Given that we spend a significant portion of our life at work, it’s easy to understand how workplace romances get started. However, with harassment in the workplace a common topic in the current news cycle, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when considering office relationships:
- Roles. Power imbalances are taboo in workplace relationships. Owners and direct managers need to be particularly mindful as employees may fear retaliation and the loss of their job or upward mobility should they say no or if things end in a breakup. Bottom line, no one should ever date a supervisee. If a relationship begins, immediately move supervision to someone else.
- Inappropriateness of flirting and sexual banter. Flirting is likely to make at least some employees and coworkers feel uncomfortable. Additionally, there is absolutely no place in today’s workplace for sexual comments. Not ever! If you or one of your employees is interested in someone, make sure that interest is expressed respectfully and reciprocated. Sexual comments and unwanted advances can lead to accusations of sexual harassment.
- Professionalism. When there is a romantic relationship at work, it is each individual’s job to keep their dating separate from their work, to treat everyone fairly, and to maintain professionalism at all times. Having a fight? Not OK to bring it into work. Physical affection? Stays outside the workplace. Long lunches or breaks? Unacceptable. Preferential treatment, private jokes, lingering glances, or excluding others? Inexcusable.
- Potential relationship issues/fallout. Whether it’s you or an employee, if the vast majority of your relationships end in drama and hurt, or you’re a serial dater, I strongly advise against a workplace romance. Good breakups require maintaining privacy and treating the other person with dignity and respect — tough to do when someone is hurting. In order to keep a productive, united workplace, ask employees to predetermine how they will handle things if the relationship doesn’t work out. Request that they refrain from discussing relationship ups and downs or a breakup with co-workers. If you see them moving from relationship to relationship, ask that they not start another workplace romance after they’ve broken someone’s heart. It’s one thing to realize two people aren’t a match. It’s another thing to regularly remind a co-worker that they aren’t enough.
- Address dating head-on. People are always watching, and gossip is a natural consequence when behaviors change. Ask employees to let others know if they decide to start dating. They shouldn’t elaborate beyond the fact that others might have noticed their interest in each other and that they are dating.
- Employees or co-workers already married? The standard is to keep it professional at all times. This entails protecting their relationship, employees and colleagues by refraining from complaining, talking about their relationship, or bringing arguments into the workplace.
- Supervising dating employees? Once again, the standard is professionalism at all times. If their behaviors are negatively impacting their performance, other employees or workplace stability, it’s your job to hold them accountable for their workplace conduct.
People are hired to do a job. Encourage employees to keep their eye on their job and their private life private. Everyone wins when workplaces are free of relationship drama.