Does your company have an office romance policy?
What To Consider When Making An Office Romance Policy
Create an office romance policy to avoid any negative impact on your organisation
In the #MeToo era many HR leaders are having discussions around whether they should create a specific office romance policy. Many have often complicated and incomprehensible staff regulations around behaving appropriately and with "dignity and integrity." But very few go into the nitty gritty of what that means and how personal romantic relationships can potentially have a negative impact on an organisation.
We can all be inner romantics but many relationships simply don't work out. Some fizzle and others are more toxic and dramatic. Creating an office romance policy is like taking out insurance. No one wants to have a car accident - but you might and you have to be prepared for every eventuality. The policy should be simple, clearly stated, detailed and mitigate risk for a number of situations. There should be no embarrassment.
The fact is that in today's blurred work/life environment where there are many overlapping areas where life and relationships overlap and become more complex. Two singletons, both lawyers who met at the office said "When you are working 12 hour days, the only way you can meet people you have something in common with is at work! But organisations are crazy not to have contingency measures".
What to consider when creating your office romance policy
If any of your employees starts dating their colleague, what action can you take? How will you proceed to ensure everyone feels comfortable?
1. Consent Needs to be Stressed
25% of women have reported being victims of sexual harassment at work and a further 85% experience some sort of sexist behaviour. Your office romance policy should clearly state that consent is critical.
Dorothy Dalton, CEO of 3Plus International with deep experience of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace told us "I like this adaptation of the Planned Parenthood FRIES. But a number of clients say they find it cheesy and uncomfortable to be so specific, but it does work."
- FREELY GIVEN CONSENT .
- REVERSIBLE any party can change their mind.
- INFORMED everyone should be on the same page with the same expectations and have full details of time, date, venue and type of function.
- ENTHUSIASTIC no pressure, manipulation or intimidation. "Don't be a party pooper"
- SPECIFIC drinks with a group doesn't mean dinner with an individual
Many organisations prefer to skate around the detail with unfortunate consequences because of ambiguity and embarrassment.
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2. Subordinates and Superior Relationships
Two colleagues from separate departments striking up a romance is an entirely different scenario to boss dating a direct report or even a subordinate lower down the hierarchy. To avoid problematic power dynamics and accusations of playing favourites, your workplace should explore having a zero-tolerance policy regarding these relationships.
Many organisations find that when colleagues start dating within departments, you should either discourage it completely, or make it clear that potentially one of the pair may have to transfer or leave. It shouldn't always be the woman.
3. Think About The Repercussions
One of the first steps is to make sure that the parties involved declare the relationship. The tricky question will be at what point should that happen. One HR Manager said "I normally suggest when a relationship is established and seems to be longer term, then flag it up."
Ideally couples should be interviewed separately to make sure that there is no element of manipulation or coercion.
4. Creating "couple rules"
Many fledgling relationships go through well established patterns. Regardless of the company office romance policy the only relevant point is that it shouldn't impact the professional working atmosphere or business objectives. The relationship might be in a honeymoon phase, but that should take place outside the office. Problems frequently appear when the relationship is not working out and a negative atmosphere impacts the team dynamic. This requires rapid intervention.
It's very important that new couples are aware of the company position on relationships and potential downsides for their careers. If there is any question that one partner can leverage or influence any decisions or results, that could be perceived as being unfair. It could result in action being taken or an intervention.
5. Encourage Transparency
All the information on office relationships should be clearly outlined in the company onboarding process and conditions of service. HR or the line manager should encourage the couple to share the information with their colleagues, when a relationship becomes more serious, to avoid office gossip and trust issues. In an open team, colleagues should be given the opportunity to voice concerns.
6. Implement the Office Romance Policy
There should be no exceptions. If there are any issues around an office romance they should be addressed directly and openly. We saw this with the MacDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook who had a consensual relationship with a junior woman. He was let go for breach of contract.
We know that it is likely for relationships to develop in the workplace. It makes sense to have a clear and precise office romance policy already prepared, that deals directly with every potential scenario.
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