At a time when sexual harassment is central to all discussions, it’s difficult for employers to know how to manage romance at work! There are several options available to them, from outright prohibition to establishment of a dedicated policy and case-by-case reactions.
One person out of three has had a romantic relationship at work, and 45% of people who had a romantic relationship at work hid it from at least one person, according to a recent study by ADP Canada. One of the reasons for these secrets is that the companies have no policy on the subject, or that their employees are not aware of their existence and therefore don’t know if their adventure is allowed or if it is likely to be penalized. With the doubt, they prefer not to talk about it to their colleagues or manager, and even less to human resources.
Setting up a formal policy
To avoid this, the simplest thing is to set up a clear policy providing the same consequences for a given situation, to be applied in all departments of the company. If your company has not yet considered it, here are 6 ways to start:
- Treat relationships in a positive light: Some employers are worried that romance at work will lead to a loss of performance, but in fact this is rarely the case. On the contrary, a company with an open attitude on the subject creates a sense of recognition and loyalty with its employees that improves engagement and morale, and therefore productivity.
- Provide for sanctions: It is not a matter of dismissing colleagues that have a relationship, but of putting reprimands in place if this relationship leads to problems, such as favouritism, a decrease in productivity or a deteriorating work environment, especially in the case of problems with the couple or of breaking up. It is important to formalize these sanctions in order to apply them the same way to all and to avoid discontent.
- Have a contract signed: One of the disturbing aspects of workplace romance for employers is the risk of sexual harassment, particularly at the moment, when the issue is so often in the spotlight. When you become aware of an affair between two of your employees, you can have them sign a simple document where they acknowledge they are having a relationship and ensure they are both consenting, so as not to risk the company’s liability if things go wrong.
- Separate… to some extent: The most complicated case concerns relationships between an employee and their superior, which can lead to jealousies and rumours. Transferring one of them to another department, so that this relationship of subordinate to supervisor no longer comes into play, can avoid problems.
- Train the managers: They are employees’ first contact before HR and
management. It is therefore essential that managers know the company policy and know how to react if members of their staff decide to get into a relationship. Take a few hours to make them aware of the subject.
- Communicate: Finally, all these efforts will be in vain if your employees are not aware of them! Let them know that romance at work is tolerated in your company, but also that it is supervised and that they should inform their manager and HR if they wish to begin or are already in a relationship with a colleague.
Dealing case by case
Another possibility is to not formalize your general policy but to consider the circumstances of each situation to see how to react. Since each love story is different, this can be an interesting option that will give your employees the impression of being listened to and valued. However, it is not viable in very large companies, and is better reserved for smaller organizations where employees have access to the managers.
Prohibit romances at work
This is the route some business choose. However, it is not the most recommended solution, because it is unrealistic. It will not prevent your employees from falling in love, but will make them more likely to hide the relationship, and you might only find out if something goes wrong, when it’s too late to react.