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How to deal with an office relationship with professionalism

By partnersinhr, Feb 6 2017 03:05PM

With Valentine’s Day well and truly on the horizon, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that cupid’s arrow could strike between your colleagues. After all, when you consider the amount of time they spend with their co-workers on a day-to-day basis, it’s only natural that they might click with someone in the workplace be it a manager, colleague, customer or supplier. Recent surveys suggest that 80 per cent of staff view the office as an ideal place to meet their next mate,

The U.S may have ‘Romance Policies’ but here in the UK, where employers tend to respect the right to privacy of their staff, they are more uncomfortable with the outright ban of office relationships.  Although an office romance can cause issues for employers down the line – depending on the longevity of the relationship – it’s important that you have appropriate ‘code of conduct’ policies in place in order to deal with any scenario you may encounter. It’s also extremely useful to have company policies to hand when briefing new employees, setting expectations and professional boundaries within the workplace.

It is essential to keep business separate from pleasure in the best interests of productivity and credibility so it is important to take time to decide what will work best for your team with regards to personal relationships.  With that in mind, make sure you read the following pointers to consider when dealing with workplace romances; striking the right balance between your employees’ right to privacy and the best interests of your business:

Articulating your stance on workplace romances whilst maintaining equality

Whether or not you decide to include your stance in your employee contracts, you’re likely to want to articulate whether it’s strictly off limits, has to be disclosed or if it’s down to an individual’s utmost discretion in some format such as a Code of Conduct policy or in the staff handbook The most important issue here is to maintain equality among your male and female staff. Don’t give one rule for men and another for women; treat everyone with equal respect to avoid  a future sex discrimination claim.

Handling existing workplace relationships

If you’ve only just discovered about an ongoing workplace relationship, it’s important that you don’t act too hastily. Think carefully about the impact of the relationship on their fellow colleagues, the prospect of any conflicts of interest and of course, the individual’s right to privacy.

You might choose to be open and transparent by speaking to them up front and clarifying their situation. Take into consideration their right to privacy; the last thing you want is to leak such a confidential matter and damage their workplace reputation and credibility.

Fellow colleagues tend only react negatively to the news, resulting in a potential decline in productivity or team morale, if there is perceived to be favourable treatment because of the relationship.  Then you may consider tactfully suggesting moving positions internally. By separating them professionally, you are giving them both the chance to maintain their ‘voice’ and individuality within the company, enabling them to focus on doing what they do best for your business.

Be mindful that if the relationship turns sour there may be repercussions in terms of increased absence, general workplace tension and even the potential for a sexual harassment claim .

Tact is the name of the game; deal with each individual scenario on its merits but have a consistent procedure in place that ensures the best possible outcome for your business and its staff.

At Partners in HR, we're experts in maintaining good employee relations in the workplace. For advice, contact us today.

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