How to handle office romances

Morgan Cooke

February 14 2020

Late last year, fast-food giant McDonald’s fired their CEO. The reason? He had engaged in a consensual relationship with a colleague. This, McDonald’s felt, “demonstrated poor judgement” on his part.

We spend a lot of time at work, so it’s not surprising that many relationships develop there. However, office romances can create their fair share of HR headaches. There are risks of favouritism, potential abuse of position and conflicts of interest.

Prohibiting workplace relationships is next to impossible. That said, employers can consider these top 10 tips:

Check your existing policies and procedures

Ensure your existing policies and procedures can handle any issues that might arise from office romances. A confidentiality policy or conflict of interest policy will require workers to notify their employer of any change in their personal circumstances. This is especially important if there’s a chance it could create a conflict of interest.

Encourage staff to notify management of an office romance

Yes, this may seem a little over the top. However, it’s important that management is aware of office relationships so that appropriate steps can be taken if needed. If management is unaware of a relationship, it could cause problems down the line.

Don’t ignore it

Not all employees are comfortable reporting a new relationship. However, if it becomes known to management that a personal relationship between staff has developed, action may be required.

Think about changing the work environment

It might be worth considering whether relationship reporting or management structures need to be revised. Discussing this with the people affected will help clarify any suspicion of favouritism that may arise.

Watch out for favouritism

Ensure that staff who are in relationships with colleagues are not involved in any management decisions involving their partners. It’s important that such decisions remain fair.

Don’t be afraid of taking action

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

Training for managers

Have you trained your managers how to tackle workplace romances? Probably not. However, managers do need to know how to manage such situations. They should also undergo regular training on how to respond to harassment complaints that arise from a previous romance.

Be especially alert around work social events

Work-related social events are often the source of office romances. It’s a good idea to remind staff that they’re expected to abide by company policies, even if the party is outside of the office.

What about when things go wrong?

Sadly, not all romances blossom. As a result, problems might arise if it’s an office romance or relationship that has ended. It could impact an employee's work performance or a professional relationship at work. In the end, you may have to move the employees involved in the 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 should have policies and procedures in place to deal with any complaints and how such complaints will be handled. Office romances happen. 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 0800 917 0771 or request a callback here.

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