Since employees spend more time at work than ever before, there is a tendency to blur the distinction between work and non-work behaviors (i.e., what is appropriate or inappropriate at work). Part of the “blur” involves relationships. It has been estimated that roughly half of workers have had at least one office romance.
Historically, most couples met their significant others while they were in school, in a religious context, or through family friends. In the new millennium, women make up nearly half the workforce, and because employees are spending more time at the office than they used to, more and more people are finding companionship at work. Ironically, since background checks are often done on all employees, the workplace may be one of the safest places to meet someone!
People work many more hours than they did 30 years ago and have less time to go out and socialize. So, it is very “convenient” to connect with someone at work. Dress codes are more casual, and employees are more comfortable and relaxed at work. In fact, studies suggest that work is already the #1 meeting place in which people find their spouses.
Organizations will differ on how accepting they are of office relationships. Usually, when a company has a no-fraternization policy, it is because of the fear of when (not if) the office relationship deteriorates. According to a CNNMoney.com article, while just under a quarter (22%) of these relationships end in a long-term commitment or marriage, the other three-quarters go sour.
Despite the increasing numbers of folks involved in a romantic relationship at work, in a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a whopping 81% of HR professionals said they consider workplace romances dangerous because they could lead to conflict within the organization. In fact, 74% percent said they believed it could present a legal liability.
In the worst-case scenario, accusations of favoritism or retaliation after breakups lead to wrenching lawsuits; however, there is also guilt-by-association if one partner does something wrong or is universally despised; and in milder cases, flirtation and affairs breed damaging gossip. Moreover, romantic liaisons-whether leading to traumatic break-up or blissful marriage-can result in sacrificing one’s dignity and, perhaps, even the loss of valued employees.
Rather than say “don’t do it,” consider the following:
Get Written Consent Agreements for Relationships (also known as “Love Contracts”). Bring both parties into your office while the romance is still young. Have them agree to the following:
Indicate that the relationship is welcome, mutual, consensual, and that both parties are willingly in the relationship.
Require that issues between the two will not come into the workplace, but if they do, HR needs to be notified.
Close with stating that if the relationship changes (positive or negatively), each party promises to inform HR.
Double check with your attorney, of course, before doing this. However, such a policy allows for everyone to be on the same page regarding an office romance.
If you do decide to forbid “fraternization” at work, make sure that it is applied equally to all relationships, not just romantic ones. In other words, any relationship between any two people that results in unethical, improper, or unprofessional behavior would fall under such a policy. The underlying goal of such a relationship policy is to protect and ensure fair and consistent treatment of employees, to maintain organizational integrity and the ability to achieve organizational goals, and to prevent misuse of information.
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