Workplace Romance: A Dangerous Affair
As if balancing work and life outside of the office weren’t enough, there’s a high likelihood you’ll eventually have to deal with employees who nurture romances in the workplace. This adds yet another ball to the work-life balancing act.
And let’s not let employers and supervisors off the hook either: According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll, a quarter of office romances are between a higher-up and a subordinate.
In Vault’s 2015 Office Romance Survey results, 14 percent of respondents said they had their career paths obstructed by an affair with a coworker. Of those who participated in office romances, 23 percent said their affairs had ended their marriages or long-term relationships. On the flip side, 10 percent of marriages and platonic relationships got their start in the workplace – so it’s not all bad news.
With such a strong connection between the workplace and our personal lives, there’s a need to consider the effect a workplace romance can have both in the office and outside of it.
Put Policies in Place
Forty-five percent of the employees surveyed by Harris Poll were unaware of whether or not a dating policy exists within their organization. Has your company notified employees of its dating policy?
If you company lacks a dating policy, it opens itself up to serious problems stemming from sexual harassment complaints. But a carefully crafted policy, on the other hand, can help preserve the company culture and avoid legal ramifications for the organization if problems arise between coworkers.
What your workplace’s romance policy looks like – and the decision to even implement one – will depend upon the nature of the work and the cultural standards of the company.
Is a Contract in Order?
What happens if a romantic advance is rejected? Will a subordinate feel less comfortable completing tasks for their superior once they know that superior wants to date them? Will a supervisor set unrealistic expectations of an assistant who dismissed their advances? Will the awkwardness then cause that assistant to resign?
If you permit office romances, you may want to consider making relationship contracts a requirement.
There is the possibility that a dating policy – especially one that involves contracts – will cause employees to feel as though they’re being micromanaged. Or, your workers might feel as if they are being forced to share aspects of their personal lives with management. In either case, staff might resort to secretiveness, sneaking around instead of doing things above board.
But you protect employees and the company by requiring relationship contracts. By signing the contract, the couple agrees that:
- the relationship is consensual;
- promotions, demotions, or other moves within the company will not be influenced by their romantic involvement;
- and their involvement won’t impact job performance.
The Harris Poll mentioned above found that 5 percent of employees resigned from their jobs due to an office romance ending badly. You can reduce such damage with relationship contracts in place.
Prohibit Damaging Forms of Workplace Romance
Psychologists have found that employees who date their superiors are often considered untrustworthy, less approachable, and less credible by their coworkers.
These perspectives apply to both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships, but the negative feelings are more often directed towards women.
Overall, though, coworkers feel left out when a office romances exists between one of their peers and a superior. They feel as though their peer is privy to information they don’t have access to, and this dynamic creates a toxic work environment.
Under these conditions, employees are more likely to feel entitled to bend the rules. This type of tension also creates communication barriers and causes workers to feel as though their job positions have been threatened.
Ninety-nine percent of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management prohibit supervisors and direct reports from dating. Coworkers reporting to the same superior and those with large gaps in rank are also prohibited from dating in many organizations.
Considering the extent to which a company’s morale can plummet when employees date their superiors, setting firm parameters might inhibit interoffice contention – and that’s a good thing.
Since Americans spend more time working than they do sleeping or on personal activities, office romances will continue to exist.
But as an employer, you have some control over the influence that workplace romances can have on your company culture.
Be aware that, while an employee’s history of office romance isn’t something that would normally show up in a background check, an inappropriate one that led to a harassment suit definitely could.
How do you handle workplace romances in your office?