By Richard Lawrence-Allen
Valentine’s Day has snuck up on us once again and the shops have rapidly filled themselves with their standard Valentine’s fare. There are long stem red roses, greetings cards emblazoned with sickly sweet rhyming couplets, and numerous heart-shaped goodies, treats and balloons lining every wall.
Valentine’s Day never fails to be a divisive celebration. Some happy couples adore the excuse to celebrate and show off their love to the world, while other couples lambast the expectations placed upon the day and the commercialism that they bring with them. Many singletons use Valentine’s Day as the perfect opportunity to make their amorous intentions known to a long-admired secret crush, while others shrink at the thought that this holiday brings unwanted attention to their otherwise comfortable singleness. However, whatever your views on Valentine’s Day as a tradition may be, it is safe to say that love is most certainly in the air at this time of year. With this in mind, now is the opportune moment to have a little look at romance in an office environment.
While the popularity of dating apps and websites may seem to be increasing exponentially in the digital age, it is still estimated that around 15% of couples meet at their workplace, compared to just around 8% who meet online. This is hardly surprising of course; the workplace is typically where we spend more waking hours than anywhere else and provides a convenient and easy way to meet a range of new people. Nevertheless, nurturing a romance within an office environment can create complications, for both the happy couple and for the company itself.
Some companies have strict policies prohibiting romantic entanglement between employees. However, this can damage morale in the workforce and is likely to result in romantic relationships evolving in secret, despite any imposed ban from management. Here at RSVP, we have seen many happy and healthy relationships blossom between staff members over the years and do not discourage budding couples. Still, there are several important issues that must be addressed in this area.
Firstly, it is important to have a clear and defined sexual discrimination and harassment policy in place that can be universally enforced. As in all areas, any flirtatious or amorous behaviour must be preceded by the full consent of both parties. If a complaint is made against an employee regarding unwanted verbal or physical sexual conduct, this matter should be thoroughly investigated and dealt with speedily according to the sexual harassment policy in place. It is important that this policy can be applied to all staff members equally, regardless of gender, religion, sexual orientation or position within the company.
If two members of staff do engage in a consenting romantic relationship, it is important that whilst in the office, that they maintain professional at all times. Having a partner working with you can often be distracting. Nonetheless, it is vital that office couples do not let their relationships interfere with the speed or quality of their work. Whether a couple are struggling to keep from showing their physical affection for each other, or are in the midst of an on-going argument, it is important to remind staff that they should be pressing pause on these matters whilst in the office and reinforce their professional boundaries.
Working with your partner can be difficult. Not only can working with your partner create complications and distractions from your work, but it can put a strain on the relationship itself. Just as personal problems should be kept from interfering with workplace concerns, work issues should be kept out of the home as well. This can be difficult, so it is always best to define boundaries regarding work problems with your significant other early on in the relationship. The time the two of you have together should be reserved for each, not for your office.
Equally, spending all day with a partner at work, followed by all evening with them at home, can sometimes feel suffocating. Therefore, it is important to make the effort to spend time apart as well as together. Spending time with other colleagues and friends and taking separate breaks during the day will allow you to appreciate the time you have together that little bit more.
Dating a colleague can be complicated at the best of times, but dating one of your subordinates can create added complications on top of this. For example, dating outside your seniority level can open a manager up to accusations of favouritism in the workplace. To combat this, several options can be considered. It is important in these situations that the couple is able to define their relationship as early as possible, and make sure not to let their workplace positions influence their standing within that relationship. While one partner may hold seniority at work, and this should be observed as with any other staff member, in matters regarding their romantic lives, equality must be maintained.
Furthermore, the Human Resources Department of the company should be made aware of the relationship as soon as possible, particularly if the more senior member of staff is a direct superior to their partner. It is vital that the couple go to HR together as a couple and as equals. HR staff should ensure that the subordinate member of staff is able to communicate if they feel any pressure to maintain a romantic relationship with their superior and reassure them that the sexual harassment policy is in place to protect them if they feel that this is the case.
Even when it is established that the relationship is fully consensual, HR will still need to intervene in any disciplinary matters that may arise against the subordinate member of the couple and redirect them to a suitable alternative manager. Workplace disciplinary problems between couples in different places from within the company hierarchy creates an obvious conflict of interest, so removing this as a possibility prevents accusations of leniency or even of over-compensatory severity against the senior couple member.
Finally, should a workplace romance come to an end, depending on how amicable the split may have been, lasting damage to a working relationship between pairs may occur. If two members of staff become unable to work together following a breakdown of their romantic ties, company mediation by the HR department may be needed to ensure the wellbeing of said staff members and those around them. If mediation does not work, or is not possible, and a functioning workplace relationship between the two staff members in question cannot be established, more drastic measures may need to be implemented. Keeping the two staff members apart and arranging for one to transfer to another position within the company, requiring that the two no longer work directly together may be the only option left in the most extreme of examples.
There are many peaks within an office romance, but there are many pitfalls that may appear as well. If you are embarking on a new relationship with a colleague, it is vital to ask yourself if the relationship will truly be worth the issues that may arise, or if it would be better to avoid these potential situations altogether. That said, office romance can be a beautiful thing and can all work out happily ever after as well, so if love really is in the air between the two of you, sometimes the risks are all worthwhile.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!