It is not difficult to comprehend the reasoning behind why romantic relationships develop at work. The workplace is where people can find like-minded coworkers who share the same interests, backgrounds, attitudes, and goals, and if the relationship aligns, those colleagues can evolve into partners.

Barack and Michelle Obama met when she was his supervisor at a law firm they had worked at together. That relationship worked out. However, not all office romances do. 

How should employers handle the situation of office romances in the workplace?

The opinions around office romances

Managers are typically reluctant of office romances as they fear the potential adverse outcomes that may take place surrounding coworker impressions as well as overall organizational affairs. Findings reveal that “an estimated 40% of managers hold negative perceptions towards employee dating.”

Contrastingly, in a 2017 study conducted by Amy Salvaggio, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa, 200 full-time employees in multiple workplaces indicated that they did not care to see a romance unfold between two unmarried colleagues.

In spite of the unfavourable opinions regarding office romances, romantic relationships in the workplace still transpire. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Vault on behalf of XpertHR, more than half of people (57%) admit to being involved in a workplace romance.

Setting the ground rules for office romances

However, for the safety and protection of all those involved, clear and distinct rules must be put in place and properly communicated. Those involved must document the relationship, even if doing so is ‘embarrassing’ or ‘un-romantic.’ 

So should employers ban romantic relationships in the workplace?

The short answer is no. There is no positive outcome for thinking that workplace relationships should be disallowed.

Regardless, if individuals wish to participate in a relationship, even if they are banned or deemed taboo, they will. They will simply hide that they are romantically involved from their employer.  

The conduct itself will not change, but how it is dealt with will. As Stuart Rudner of Canadian HR Law states, “there is no legal basis upon which an employer can impose a rule, across the board, to control interpersonal relationships.”

If a company does attempt to enforce such a policy, it will only cause employees to be resentful and skeptical of management. 

It is up to the organization to trust that their employees can minimize the disruptive impacts of such relationships at work. According to Rudner:

“The most helpful too…is to create and implement an effective workplace policy to address relationships and the issues that can arise. This may not necessarily need to be specific to workplace romantic relationships, but should certainly be in place to address conflicts of interest. Employees should be required to disclose potential conflicts, including romantic relationships.” 

What’s love got to do with it? 

Office relationships are dynamic and come in many forms, including romantic relationships.

In many instances, a romantic relationship between workers should not be a concern. If it does not evoke a conflict of interest, and both individuals are still productive, it should not be an issue. Giving workers the benefit of the doubt to be mature in handling their personal lives is the best practice when approaching these interpersonal relationships. 

Ultimately, if individuals wish to be together, they will be. Enforcing strict policies that will no doubt end up decreasing employee morale can be incredibly detrimental. Creating an open and honest dialogue with employees creates a far more productive and respectful work environment.

Download our ebook “How to Manage Interpersonal Relationships in the Workplace” for in-depth insight on managing these dynamics to ensure a positive and productive workplace for your people.

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