Forbidden Love: Office Romance and HR

With Valentine’s Day upon us, love is in the air! Candy hearts and red roses abound. Great if you’re in a relationship, but not so awesome if you are single and looking for love. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the office is one of the most common places to find that someone special.

This is not overly surprising when you consider the sheer number of hours a day you spend at the office with your colleagues. Most people spend one-third or more of their lives at work, which gives people ample opportunity to bond on multiple levels.

In fact, studies show that despite being discouraged by both companies and colleagues, office romances have a high likelihood of leading to marriage.

There is no doubt office romances have the potential to be an HR nightmare, especially when they don’t work out, but on the plus side, they also have the potential to be really great for an organization. An office romance can get people excited about coming to work, improving their morale, engagement, and productivity. Richard Branson actually considers employees falling in love an adventure that should be celebrated. But that’s Richard Branson.

It also seems that in reality, there is little you can do to actually prevent office romance from happening. Sometimes the more forbidden something is, the more exciting and tempting it can be.

Some organizations however, still do opt for a complete ban of office romance (delightfully referred to as the “no fishing off the company dock” policy in one of my former workplaces). But, in today’s modern workplace there are certainly more thoughtful ways to be proactive around the subject, implementing guidelines and policies that will help mitigate the risk associated with office romance before problems and complications arise.

Require disclosure. When it becomes clear that a romance is blossoming, the people involved should be encouraged to let their supervisor or HR know.

Protect the reporting relationship. Discourage dating between supervisors and subordinates who are in a reporting relationship. If a relationship should occur, consider having the subordinate reassigned to another department or supervisor.

Consider a “Love” Contract. Have employees in a disclosed relationship sign a Consensual Relationship Contract, whereby the employees both acknowledge that their relationship is mutual and consensual, and that they are aware of the company’s sexual harassment policy.

Discourage PDA. Public displays of affection such as kissing, touching and canoodling can make other employees uncomfortable and may be considered inappropriate and unprofessional standards of conduct.

Create a procedure for employees to complain. If other employees are feeling uncomfortable because of an office romance, or it is affecting the workplace in a disruptive way, ensure there is an avenue for employees to express their concern.

When considering your approach to love and HR in the workplace, it’s always better to be proactive and develop policies and guidelines that aim to create a legal, ethical, and harmonious workplace. Furthermore, ensure your policies are clearly communicated and easily accessible to employees; clearly outline expectations around professional conduct; and hold training sessions, especially around sexual harassment and how workplace romances might play into that.

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