S. Lorrie Ray, Director, Membership Development
While romance in the workplace makes the cupid in all of us happy, it strikes fear into the heart of any HR manager. So, is it a good thing or a bad thing? Well, really, it’s both.
The Good: Having a good friend at work is predictive of a longer tenure at an organization. It is also true that people who get along well work better together and are more productive. Employers really benefit from this. Employees also benefit. Meeting a romantic partner or spouse at work is looking for love in all the right places, as opposed to the wrong places. There is a real opportunity to get to know someone over a period of time, and in an environment where they are more likely to be themselves.
The Bad: When folks get too romantic, other employees may suffer pubic displays of affection they would rather not see. These relationships can also appear to foster favoritism, and employees really dislike favoritism. Both scenarios can create discord in the workplace which must be managed. Employees may need to be told to focus on work at work. While favoritism is not generally illegal, it is not something to let fester. The amorous colleagues may need to be reassigned or managed carefully, so that decisions they make are business related and not based on passionate affections.
Romantic relationships and marriages – sadly – end, and often on a less than positive note. Living through this in the workplace can be difficult for the unhappy couple, and for everyone else if emotions and behaviors aren’t kept in check. Employees who value their jobs should be willing to work professionally with their ex-spouse or partner, and management if asked to do so. Also, employers should not feel shy about talking to employees in this circumstance, and letting them know what is expected of them.
The Ugly: If there is a power differential, most typically a boss and a subordinate, or an adulterous relationship, the end of the relationship may not be mutual, and may be hurtful to any number of people involved, directly or indirectly. Once this happens, the entire course of the relationship may be called into question. Unfortunately, this may be done through the legal system, by way of a sexual harassment complaint against the employer. Most employers have sexual harassment policies and know what to do, but this doesn’t make it easy. What is best is to let supervisors and managers understand clearly that dating subordinates is not tolerated. Of course, the human heart doesn’t always follow such rules, so conversations about what a manager should do in a situation before it gets out of hand – such as reporting it to a superior and determining how to proceed in light of the relationship – are always good to have. If this isn’t handled well, not only might their be liability, but careers can be ruined, and success can be undermined.
If handled in adult manner, romance in the workplace can be a fine thing. Unfortunately, when we are in love, we don’t always behave like adults. Beware of cupid!