What to Do About Office Romance

Eric StutzmanWorkplace Culture0 Comments

work romance

 
If you work in an office with more than a few people, in all likelihood you will see or experience an office romance. Statistics vary, but most say that more than 40% of workers have dated a co-worker at some point in their career – and a good number of those have married the co-worker. That’s a lot of people romancing at the office!

So, Is This a Good Thing Or a Bad Thing?

 
From a good/bad perspective, workplace romances do a number of things:

  1. Romance feels great to the people who are falling in love!

It will likely make them happier, healthier and more motivated to be at the office. However, it will in all likelihood provide distraction from work tasks – especially in the beginning stages of the relationship or if the relationship turns sour.

  1. Things get much trickier when the relationship involves a supervisor with a subordinate.

In my direct experience working with organizational conflict, I have seen how co-workers will perceive the subordinate to have unfair influence, to be favoured or that the supervisor has a conflict of interest in managing that person’s work life. After all, how can a lover provide anything like objective performance evaluation for their beloved?

  1. When workplace romances sour, the fallout often affects others in workplace.

Colleagues may be asked to take sides, creating cliques around the disaffected lovers. Or at best, people try to be careful not to offend or put the failed lovers in an awkward position – often creating workarounds in the process.

But perhaps asking if office romance is good or bad isn’t the right question.

A Better Question – How Can We Prepare for Office Romance?

 
Given the shockingly high prevalence of workplace romance, I believe that we should actually ask ourselves, “Are we prepared for office romance when it happens?”

The impact of workplace romance varies greatly depending on the people involved, whether they are on the same team, and on the size of the organization as a whole. In small organizations, it may not be possible to put distance between a romancing pair. Large organizations may be able to move people or change lines of accountability. Given the differences between workplaces, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense. However, here are some guidelines for you to consider.

Three Proactive Guidelines for Responding to Office Romance

  1. Plan your response.

Have a discussion with your management team about what to do if they become aware of an office romance.

  1. Put your approach in writing.

Add it to your employee policy information. With regard to your approach, remember that prohibition generally backfires, driving relationships underground, where the impact of the relationship is harder to understand. Instead acknowledge that relationships may happen and invite staff both to celebrate their relationships and to keep personal relationship material outside of work, in the same way as other staff are expected to do. Let them know that personal relationships should not impact work performance, and that poor performance will always be taken seriously.

  1. Be clear about supervisor/supervisee romance.

Make sure your policy includes how the organization will respond if a supervisor and one of the people they supervise form a relationship. In many cases it may be best to have a policy that strongly discourages this type of romantic relationship, coupled with a policy of disclosure.

As I wrote above, these types of relationships are fraught with the potential for negative impact on a workplace, whether they go well for the lovers or not. Your approach should include:

  • Making sure that the relationship is indeed consensual for the supervisee – that they weren’t pressured into the relationship by their boss (sexual harassment). Let that person know that the organization cares about and will protect their interest.
  • Where possible you should encourage one of the parties to transfer to another division (if your organization is big enough), or work to find one of the people a job outside of your organization. This is about protecting the employees and the organization from the high likelihood of negative impact on a work culture and a team’s performance.
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    In sum, when it comes to workplace romance, the best approach is to prepare for the inevitable, encourage transparency and actively discourage supervisor/supervisee romantic relationships.

    ACHIEVE is conducting a study for a book we are working on and we would love to hear your input.
    The book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey. We hope you participate in the short survey – we would love to hear your input.

    Eric Stutzman, Managing Director,
    ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance

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