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Bringing the family business community together

Managing Corporate Cupid In The Office

10th August 2017 Becky Boston, Emphasis Ltd

As romantic connections, flirtatious behaviour and secret assignations become more prevalent in the workplace, an additional challenge is added to the manager’s list of responsibilities.

In today’s fast-paced employment landscape, more and more of us spend an increasingly longer working day, week, (and sometimes weekend!), at work.  Moreover, as 21st Century employers become more relaxed, accommodating and accepting that romance does sometimes blossom, it’s little wonder the frequency of workplace personal relationships is on the increase.

But, romance aside, taking a more practical stance in what is traditionally a thorny issue, should a workplace romance or affair be dealt with openly and honestly by those involved, or should they move to keep it firmly under wraps for fear of the workplace rumour mill swinging into gossip overdrive and the potential backlash from colleagues?  People love to talk and a workplace romance is prime territory for idle gossip about colleagues, regardless of whether it’s true.

Workplace relationships cause concern from many different angles: private company information divulged during “pillow talk”, the moral question of married employees having an affair at work, etc.  Can this be condoned/ignored?  The individuals involved may be at different levels within the business hierarchy and this adds further complications.  The issue of workplace relationships is fraught with challenges and with the emotions involved, many employers ignore it and hope it will go away.

Unfortunately, there may also be more challenges later on, if the relationship fails.  This can be detrimental both personally and for the business.

Allegations of sexual harassment, sharing of explicit photographs, inability to work together, workplace bullying, bitter recriminations, dismissal, revenge and lawsuits, are a very real danger.  So how as managers, can we mitigate the potential impact and effect of workplace romances?  

We suggest you:

  • develop a policy on relationships at work and how they should be conducted/dealt with. The individuals concerned must not allow their relationship to impact on their personal and professional conduct

  • outline the expectation that personal relationships should be declared and possible approaches if the relationship does represent a conflict of interest. There may need to be a discussion about how conflicts can be avoided, especially if one individual is in a managerial/supervisory role. Be prepared to be flexible and work with those involved.  Be aware of potential sex discrimination in moving the woman in the relationship. Always be open to discussion to try and get everyone’s buy-in

  • encourage people to talk about their relationships without judgement and accusations

  • give managers training and guidance on how to deal with romantic connections between employees, in particular handling conflicts of interest and the potential impact on others in the team/organisation

  • make your employees aware their behaviour, conduct and performance could come under scrutiny should their relationship come into the spotlight for whatever reason. Emails and telephone calls can be monitored should the need arise.  Best advice is to keep it professional, ensure energy is focused and effort is 100% performance-related

Given most employees have been selected during the recruitment process largely on similar educational achievements, shared values, traits and interests, when they spend 8+ hours a day in the presence of, or in complimentary roles, it’s little wonder employees get to know one another and become attracted to each other.  

Workplace relationships inevitably happen.  How you deal with them is key to maintaining a supportive and productive workplace environment.

About the Author - Becky Boston is one of the founders of Emphasis Ltd, an organisation tht prides itself on bringing a strong commercial perspective to the HR arena with an overarching vision to help work with businesses to succeed through their people.  Find out more by visiting their website here

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