Dating in the Workplace: Where to Draw the Line?


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dating in the workplace can be a delicate business. You want employees to be happy, but relationships can often cause workplace disruption, so where do you draw the line?

Article 4 Minutes
Dating in the Workplace: Where to Draw the Line?

It's almost inevitable that at some point you'll have employees that start relationships with each other. But how do you deal with it?

Overly restrictive policies about personal relations can lead to low morale and could potentially cause staff to leave the company. Even if they aren't looking for a romantic relationship in the workplace, it's easy to see how strict policies in this area could make an employee feel oppressed.

But in the worst instances, workplace relationships can be extremely disruptive. Whether it's a relationship that goes sour or just a lover's tiff, personal feelings in the office can be unpleasant for the rest of the workforce.

On the other side of things, when two employees are all loved up, the rest of their colleagues can feel awkward and even isolated depending on how large your team is. So with all these problems associated with workplace relations, what can you do and when do you intervene?

Is it affecting their job?

The most important deciding factor for whether or not you should do something about workplace romances is if it's affecting their ability to do their job. Are they losing focus in meetings or do they spend more time chatting by the water cooler than actually working? These are times when their manager would need to seriously think about stepping in and having a quiet, but clear, word with them.

However, if they are discreet in the office and just go to lunch with each other, or have the occasional conversation about what to have for tea, then there's no need to make a big deal of the relationship.

Are they isolating themselves or others?

Anyone going into a workplace relationship knows that it can be tricky and they should be especially aware of how they conduct themselves in the office. It's important that they respect the rights of every other employee in the work environment. Ensure that your management team are aware of the relationship and keep an eye on whether it is affecting the morale of the rest of their colleagues.

Of course, there's no need to set them an ultimatum, but a casual chat with them and their partner about it can be productive. You should be careful where and how you approach the topic, but there's no need to tiptoe around the subject. Make it clear that you are perfectly happy for relationships to happen in the office, but that it's important it doesn't come at the expense of team morale. Steer clear of assigning any blame and instead focus on examples of how certain behaviors could alienate the rest of the workforce.

Is there a conflict of interest?

If employee relations are between two staff members of the same level or in different departments, it's a lot less concerning than if a manager starts a relationship with someone they are in charge of.

Again, common sense would suggest that both parts of the relationship would be aware of this potential conflict of interest and act accordingly. However, managers should be more sensitive to any areas where this could become a problem, such as promotions, development and disciplinary action.

The solution is usually fairly straightforward; swap the manager concerned for another similar-level professional. This removes any chance of there being any favoritism or accusations of it from their colleagues.

How do other employees feel?

Another key consideration is how the couple are making their colleagues feel. This doesn't mean you need to address the issue directly, as people may feel as if they are being coerced into leaning one way or another. However, regular catch-up meetings between their manager and each employee can be a great way to see whether they have any concerns about it - or anything else in the office.

As well as talking about their development options, leave a slot for discussing any issues they may have. This can be linked to how they feel about their other colleagues or something completely different, but it gives them a confidential platform to air their grievances should they want to.

Defining a line

For the most part, workplace relationships are just an everyday part of life and people will act as professional adults while they are in the office. It's important that you are consistent about when you do intervene. Employees need to know that it's nothing personal and that you're not attacking their relationship, so understanding the times when you will get involved and when you won't is crucial.

It's best to decide this with your management team before it's an issue. That way, there can be no accusations of treating any employee unfairly.

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