Cupid’s bow strikes at the time when we least expect it, people say. But what happens when it involves two coworkers? Some companies do not find office romance an issue, such as new startups who are more lenient about it. On the other hand, many conventional companies restrict such a relationship. As an HR manager, nevertheless, office romance remains a matter of concern. In conjunction with the love season of Valentine’s Day, here’s an insight on how to handle office romance.
What Causes Office Romance
It is crucial to understand how office romance occurs in the first place. There are plenty of reasons why your employee may fall in love with his or her coworker, but most of the time, it is due to the fact that they spend most of their time in the office working together. This is a common case if you work from the office. It actually makes sense that they begin to develop companionship and it develops into more romantic feelings over time.
If It Goes Right
Office romance, when discussed idealistically, may not be a bad idea after all. Having someone to share with, seek advice from, and rant to about office matters may best explain why employees find comfort in one another. This can increase happiness level, as they both have one more reason to look forward to when they work everyday. As a result, the retention rate may increase too for both of these love birds.
If It Goes Wrong
Picture perfect it seems, but office romance is vulnerable to get out of hand. Love is a very fragile feeling and it can fade over time that makes the infatuation come to an end. When this happens to your employees, who used to have feelings for each other, a tension between the two is bound to happen. It can surely bring negativity at the workplace, such as if they try to avoid each other or feel uncomfortable being in the same room. Even worse, if they are in the same department and need to work hand in hand or if they are employee to supervisor, it can get uglier, as that division’s workflow may be disturbed and will impede your business operation.
So, what should you do to prevent the worst from happening?
Lay Out Rules
The best approach to office romance is to establish ground rules early on so that all parties are on the same page. More corporations are requiring their employees to sign contracts in which they commit to notify management if they initiate a romantic relationship with other employees. From a business standpoint, this makes lots of sense. It removes any indication of favoritism, prevents employees from appealing for discrimination, and can reduce issues that may arise after the affairs stop.
As an HR manager, be detailed about the terms and conditions. For example, if you forbid physical affection in the workplace, specify whether this restriction applies to offsite gatherings such as after-hour drinks or picnics. Additionally, if your idea of “interoffice romance” involves clients as well as employees, make that plain in your wording. Laying down rules and asking employees to study and embrace them upfront will help avoid any mishaps later on.
Encourage Employees to Not Date Subordinates or Managers
You should never date someone who is a direct subordinate or supervisor. Most workplaces ban such relationships, as romantic activity with a supervisor or reporting employee is often regarded as inappropriate. Dating across organizational levels can easily lead to problems ranging from tense cross-departmental relationship quality to harassment claims. No matter how neutral and professional one promises to be, dating the boss’s supervisor or one’s employee’s report can interrupt the line of command, breach credibility, and create discomfort.
On the other hand, initiating a romantic relationship with a lower-level employee where the two are not under one line of command is a bit more acceptable. However, this still requires careful consideration. Power imbalances can result in unwitting breach of consent or professional intimidation. Most experts think that it is best not to take any chances.
Prepare a Rescue Plan if Things Go South
Everyone should feel comfortable at work, and no one should feel harassed or pressed into an uncomfortable romantic interaction. Some workplaces have laws that say that individuals can only ask out a coworker once and must quickly stop altogether if the response is “no.” Pressuring a coworker to go on a date is unacceptable and destroys trust and psychological safety in the workplace. Romantic harassment is not a lighthearted issue, and employers must handle it with the professionalism and respect that the situation needs.
Even when these laws are in place, reporting harassment may be daunting. Many employees are afraid of punishment or the implications for their own careers, or they may feel guilty about putting a colleague in trouble. As an HR manager, it is vital to let your employees know that you have their back. When you notice a potentially unpleasant or non-consensual relationship, try to intervene or speak to the concerned colleague privately immediately.
All in all, office romance is intriguing. However, with proper awareness and preparations, you can establish a supportive climate as a responsible HR manager. Every employee feels comfortable and supported in this situation, regardless of their romantic choices or the romantic choices of their coworkers.
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