How to Handle LOVE in the Workplace

Love in the Workplace

Some people have love affairs with their work.  And, some people have love affairs with their work-mates.  While no one wants to get in the way of true love, the work place can be a tricky spot for romance to blossom.

 

Through the years, I’ve facilitated many new employee orientations.  When I talk about relationships or dating at work and ask how many have met their partner or spouse at work, or know someone who has, invariably, most of the employees will say they have.  And, believe me, most of the time, ‘love is blind’ to the HR Manager or business owner.  In other words, we may not know about it until there are problems.

 

There are statistics generated on Love in the Workplace and what’s acceptable and not acceptable.  I found Vault’s 2015 Office Romance Survey a little dis-heartening.  Even with all of my diligent efforts and those of my HR peers and business leaders to communicate with our workforces, 43% of respondents reportedly had no idea whether their company had a policy on interoffice relationships.  Many believed there is no such thing as an “unacceptable” office relationship.  It says that 51% of workers said they had been involved in an office romance, with 32% having had a relationship with a supervisor or subordinate.  And, In fact, when the 2,274 respondents in their  survey were asked “Which Office Romances are Unacceptable?” 23% said – People from different companies who work together – vendor & client, consultant & client, etc.; 24% said – Co-workers in the same department;  those 29% who said – None, all office romances are acceptable; 30% said  – Co-workers who work on a project together;  and 31% said – Co-workers at different levels.  Only 5% felt that office romances are never acceptable.

 

Most company policies do not agree with this last sentiment, so here are my suggestions on How to Handle LOVE in the Workplace:

 

  1. Have a good company policy on dating – create one or review your current policy. If your company encourages dating, give guidelines, such as a supervisor not dating a subordinate in the same department.  If your company is restrictive and doesn’t allow dating at all, a policy that addresses this is important, including the consequences if there is a violation of the policy.

    A January 2016 CBS News report featured a Canadian company “Freshbooks” who encourages interoffice ‘blind-dating’ between employees.  Wow!  That’s a new one for the books!  They have a growing workforce of 250, but were losing that tight-knit community and people weren’t getting to know each other.  One manager launched a program last year to group and ‘match’ people for coffee or lunch dates, not romantic outings.  They report that it’s all business, not uncomfortable for the employees and embraces their culture.  100% employee satisfaction!

 

  1. This time of year is the perfect time to hold your annual or biannual anti-harassment training. Remind employees how to report harassment. Share some stories or do some role-playing on some Valentine’s Day scenarios.  One bittersweet tales involves a receptionist who was finding sticky-notes from a “Secret Lover” on her car and on her desk.  They were creepy as the Secret Lover told the receptionist she was being watched and loved.  She thought she knew who it was, and reported it to her supervisor and to HR.  By the handwriting, the Secret Lover was identified and told to stop. He didn’t. He received progressive disciplinary actions, additional training, and still didn’t stop, so he was terminated.  Another rather sadistic story involved an employee who placed yellow caution sign tape on the floor of her supervisor’s office in the shape of a dead body.  (Yes, like a crime scene.) There were no notes, but the gossip of co-workers led to the culprit, who had intended it as a ‘joke’ and not a threat.  That happened a few years ago and the employee received progressive discipline, training and counseling.  She accepted a new job and moved out of state within the year.  Today, that kind of threat would be handled quite differently.

 

Offer updated training for your employees as it’s key to supporting their success through any planned or unexpected office romances.

 

  1. Be sure to talk with your supervisors about not creating uncomfortable situations by giving unwanted gifts and cards to their subordinates. If the supervisor’s attentions are pervasive, interfere with an employee’s work and make them feel harassed, it is a risk to them and to your organization.  Newsflash – 30% of male bosses are still dating subordinates;  11% of women bosses have dated subordinates.

 

  1. Some companies have developed a “love contract,” which is an agreement that employees sign to report when they are in a consensual relationship. It confirms that the relationship is welcomed by both parties and this helps the company defend itself in any future harassment cases.  It also allows the employees to have their relationship in the open.

 

Since most of us spend more time at work than at home, it’s natural for friendships and close relationships to develop.  Our jobs as HR professionals and business leaders is to make sure that everyone knows their rights and behavioral expectations without having the ‘love’ police keep positive relationships from blooming.

I hope you’ll enjoy a lovely Valentine’s Day!

 

As the moonlight dims

and the world goes quiet,

Give yourself some rest.

Here’s to hoping that your sleep

is as sweet as you are.

–Unknown Author

 

Sherri L. Hale, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Consultant with HaleHR in Colorado.  www.HaleHR.com  For a FREE sample of policy guidelines on relationships in the workplace, contact info@HaleHR.com and place “Love in the Workplace” in the subject line.

 

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