Ahh, Monday morning; that annoying time to get up early, head to the office and get back to the weekly routines of the job. Who looks forward to that? Well for some, an office romance may make Monday mornings a whole lot easier and decidedly more fun!

But, is allowing employees to have relationships worth the risk to your business?

As in most relationships – including Business Partnerships, everything is great while the relationship is rosy but how will you handle it if things start to go wrong? In my experience managing these situations can take up a lot of time and stress for both the employee and management. It may also have a direct outcome on their team, its performance and hence impacting on the Company’s bottom line. Making sure your Company has the right rules in place can really help in managing such a situation to keep you within the bounds of the law.

The Good

These days, people spend the bulk of their time at work. Spending time with other employees who may have a lot in common and getting to know them on an intimate, day-to-day level can create a type of chemistry that could lead to something more.

When dating a fellow employee, both parties understand the pressures of the job. Being in a relationship where someone knows those demands and how that can likely impact time and availability is vital for any kind of relationship growth. People inherently understand and are attracted to others who “understand” that part of their life.

And, once the romance starts, it can be very exciting “pretending” to colleagues and practically speaking, two people in an office romance can also be a force for good; sharing notes/ideas and collaborating well together.

The Bad

However, there are also a lot of “cons” to your employees’ dating. The most common one being, if it doesn’t work out, the employees still have to see their ex and work with each other every day. This may be especially hard on the person who perhaps didn’t want the relationship to end. This type of situation usually leads to poor performance, increased absenteeism, workplace drama and often creates a hostile work environment. Sadly I have seen this firsthand many times in lots of different organizations.

Workplace romance rarely, if ever, stays between two people. Soon the rumor mill gets started and it becomes everybody’s business.

Another reason work and romance rarely mix is it can seriously hamper job performance. Employees may take longer lunches together or find ways to sneak off to be alone.  Again, too many times I have seen this lead to jealousy among other employees who generally view such behavior as “slacking”.

Romance in the Workplace – The Ugly

Aside from creating a tense office environment, having employees involved in a romance can also lead to potential legal consequences for the employer. Take for example, where one party wants to end the relationship but the other one doesn’t, it is not unusual for a sexual harassment claim to arise. I recently dealt with the aftermath of a case in which a male boss had an affair with his female subordinate. Without taking professional advice, the Company decided to dismiss her because she was more junior and deemed to be more expendable and the Company were left with a huge claim for discrimination.

In extreme cases, romances gone wrong can also lead to workplace violence. I have witnessed this in other scenarios for example, where an aggrieved manager allegedly tried to run over their romantic subordinate and in the case of a wife who had an affair with her client and hired a hit man to eliminate her husband. This may seem rather far- fetched, but, it is nonetheless true.

It is important to remember that just because you employ somebody doesn’t mean you really know them. The employee may have personal domestic or health issues of which you are unaware. The closeness and intimacy of a romantic relationship and the subsequent loss of this relationship could trigger a sudden and, from your perspective, unexpected and extreme response.

The Supervisor/Subordinate Relationship – Double Trouble?

The supervisor/subordinate relationship is one of the trickiest office romances to navigate since there are so many potential pitfalls. For one, favouritism is going to be an issue.

Think of it this way: If a male supervisor has ten other employees reporting to him but he’s dating one of them, co-workers will undoubtedly pick up on this and will begin to treat them differently. Whether he is or isn’t offering any special “perks”, such as pay rises or extra time off, experience has shown us that people are likely to believe he is. This can be extremely divisive especially in terms of team work which can be badly affected and which is so important to productivity and morale.

For the subordinate in the same scenario, it is not uncommon for issues to arise where the subordinate believes that the normal rules of work no longer apply to them.   This is particularly difficult to deal with if due to the relationship, the issues are ignored.

And take my strong advice not to overlook the issue of sexual harassment. Especially in a case such as the one set out above. Even where the relationship has been entirely consensual, if and when it all goes wrong, it is you and your business that run the risk of a sexual harassment claim from the subordinate who can amongst other grounds, claim feeling pressured to continue the relationship out of fear of losing their job.

What to Do When Romance is Unavoidable

Clearly people in the workplace are free to make their own choices as to relationships and in my experience, some office romances go beyond the excitement of a mere fling; they’re the real thing. As an employer, if there is the prospect of employees entering into any kind of close personal relationship you must encourage them without fear of reprisal, to disclose the relationship with a supervisor or management to allow you to make a fair assessment of the situation and put in place any adjustments to working arrangements that may be deemed necessary and reasonable to avoid the kind of scenarios described above.

The best way to do this  and protect your business from the fall out of unfettered relationships, is to create guidelines or a policy that sets out what the employees should consider in the event of a relationship forming and also what might result if they fail to do so and issues arise later.

There is a possibility this will never happen in your business, but, the probability is that it already has and will again. Don’t leave things to chance and don’t be the last to know. Protect yourself and take action today that can avoid problems tomorrow. Contact SagegreenHR for more details on how we can help you to be lucky with “love in the workplace”.


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