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Why Human Resource Departments Should Have Policies on Office Romances

written by: Remy Boyd•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 10/17/2013

Office romances can naturally occur in the workplace, creating a potentially serious issue for human resource departments. Managing workplace interpersonal relationships with effective policies, procedures and training can deter potential lawsuits, keep productivity high and maintain office morale.

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    Importance of Office Policies

    Why Companies Should Have a Plan in Place to Deal with Office Romances According to SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, romance in the workplace is a serious concern for employers. The organization found that most companies lack a formal written policy on romantic relationships. In a 2005 study that polled over 617 participating SHRM members, 72 percent of companies represented by those members do not have a policy on romantic relationships, written or otherwise in place, and 14 percent reported having a well understood, yet unwritten policy in the workplace about office romance and in comparison, 13 percent stated they do not have a policy at all.

    Companies that have strong policies in place or who discourage office romances worry about sexual harassment lawsuits, discontent and ill will if relationships become negative or end in anger. The effect on office morale and productivity between the couple and their co-workers is a potential issue for management. Although low morale or productivity is an issue, if the relationship is healthy and successful, it could boost morale as well.

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    Managing Office Romance: Training and Implementation

    Human resource departments can get a handle on managing relationships in the workplace by implementing the following strategies:

    • Writing a formal policy on office romance and sexual harassment that is included in the employee handbook and on documents outlining company policies and procedures. The policy should be provided to new employees during orientation, after revisions to the policy are made or when sexual harassment occurs in the office. The policy on sexual harassment should describe how a sexual harassment claim is handled by human resources. Employee training can follow denoting the consequences of sexual harassment and the impact on employment with the organization.
    • Communicating that in general, interpersonal relationships are not frowned upon. Employees can be reassured that dating co-workers is acceptable in comparison to sexual harassment where the attention is unwanted. Sexual harassment policies are reviewed and signed by most organizations upon commencement of employment where employees are asked if they understand the guidelines set before them.
    • SHRM found that only 12 percent of the organizations surveyed in their study trained supervisors and managers on managing workplace interpersonal relationships. Training managers and supervisors on how to address obvious affection between co-workers is a starting point, in addition to speaking with the couple if their work becomes noticeably sub-par.

    A major downside to office romance is the negative attention it can get from co-workers. The source of teasing, gossip and scrutiny a couple can experience any number of difficulties on the job including career setbacks that emotionally and financially affect one or both people involved. Managers have the ability to reiterate training points and open discussions on negative behaviors that negate productivity.

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    Enforcing Relationship Policies

    Shirt and Tie In enforcing the relationship policy, management has the opportunity to address specific situations that may prohibit dating particular staff members, for example a supervisor dating a direct report and vice versa. Management can also include in the policy the consequences of engaging in sexual activity or overt sexual behavior either physically or electronically in the office, explaining how that behavior can negatively affect the work environment.

    Whether we realize it or not, love is always in the air. Employees who find themselves in this interesting situation have several options on how to handle it with tact and finesse.

    • Find out if the organization has a policy on office romance and if so, review it carefully making note of questions or concerns to discuss with the appropriate member of management.
    • Act professionally in the workplace at all times. This keeps everyone involved, including colleagues focused on the job rather than the relationship.
    • Limit the number of people at work with whom you share this confidential information.
    • Choose a time that is appropriate for the department to discuss the relationship with management. By keeping control of the situation, other members of the organization can be informed of the relationship at the right place and time.
    • Plan ahead by discussing how the relationship may impact the workplace. As a couple, it is important to note whether or not one or both partners should consider leaving the department or organization in the future and what the organizational response could be if the relationship went ‘public’ at the wrong time.

    Since people in the workforce spend a majority of their time with co-workers, the potential for office romance high. For this reason, supervisors and managers should educate themselves and their staff on policies and procedures that deal with romance in the office.

References

  • Neel, Barbara R. Love Contracts Get the Double Take. SHRM Publications, Legal Report. July 18, 2008
  • Segal, Jonathon A. Be Aware of the New Danger in Office Romance. Supervisory Newsletter. March 2005
  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) – http://www.shrm.org/
  • Image credits: Woman in Black Dress – morguefile/xenia, Shirt & Tie – Sxc.hu/duduhp