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Keeping Workplace Relationship Policies Transparent

Workplace relationships can begin innocently and nearly anywhere, including at the printer or in the employee break room. In fact, the Small Business Association of Michigan recently cited Career Builder’s annual Valentine’s Day survey indicating that office romances reached a 10-year high stretching back to 2007.

Since workplace romances primarily involve only the people in the relationship, they can be easy to dismiss as outside the purview of the company. But when you consider that over a third of co-worker romances end up in marriage, the ramifications to the workplace (affecting productivity and the professional tenor) can make flirtations a serious concern.

As an employer, you’re mainly concerned with everyone getting along. According to data research conducted by SnackNation, a non-profit advocate for healthier snack foods, people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely than the average worker to be fully engaged in their duties. It further found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent.

A close-knit team, in sports or the workplace, is always likelier to be more productive. A 2013 Australian survey found that a “good relationship with co-workers” was the reason that 67 percent of those asked stayed at their current jobs—above job satisfaction (63 percent) and even pay (at 46 percent).

So, what happens when this family-like tenor among employees morphs into something harmful or negative? Remember that romantic workplace relationships can easily take a wrong turn and result in a sexual harassment claim or accusations of discrimination if one of the employees holds supervisory capacities over the other.

To prevent issues, an employer and its human resources department are tasked with finding the perfect balance between a collegial and a toxic workplace. A happy workforce is a productive one, but a paranoid or alienated staff—driven to suspicion because of an office relationship that affects their roles—is a recipe for dysfunction.

How Does HR Strike the Right Balance?

Some employers’ policy handbooks deal directly with the romantic relationship issue. Some even strongly discourage or disallow intimate relationships in the workplace. But, most are sensitive to the workplace statistics indicating that close relationships bring about better worker performance and productivity.

When creating handbooks and policies, it’s always wise to be very specific about where the harassment line begins and why intimate working couples should know the boundaries.

If your business does not have a relationship policy, you should establish one. Some companies allow dating among employees as long as it’s not between a supervisor and an employee that reports to him or her directly. Such policies can even distinctly outline acceptable or professional conduct for those involved in relationships. For example, kissing or physical touching might be considered taboo or explicitly disallowed. Typically, policies should be quite specific on the topic of romantic workplace involvements. Greater specificity helps employees in relationships calibrate their actions and responses.

To summarize, effective policies should seek to include at least the following:

  • Specific definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace
  • Specific definitions of what constitutes a workplace relationship, and whether or not they are allowed
  • Clear guidelines for how workplace relationships should be handled between supervisor and subordinate roles
  • Clear delineation of rules regarding physical conduct for workplace relationships

In addition to standard policies, managers and supervisors should be able to recognize the signs that a budding or established relationship is threatening productivity and professionalism in the workplace. This is where training can play a vital role. It’s often helpful to let supervisors take courses or seminars on managing romantic relationships and husband-wife teams at the workplace.

With proper policies that are well communicated and a wherewithal about romance in the workplace, HR and administrative staff can identify and protect the thin line that fosters happiness and productivity in the workplace.



December 14, 2017




Article Culture HR Professionals Under 50 Employees

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