Valentine's Day is around the corner, which makes this an opportune time for your company's management team to sit down with HR services to review your business' policies surrounding office romance. Given that full-time employees spend about one-third of their lives at work, it's almost inevitable that some of them will experience physical attraction toward one another. This is almost impossible to prevent.
Rick Bell, the managing editor of Workforce magazine, wrote a column in which he argued that although it's impractical to prevent interpersonal attraction among employees, your company still has the right to manage the outcomes of such attraction as it sees fit.
'Use common sense'
Bell noted that there are various possible outcomes from office romance. While some couples may end up in happy long-term relationships, or even marry, others may simply be flings that start out hot like fireworks before fizzling out. Good or bad, some people in your office may feel uncomfortable if these relationships play out in the work environment.
That level of discomfort can be even worse if a relationship goes sour. In some cases, the individuals involved in the relationship increase friction by spreading gossip, trying to build alliances, dividing loyalties and dissolving friendships. As management, you can't ignore such consequences, as they're sure to hurt team spirit and reduce productivity.
Bell reminded readers that it's perfectly legal to regulate office romance.
"[O]nce a year – right about this time in fact, since love and random hookups are in the air – revisit your employee handbook," Bell wrote in his column. "The courts say it's OK to have dating policies. Some organizations implement ethics and conduct codes and business policies that negate the need for a dating policy. Just let it be known that you work in a professional environment and people are expected to act as such. Tell them to use common sense and maintain honorable intentions."
Understand advantages and disadvantages
Experts from the University of Rhode Island noted that there are benefits and drawbacks to different kinds of policies about office romance, which may range from strict regulations to having no policy at all. For example, strict policies will help curb any employer liability issues in sexual harassment suits, but invite claims of infringement upon workers' rights to privacy. As for having no policy on office romance, management has maximum flexibility to adjust office culture, but unless your company has clear guidelines pertaining to harassment, you can be left vulnerable.