With office romance becoming more common, it’s important for managers to have a plan for how to handle workplace relationships. While it may be easier to just ignore the possibility of an office romance, it’s not practical: 41% of respondents in a CareerBuilder.com survey stated that they have dated a co-worker. Beyond that, an additional 7% expressed interest in doing so.
It’s important to be prepared to handle employee relationships professionally and consistently. Poor handling of office relationships on the corporate end can result in serious institutional problems, including sexual harassment or hostile work environment complaints. Fortunately, we’ve got some tips to make sure you and your organization are prepared for office romances.
Don’t Fight The Trend
Many companies simply try to ban office relationships entirely to avoid all the potential risks. The problem with this strategy is that it fails to account for human nature: people will see each other with or without institutional approval. Further, healthy office relationships often bring benefits to the entire workplace. They can create a sense of cohesiveness among employees and build an affinity towards a company.
The problem is when personal relationships inappropriately enter the work environment. That could come from a healthy relationship becoming too present in the workplace (through public displays of affection – PDAs – or other inappropriate behavior) or from a relationship becoming unhealthy and potentially toxic. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: take the time to distinguish the good from the bad.
Have One Policy In Place
It’s important to have a set of documented rules about office romances. There are inappropriate ways for relationships to manifest in work environments and it’s important to make sure your employees know them before engaging in such an entanglement. So make sure to draft, distribute, and regularly review a romance policy. Make sure that policy is reflective of an office culture that supports office relationships as long as they don’t have a negative impact on others.
Begin with the understanding that no policy you write will be able to handle every potential risk with office relationships. When problems arise, resist the urge to simply amend your policy and pretend the issue is resolved. Instead, focus on carefully handling the issue with discretion. It’s important to create a business culture of thoughtfulness and wisdom.
Talk About It
There is no reason to avoid talking about office relationships. Too many managers (and employees) do just that. This is disingenuous and hurtful. Relationships are a huge part of our lives. Avoiding them in conversation isolates us and creates a closed-off culture.
It’s important to be open and honest about relationships and that starts at the management level. If an employee decides they need to disclose information about a workplace romance, you want them to feel comfortable approaching you about it. So practice openness and honesty to encourage that same behavior from your employees.
Do Not Implement Relationship Contracts
As a manager, you must resist any urge you feel to follow this model. No contract or document can effectively account for the intangible nature of office relationships. Documents like this reduce the people involved into contractual terms – certainly not a healthy practice if you want your employees to feel individually valued at your organization.
Instead – set clear boundaries. For example, if Romero and Julie are engaging in inappropriate public displays of affection, sit down with each employee individually and talk with them about it. Strike a balance that shows both your support of the relationship and your firm request for them to reduce their PDA to acceptable levels.
Be Sympathetic, Yet Firm
Relationships can go bad very quickly. When this happens, it often enters the workplace. Approach each employee and find a balance between sympathy and firmness. While it is important to be understanding and sympathetic to their struggles, you also have a responsibility to consider the office as a whole. Your job as a manager is to maintain a healthy work environment for all employees.
Office relationships are becoming a staple of the modern workplace. After all, much of our time is spent at the office working directly with our coworkers. As workplace managers, it’s important to create an office culture that supports appropriate office romance but maintains a firm response to inappropriate behavior. Remember: it’s difficult, but you can support office relationships while simultaneously protecting the integrity of your workplace and organization.