Workplace romance may make for good drama on tv shows like Grey’s Anatomy, but in real life it can be problematic for everyone involved.
“People tend to look at workplace romance as a kind of fluffy topic, but for organizations, they’re taking them more seriously,” said Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s Survey Research Center.
Why are companies taking workplace relationships more seriously?
Because just “letting it go” hasn’t worked. Most workplace love affairs leave a trail of resentment, hurt feelings, crushed egos, broken hearts and shattered working relationships in their wake.
Quote of the Day:
“Don’t get your honey where you get your money.”
Another issue is that workplace romances typically decrease office morale. No matter how hard the two lovebirds try to hide their affections, everyone knows—especially if it’s a small company, staff, team or department.
A Closer Look
When it comes to office romance, there are two types of workplace-romance relationships:
#1: Boss and employee
#2: Employee and employee
Boss and employee is an obvious red flag. This relationship can lead to favoritism and an overall decrease in work ethic. Other employees may become resentful.
Employee and employee is not so obvious. It can make other coworkers uncomfortable and mistrusting.
Even when workplace romances are amicable, longevity is not on the couple’s side. Rarely do these affairs turn into long-lasting committed relationships, which means there is a break-up at some point.
Workplace breakups are what’s spurring HR to step in and manage these situations instead of being hands-off. Smaller businesses are encouraged to purchase employment practices liability insurance to protect them against lawsuits—such as an employee filing for sexual harassment against their ex-lover boss—because one suit filed can tank an entire small company.
So, what’s the solution?
The solution is effective communication. Instead of pretending the employee-employee relationship doesn’t exist, HR experts recommend sitting down with the couple (individually or together) and letting them know you know. Explain what the legal implications are.
This sit-down should not be confrontational. Keep it lighthearted, casual -yet straightforward.
Try something along the lines of “We’re happy for you, but here are the possible outcomes you should be aware of regarding company policy.”
It should always be presented in the employee’s best interests, otherwise it can put them on the defensive and breed resentment and other nasty feelings, which can adversely affect the work environment.
Employer-employee relationship talks are a bit more tricky. Depending on the size of the business, a fellow partner should pull the employer or manager aside and communicate to them one-on-one how much danger these relationships put them and the company in.
A Cautionary Tale
One example is a true story of a medical practice in New York City. One of the owners started a sexual relationship with the company’s secretary. This doctor was married and rewarded his mistress by paying her a six-figure salary, almost as much as each of the partners were grossing. He kept it a secret from his two business partners but eventually it came out once they began paying attention to where the money was going. Immediately the two doctors confronted the third and the situation came to an end.
Fortunately, the female employee left without much hassle. But it could have easily went the other way. She could have, as a “jilted” lover, filed a suit of sexual harassment against her boss, fabricated a “stalking” allegation of some kind or allege discrimination for firing her. This is where insurance can come in handy.
Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) coverage should be a last line of defense. Proper risk management and insurance planning for your business will include training to hopefully prevent such occurrences. Diversity and sensitivity training must be part of that planning. Free training resources, guides, compliance information, local small business liaisons and links to free training throughout the U.S. are available on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.
When it comes to workplace romance, small business owners feel the effects of it the worst. If you’re a small business, what plan of action do you have in place to prevent or effectively deal with dating between co-workers?