Office romances: How employers should deal with them

Alan Hickey

February 11 2020

In early November 2019, news broke that fast-food giant McDonald’s had fired their CEO. The reason? He had engaged in a consensual relationship with an employee. This, McDonald’s felt, “demonstrated poor judgement” on his part.

Given the amount of time we spend at work, it’s not surprising that many people find their life partner there. But romance at work can create headaches for employers – risks of favouritism, conflicts of interest and potential abuse of position.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, romance is in the air. If an office relationship materialises in your workplace, consider these top 10 tips:

Check your existing policies and procedures

Are your existing policies and procedures able to deal with any problems that might arise from office romances? It’s sensible to have a confidentiality policy or conflict of interest policy that requires workers to notify their employer of any change in their personal circumstances that might give rise to a conflict of interest.

Encourage staff to notify management of a workplace romance

This might seem awkward or over the top, but it’s important that management is aware of the relationship, so they can decide if appropriate steps need to be taken. Failure to let management know might cause problems later on.

Don’t ignore it

Not every employee will be comfortable reporting their new relationship. However, if it becomes known to management that a personal relationship between staff has developed, it might be time to act.

Think about changing the work environment

It might be sensible to consider whether relationship reporting or management structures need to be revised. This should be discussed with the people affected. This will help quash any suspicion of favouritism that may arise.

Watch out for favouritism

Make sure that members of staff who are engaged in relationships with colleagues are not involved in any management decisions involving partners. It’s important that such decisions are seen to be made impartially.

Don’t be afraid of taking action

Treat any complaints of favouritism seriously and take action. This is especially important if they relate to bullying or harassment.

Training for managers

Most managers lack training on how to tackle workplace romances. Managers need to know how to manage such situations, the potential risks and how to stop issues arising. Managers should also have regular training on how to respond to harassment complaints that arise from a previous romance.

Be especially alert around work social events

Christmas parties or work social events are often the source of office romances. It’s a good idea to remind staff that they are still expected to abide by company policies, even if the party is outside of the office. If something goes wrong, you could be liable.

What about when things go wrong?

Of course not all romances blossom. Problems might arise if a workplace romance or relationship ends. It could impact an employee's work performance or professional relationships at work. This might require thinking about moving staff members involved in a relationship.

Be mindful of your obligations to maintain a safe workplace

Sexual harassment and bullying can often arise in the context of workplace romances. Employers need to have policies and procedures in place to deal with any complaints and how such complaints will be dealt with. Office romances are a reality. Love may be in the air but it doesn’t have to poison the workplace. Be proactive and set expectations around conduct and enforce your policies.

Taking action now will help to maintain a professional environment for all your staff.

Need our help?

If you would like further complimentary advice on office romances from an expert, our advisors are ready to take your call any time day or night. Call us on 1890 252 923 or request a callback here.

For further information on how to manage similar staff issues, including poor performance, download our free Staff Behaviour guide. 

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