Friday, May 16, 2014

Love Stinks- Workplace Romance

Q:  Dear Workplace Wonda, there is a couple in my office who are dating and the way they are behaving is starting to make me feel uncomfortable.  For one thing, they are openly affectionate and more than once I’ve caught them canoodling in the office.  In addition, one of the employees sticks around after closing just to hang out with the other employee who is scheduled to work later.  Is this appropriate for the workplace?  What are the ramifications if the relationship sours? 

Signed, Love Stinks

Say NO to Canoodling in the Workplace!
A:  Dear Love Stinks,

Workplace Wonda has a little experience in   this area.  I met Mr. Workplace Wonda “in the workplace;” therefore, you could say I’m the unofficial Poster Child for workplace romance.   It would be incredibly hypocritical of me to say office romance should be forbidden.  More to the point, it would be nearly impossible to prohibit office romance.  This would be like keeping Justin Beiber out of the news. It just isn't going to happen.

As long as individuals work in close proximity of one another -  for at least 40 hours a week, sharing similar ideas, experiences, and complaints - office romances will bloom.  Consequently, dealing with issues such as this is nothing new.  Thirty years ago, most companies had some policy about not dating co-workers.  Typically, it would be the woman who would have to leave the company if the policy was violated. 

Today, more companies allow relationships within the workplace as long as the individuals involved don’t report to one another.  Most companies agree that allowing a supervisor to date a subordinate under their chain of command is just plain dumb.  Allowing this will increase the threat of sexual harassment, favoritism, and/or conflict of interest complaints.

You mention a couple of the risks in your question above, such as loss of productivity, lack of professionalism, and the ramifications of a break-up.  It is the employer and supervisor’s responsibility to address a relationship if it’s impacting work and others.  According to Lynda Reeves of Added Value Resumes, “As a manager, your role is not to squash relationships or pass judgment.  It is, plain and simple, to support all staff equally.  Support entails ensuring that those in a romance, marriage, or breakup are being as professional as possible and are not behaving in a manner that adversely affects productivity and teamwork.”

If a supervisor suspects a relationship among co-workers, providing it is not just a rumor, he or she should explain to both individuals the importance of keeping the personal aspect of their relationship separate from the workplace.  If the love and passion between the two is too much for them to handle and their performance is slipping, a transfer or dismissal could be considered.

The biggest problem office romances cause for employers is the possibility of a sexual harassment complaint if the relationship goes bad.  One employee may continue to pursue the other employee who then complains of harassment.  This is why some companies implement love contracts, whereas both employees sign a contract that they wish to mutually enter into a consensual social relationship.  They also both agree that they will not allow a breakup to negatively impact the performance of their duties. 

Policies on personal relationships at work, romantic or otherwise, can help to avoid some of the negative consequences that might grow.  Provisions could include: 

A.  Behavior at work, i.e. public displays of affection during working hours or on company premises are prohibited.

B.  A requirement to disclose the relationship and sign a “love contract”, etc.

In reference to your question; no, it is not appropriate for the two employees to be canoodling in the workplace or distracting the other from his or her work.  No one wants to walk into a Marvin Gaye moment, particularly when you are the third party!

I recommend talking with the individual’s supervisor.  Explain to him or her your concerns and the fact that the couples’ public canoodling is making you feel uncomfortable.  I’m sure the supervisor can water them down with a cool talking to.

Signed, Workplace Wonda

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