EngagementEmployee EngagementDating in the workplace: Should your company have a policy on intra-office dating?

Dating in the workplace: Should your company have a policy on intra-office dating?

What's the best way for HR to deal with inter-office dating?

Matrimonial Consultant and Family Lawyer Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart explores the approach companies should take to intra-office dating.

Most adults will spend a third of their life at work, so it is only natural that we develop friendships, crushes or even fall in love. In fact, more than 57% of employees have admitted to being involved in a workplace romance and one in five people will meet their partner at work.

Whilst there are many success stories, take Michelle and Barack Obama or Melinda and Bill Gates for example, we have all heard of those horror stories where colleagues have had to move job following a bitter breakup.

So, should companies have a clear dating policy, and if so, how strict should it be?

For HR professionals and business owners, dating in the workplace can be tricky to navigate. Blanket bans often just result in people sneaking around but equally a lack of set boundaries can result in resolving tricky issues including favouritism or conflicts of interests.

So, what is the best way to support your employees, without enforcing overbearing rules or policies on intra-office dating?

Here are some top tips for a healthy employee code of conduct or guidelines:

  1. Encourage transparency

Promoting an honest and transparent working environment is an essential first step. It is therefore advisable to invite employees to notify their superiors when they officially start dating a co-worker. This transparency will help employers and HR teams to ensure that their colleagues are conducting themselves in an appropriate manner from afar, without becoming too intrusive.

Furthermore, an open approach will help to minimise the gossip wheel from spinning out of control and mitigate against the potential knock-on impact of two colleagues dating on the wider company.

  1. Maintain professional behaviour

Employees who decide to embark on an intra-office relationship will be expected to act in a professional and respectful manner during the working day and not treat it as an extension of their domestic time spent together as a couple. As such, it could be helpful to have a code of conduct laying out the company’s expectations for staff behaviour. This could include rules prohibiting public displays of affection, flirting in the workplace and showing professional bias.

Be tactful when distributing these guidelines. You want to make it clear that they are in place to support colleagues in their romantic and professional lives, rather than unintentionally encouraging staff to hide their relationship at work or penalising them for dating.

  1. Consider introducing love contracts

Intra-office dating polices need to effectively address the topic of sexual harassment and clearly define where the line is drawn on unacceptable behaviour, but making it clear too that it is ok for employees to ask a colleague out.

This is where love contracts can be extremely valuable. Essentially, they are a written and signed confirmation that any romantic relationships taking place between employees is consensual. Such contracts ensures that all parties involved know where they stand and removes any ambiguity over romantic advances. This is crucial especially if a workplace romance ‘goes south’ and helps mitigate against any allegations of misconduct from arising in retrospect.

  1. Provide training seminars

Whilst it is easy for codes of conduct to centre around employees involved in a relationship, it is also important that leadership teams are also equipped to manage employees dating in the workplace. Any such guidelines of conduct or policies should include on-site training to ensure that senior staff are aware of the company’s regulations and equipped to oversee the implementation of the suggested guidelines.

These seminars can also address managing tricky situations, for example, how to effectively deal with employees if their relationship is negatively impacting morale and productivity for themselves or co-workers.

  1. Bans may occasionally be necessary

Whilst it is important to err on the side of caution with regards to enforcing blanket bans on intra-office romantic relationships, there will occasionally be situations where a ban may be the only appropriate solution, to avoid unnecessary conflicts and bad feelings amongst employees. One such situation is perhaps a supervisor dating an associate who reports directly to him/her. Allegations of professional bias may be inevitable if the associate is singled out for plum roles even if the associate is the most competent person for the job.

Ultimately, the specific policy you choose to adopt will depend on your organisation, workplace culture and te atmosphere you have or want to create. Office relationships are inevitable, so it’s essential that employers have a workable system in place that offer guidance to parties involved to maintain harmony within an organisation. By adopting guidelines that are comprehensive, yet not too intrusive or prescriptive, employers can better manage office romances without alienating the other employees.

By Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart, Matrimonial Consultant and Relationship Guru, who was a partner of a London law firm, is on a mission to helping people become ‘relationship-smarter’ in love, life and work.

Twitter: @sheelamac

LinkedIn: Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart

Facebook: @sheelamackintoshstewart

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