As we stare down the barrel of another Valentine’s Day (that’s 14 February for anyone who has forgotten and now needs to madly arrange a flower delivery), we thought it would be a great time to take a look at personal relationships in the workplace. What can you do to minimise the fallout if they go bad? `
For the purpose of this blog, we are going to limit a close personal relationship to those of the romantic kind because this is the kind of workplace relationship that has the potential to cause considerable drama. And because it’s almost Valentine’s Day so it fits the theme…..
Level playing field
When we think about a workplace romance and its ability to cause trouble, we usually think it will happen when the lovebirds decide they are no longer in lurve and a breakup or divorce ensues. And yes, this can definitely cause you headaches but equally as harmful to your team’s cohesion is the perception that someone is receiving an advantage due to their amorous connection to someone who has influence or decision-making responsibilities within the business. When we were kids, we would have deemed this ‘playing favourites’ and real or imagined, it has the ability to divide a team, decimate a previously positive culture and cause you all sorts of migraines-like headaches.
Another major risk to your business when it comes to interpersonal relationships is sexual harassment. Even if the romance was genuine, there is the very real potential for a scorned lover to make such a claim and despite the relationship being consensual, what ensues post break up may give the case legitimacy. Or it could be an act of revenge. Either way, you have a problem that needs to be dealt with that takes your focus away from running your business and reaching your goals.
It's all about people
All is not lost and romance need not be killed off. You have to remember that you are dealing with people and with that comes all the intricacies and complications that come with human behaviour and relationships. You can not simply ban people falling for each other – it will still happen, but it will be clandestine, and this could be worse for your business if it doesn’t work out and the drama spills into the light of day.
Can one simply ban romance?
It’s important to note, with very few exceptions, you can not legally ban relationships in the workplace. The employer can only require employees comply with ‘lawful and reasonable’ directions and placing a ban on relationships would most likely be deemed beyond the scope of what an employer can mandate. Additionally, you cannot discriminate on the basis of a lawful sexual relationship. This means that you can’t overlook John for a promotion because Mary is his wife and this would make her John’s boss. However, you have the right to take appropriate steps to not unwittingly allow a power imbalance to occur.
Don't ask, don't tell? Ah, no....
How about your right to know about a relationship? If there is the potential or actual conflict of interest, then yes, disclosure is important. It could be a power imbalance where one is more senior than the other, or they work across different areas of the business, but one may be able to unduly benefit the other to the detriment of co-workers. One example of this very thing occurred with one of our clients when a manager fell in love with one of his employees. He did not disclose the relationship as per the policy in place at the time, but then regrettably used his position to apply a significantly large pay increase to his secret lover at salary review time, as well as choosing her for some of the overseas travel opportunities when she wasn’t actually the most qualified to attend.
Disclosure allows you to determine whether or not you need to transfer one or the other employee to mitigate potential conflict – bear in mind, the change in position can not be punitive so you need to tread carefully. Having a policy that discourages disclosure can lead to the same issues as outlined above with our lovestruck manager! You can call the HR Staff n’ Stuff team to guide you as we know how to deal with issues such as these and we’ll help keep the complications to a minimum.
Importantly, before the very first flirtations commence you need to pop some guidelines in place to protect your people and your business. And the best way to do this is to have a policy around interpersonal relationships and how your team is expected to conduct themselves keeping in mind all legal considerations, the preference for people to disclose (and why) and transparency about what might happen to minimise any issues. It sounds tedious but a fair and well considered policy – that is communicated and accessible to your team – will help reduce the drama while supporting happy and healthy relationships that may ensue.
So before Cupid does his thing, contact the HR Staff n’ Stuff team to get your workplace relationship policies (and any other policies that help make your workplace awesome) sorted so we can all continue to believe in love.
The HR Staff n' Stuff team all contribute to our blogs. Enjoy the read!