Declaring an interest – a love one that is

June 2018

Declaring an interest – a love one that is

Last month we posted on LinkedIn this article from Personnel Today about HR’s role in relationships at work. It sparked some discussion so I decided to follow up with a blog on the subject. That article posed such questions as:

  • When should you declare relationship formed in the work place?’ And
  • How might an employer achieve the right balance between respecting the privacy of the couple concerned and protecting business interests?

Depending on what your field of work is, such a situation might have greater potential for fall out than others. The Personnel Today article has a quote from Sarah Churchman, head of diversity and inclusion at PwC. Sarah says: ‘If you work for PwC, you are never off duty. We drum it into all our trainees that they represent a well-known professional accountancy firm both at work and in their downtime – particularly so if they’re in a social situation and have had a few drinks.’

In the US there’s common usage of ‘love contracts’ or ‘consensual relationship agreements’. But they are intrusive on private lives. Besides which, under UK law, they offer limited protection in the event of a possible sexual harassment claim should the contents of the loving cup curdle. And anyway, as Sarah Churchman went on to point out in the Personnel Today article, it’s not possible to legislate against office romances and dalliances. An outright ban is simply not workable. But, as she further pointed out, it’s important that you put in protocols for when relationships form. After all, there may be commercial considerations that make it necessary to move one half of the couple in question to another department.

Workplace romances

Boundaries

As an employer then, you can sure that you can’t prevent your staff from forming romantic entanglements. Moreover, there’s a good chance some of them will.

As this 2017 Guardian article about office romance and work boundaries points out, dating apps or not, the workplace remains a hotbed of love and lust. From a frantic, alcohol fuelled fumble in the stationary store at the office party to the growth of true love, the workplace will see it all.

Our survey says

A couple of years ago, in the run up to Valentine’s Day, Approved Index surveyed office staff on office romance.  The remit of the study was to take a closer look at love and romance in the workplace. Approved Index conducted it in conjunction with an online survey site. It surveyed 1,550 office workers asking them questions about workplace romance and the circumstances and events surrounding it.

The anonymous operation of the survey allowed for interesting and revealing responses on the sensitive topic of office dalliances, illicit affairs and falling in love.

It turned out that:

  • 65% of office workers surveyed confessed to involvement in at least one workplace romance and
  • 48% of those surveyed said they’d had two or more involvements

Which rather shows how often such affairs happen. The study also found that:

  • Half of office romances involve one person already in a long-term relationship or marriage.
  • 30% of office romances lead to a long-term relationship.

There’s interesting questions and answers around the acceptability, to office workers, of relationships happening in their midst that you can read about here. 

How do you, as HR Personnel, handle office romance?

All business owners want happy and fulfilled staff. After all, happy staff are productive staff. Office relationships though, as unavoidable as are, are not bound to be set fair. Line managers often end up caught in the crossfire of love gone wrong. The potential problems are many. As this article from People Management points out they include:

  1. Power dynamics. If one half of a relationship is more senior than the other then it’s necessary to declare the relationship. It’s vital that all parties remain professional and avoid having favourites. Line managers may need to make sure the workplace maintains its integrity. This minimises any negative effect on productivity and team morale.

2. Colleagues in a relationship will want time off together. This will cause noticeable pressure on their team members. It matters then that you avoid instances of special treatment while giving what support you can to the people involved.

3. Break-ups. Ouch! It’s bound to happen. Even worse it may play out over an extended period. Such a scenario will cause emotional and professional distress to both the pair coming out of the relationship and to their workmates.

4. Harassment: Relationships are mutual but advances aren’t always. They can be one-sided. Such unwanted attention is a challenge for line managers. Different people will interpret different words and deeds in a different way. Hence, what something seen as an innocent comment or action by one person, could be perceived as harassment by someone else.  See our blog about office banter for more on this area.

How can line managers handle such situations?

It’s clear the office romance has the potential to be explosive. So how do you, the line manager, stop the culture and integrity of the workplace blowing apart?

  • Businesses need to provide top-notch coaching and training for their managers. Managers should be up-to-speed on the company rules about relationships. They should be both reactive and proactive in sensitive situations.
  • Have informal conversations with staff. This is crucial. Even if the relationship is running along well, it’s important you prevent issues from coming up. And, if they do, get on top of the situation pronto. Create open dialogue from the outset. Make sure issues get dealt with fast and that those involved understand how their behaviour and their relationship is affecting colleagues.
  • Create an open and engaging culture. One that lets employees feel comfortable and safe. This is vital.

Workplace romance and relationships is a super-sensitive issue. Hence managers must equip themselves and be confident they can handle the wide-ranging issues involved.

If you’re business is not big enough to have your own HR department yet you need support, there’s no need to be broken-hearted. Let Go-Legal HR be you new love.  Get in touch via our web form to see how I can help you