As Valentine’s Day approaches, it is a good time to reflect on how to address workplace romances.
According to the 2018 Vault Office Romance Survey, 52% of employees say they have had some kind of romantic relationship with a co-worker. In light of the #MeToo movement and concerns about sexual harassment, companies are taking a renewed look at workplace romance and working to create a balance between discouraging inappropriate behavior and enabling legitimate consensual relationships.
At least one study suggested that employees don’t mind seeing office romances develop, as long as these individuals involved aren’t married or otherwise committed to someone else and/or the couple doesn’t involve a supervisor and direct report. It is very common for companies to forbid relationships between supervisors and staff members, and many prohibit romances between employees in different departments as well, even if they are on the same level. Some companies bar relationships between employees and clients or customers, and some even forbid romances between their workers and employees of competing businesses.
HR professionals don’t want to interfere with their employees’ private lives; however, they have a role in ensuring productivity and keeping workers safe and comfortable in the workplace. Consider a few tips to help balance this fine line and create a positive, healthy, safe environment for everyone:
Have a dating and personal relationship policy and equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies that address discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. State that the policies apply to all employees regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics. The policy should detail issues such as what constitutes acceptable behavior. Apply these policies consistently.
Provide training about office relationships. Make sure everyone knows what the policies are; and offer managers some additional training about issues such as how to coach a dating couple when the relationship results in lowered morale and/or negatively affects productivity. If a romance turns into a sexual harassment situation, supervisors should know how to take immediate action, including what documentation and reporting is required.
Promote your sexual harassment policy. In addition to having a formal, written policy that is posted in the organization, this information also should be included in the employee handbook and listed on organizational policy documents. Make sure it details how a sexual harassment claim will be handled and the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Train all employees about your sexual harassment policy; emphasize that the organization has zero tolerance on harassment. Make sure they understand what does and doesn’t constitute sexual harassment.
Consider contracts. Some employers require workers to sign a “love contract” when they enter into a relationship with a co-worker. Signed by both employees in the couple, the document declares that the relationship is by consent and includes guidelines on appropriate workplace behavior for the dating couple.
Encourage communication. Make sure that employees feel comfortable coming to you with workplace relationship or sexual harassment issues or questions.
It’s important to acknowledge the impact the #MeToo movement may have had on people’s concerns and attitudes. For instance, according to the Vault survey, since #MeToo, 31% of men are more likely to find workplace romance unacceptable, while nearly three-quarters of women say it hasn’t changed their views on office dating.
Whatever your organization’s policies, three elements are key: clarity, consistency, and communication. Ensure these on a daily basis, and everyone can enjoy Valentine’s Day…and every day…at their workplace.