Written by SAM DOW
We spend around a third of our time with our colleagues at work – often socialising out of hours too, so it should come as no surprise to hear that one in five people meet their partner at work.
Regardless of the industry, workplace romances are pretty much inevitable and for some managers, the very mention can bring on a cold sweat.
Here is our simple guide for business owners and managers on the issue of dealing with the fall-in (and fall-out) of love at work.
You have a feeling there’s something going on, but how do you broach the subject?
You might have noticed furtive glances over the photocopier, an extra spring in their step and then you see them in Waitrose over the weekend holding hands and giggling like teenagers, so it would appear that two of your team are now an item. So what should you, as their employer or manager, do now?
The first step is always to aim for a culture where your employees feel they can talk about their private lives if they want to. Some will simply prefer to keep their work and private lives separate and if that’s the case that remains their decision. It might come up naturally in conversation at work (which certainly makes it easier) but remember to treat your couple as individually as you did before the relationship sparked.
To separate or not to separate?
This all very much depends on how the relationship might affect their work; some relationships will have little impact, but if one of your General Managers is dating one of their direct reports, it could bring about a whole new set of complications.
This is best avoided by having a written policy regarding senior-subordinate relationships in place, ensuring that the power to make decisions can be given or removed, and lines of communication changed, in the event of a conflict of interest.
What you don’t need to do however, is make it policy to separate staff the minute they enter into a relationship, it may be better to consider the individuals’ roles in the company and their characters before taking action.
How to manage PDA at work
PDA (public displays of affection) are one of the biggest, not to mention most awkward, issues managers have to deal with when their employees strike up a relationship. No one wants to step between your employees like a teacher at the school disco, but no-one should have to see cuddles at the coffee machine either.
It’s important to make clear to your entire team that there’s a limit to what is considered an acceptable amount of physical interaction in the workplace – this goes for both those in and out of relationships!
If you do experience overly amorous displays at work, the simplest solution is to quietly sit them down, either as a pair or individually, to ask them to turn the heat down while they’re at work. Be sure to outline the behaviour that you’ve witnessed or that has been reported to you and remind the pair that, ultimately, they’re expected to conduct themselves professionally while at work.
Do you need a written disclosure?
Some companies ask for written disclosures (or more cringingly known as a ‘love-contract’) thinking that potential sexual harassment claims can be avoided. Is this really necessary? Probably not, as it’s worth remembering that whether in a relationship or not, any unwanted sexual advance is still sexual harassment. And anyway, how do you define a relationship? Is it at the point the two shares a glass of wine after work, or is it at the announcement of their engagement?
Dealing with the fall-out
Not every workplace relationship will work out and if it does turn sour, extra care should be taken to avoid any impact on your business. Messy breakups can lead to people refusing to speak to one another, forming cliques as they gossip over who was to blame so damage control is your best intervention.
It might be incredibly uncomfortable for all involved but any conflict between former lovers should be handled in exactly the same way as you would any other workplace dispute.
The best solution is to work with the (former) couple separately to find a workaround. In a larger organisation, putting the pair on separate shifts or relocating one to another department might be an option but in a smaller organisation, this just won’t be possible. So, impress upon them the importance of them cooperating at work should their paths cross, and foster an environment that supports that.
We can’t prevent love from blossoming in the workplace any more than we can friendships forming, so when love is in the air in your office, be prepared to remain hands-off unless said romance will create problems for your business.
And who knows, as well as giving your employees a career and great place to work, your business could give two of your employees a happy ever after!