You want employees to get along, but when they get along so well that they’re dating, it’s time to make sure your policies are working, too.

Ensuring Office Romances Work with Work

Relationships at work spark red flags for any HR manager. But should a company have a policy prohibiting office romances altogether?

According to a Vault Office Romance survey, 51% of workers admitted to being in an office romance at some point in their career. Since they’re probably already happening, a better strategy is to be aware of the dangers and to have a plan in your back pocket of how to cautiously handle any workplace love connections.

Dangers of an Office Romance

Although they make work much more exciting for the couple involved, office romances provide a number of workplace issues. These may include gossip, envy, distractions, questionable confidentiality and integrity on making decisions, resentment from team members, onlookers watching for flirtatious and other romantic behaviors, and so on. Anytime a superior and a subordinate are in a relationship, the anxiety rises exponentially with concerns of favoritism, nepotism, real or perceived power and influence of the manager, accusations of bias or preferential treatment, and so on.

Then there’s the fallout of a relationship: if it’s not successful, the whole team may suffer from the mood and temperament of the former lovebirds, which creates more watercooler talk and gossip — and, ultimately, lowered productivity. If the former partner is a subordinate, the danger intensifies in the event the supervisor acts out of frustration for a no-longer consensual relationship, which could lead to grievances and/or claims of harassment.

Overall, workplace relationships that turn into love connections take a definite toll on productivity. But here are steps to help companies combat loss of productivity due to an office romance.

How to prevent loss of productivity due to an office romance
  1. Create a workplace dating policy. Establish expectations for appropriate workplace behavior to avoid offending others or putting coworkers in an uncomfortable position. See a sample policy on SHRM.org or contact our HR experts at HR@Stratus.hr for guidance. Include this as part of your employee handbook that employees must sign when first hired, and review it during your annual anti-harassment training.
  2. Conduct annual workplace anti-harassment training. Review the workplace dating policy, define what behavior is unacceptable, and explain how to report questionable behaviors. Be sure employees attend annual training and have them sign an acknowledgment form.
  3. Require workers to sign an acknowledgment of consensual relationship. When two workers mutually consent to be in a relationship, make it a requirement that they report the relationship to HR by signing a “love contract.” This helps protect the company in the event of a harassment claim. (Contact our HR experts at HR@Stratus.hr for a sample policy.)
  4. Remind managers that any quid-pro-quo behavior is unacceptable. Gifts, promotions, raises, preferential treatment, and so on should never be tied to sexual demands or favors. Ever.
  5. Keep detailed notes about an involved manager’s personnel decisions. Ideally, managers in an influential position should no longer work with anyone that presents a conflict-of-interest due to a romantic relationship. But if that’s not an option for your company, be very candid with the manager involved. Even the most professional relationships can be victims of vicious gossip. Be sure managers make extremely detailed notes about employee matters such as pay raises, promotions, performance management, hiring, firing, and so on, to protect both them and the company regarding personnel decisions.

Office romances have the potential to create awkward HR situations, but they are manageable. For help with your specific scenario, please contact our experts at HR@stratus.hr.

Stacey Gibson, Director of Human Resources

Author Stacey Gibson, Director of Human Resources

Stacey is a certified Professional in HR (PHR) and the reason her clients would never consider leaving Stratus.hr. When not at work, you can hear her at one of her children’s sporting events -- she’s the one whistling louder than the refs.

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