Romance in the workplace - how should you handle it?

Written by
Changeboard Team

17 Feb 2010

17 Feb 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Office romance - a fact of life

In todays workplace, the work/life divide is often blurred. Employees spend more and more time at the office and at work-related functions, so its no surprise that our social circles often include our colleagues. What may be surprising, however, is how often working relationships turn into romance on the job. The Results of a new survey conducted by revealed that nearly one in three (30%) of employees met their current partner at the office and 44 percent have had an office romance.

Although half (50%) of survey respondents feel that dating a colleague is a bad idea because they prefer to keep their professional and personal lives separate, office romance is far from being taboo. In fact, 28 percent of survey respondents felt that work is a great place to meet a partner. Not everyone feels that love is in the air at work, however, because a fifth (20%) of respondents have never worked with someone they would date.

Employee attitudes to office romance

Inter-office dating can be a minefield for HR managers, but it is best to gauge employee attitudes in your office when determining how to address these issues. According to the survey, the majority of employees (64%) feel that work colleagues dating each other is fine as long as it is professional in the office. The fact that 35 percent of respondents feel that office romance is a bad idea because it makes everyone else feel awkward underscores the need for HR guidelines for dealing with this sensitive topic.

Some of the most challenging issues for HR may arise when office romance goes bad. Respondents were divided on whether office relationships can stand the trials of working together. Whilst 35 percent of respondents report that they work well with their partner and 23 percent feel it has made them a stronger couple, 23 percent report having the occasional argument and 17 percent feel it is driving them apart.

Do employers need an office romance policy?

You cant dictate the rules of love, but you can provide guidelines to ensure all employees have a comfortable and productive working environment. Many companies find that their employees follow an unwritten, well-understood norm when it comes to acceptable behaviour between partners in the office. Whether you want to institute a formal policy in your office should be determined by the culture and atmosphere in your specific workplace. With the exception of sexual harassment issues, there are no legal guidelines you must comply with.

Providing office romance training for managers is another step HR professionals can take to address inter-office dating. Anyone in a supervisorial role should be educated on how to discreetly address inappropriate behaviour and how to deal with potential issues such as gossip, morale and lowered productivity.

Creating an office romance policy

If you choose to create an office romance policy, keep in mind that the most damaging relationships on office morale are hierarchical, when one partner is directly reporting to another. Forbidding these relationships is one option. Putting a strategy in place to deal with these relationships, should they arise, is another. The structure and size of your company will play a role in determining what will work best for your office.

Going back to the statistic that more than a third (35%) of employees feel awkward when colleagues date, it is important that employees are discouraged from public displays of affection. Most seasoned workers know to check their personal lives at the door when they come in to work, but in some office environments a policy that outlines standards of behaviour may be needed. Employers should also not tolerate sexual behaviour in the office and clear consequences for these actions should be outlined in the policy.

Be realistic when addressing office romances

Remember, office romance has a high probability, so its best to be realistic when it comes to addressing it. A policy that is too strict will push relationships under cover and damage employee trust. Take the pulse of your organisation and base your strategy on your offices unique circumstances.