassment policies.
- A ban on certain (or even all) relationships. It’s tough to enforce, but this subject gets especially pointed when the romance involves a manager and one of their subordinates. These manager/direct report relationships are the ones most often designated as completely unacceptable.
- Create boundaries. Create some space between the personal relationship and what goes on at the office. A common one involves banning public displays of affection, at least within the confines of the workplace.
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