As more and more companies adopt more relaxed policies on office romance, the question of whether or not employees should be allowed to date each other has become increasingly relevant. According to a survey by LiveCareer, 75% of employees have had a romantic relationship with someone they work with, 76% said there is nothing wrong with dating a colleague, and 71% said there is nothing wrong with dating a manager.
However, research from SHRM finds that 77% of those who have been in a workplace romance have not disclosed the relationship to their employer. This means that employers may not be doing a good job of communicating or enforcing their policies, or the policies themselves may not be clear.
There’s a reason why most companies are struggling with this — workplace dating is an inherently complex issue. And in the wake of the #MeToo movement, employers know they need to tread carefully to ensure they don’t create an environment where people are subjected to unwanted advances from their co-workers.
The recent scandal with Boston Celtics’ head coach Ime Udoka illustrates this challenge. Although Udoka had a consensual relationship with a female staffer, it was deemed a violation of the franchise's code of conduct because the woman reported that he made unwanted comments toward her. He’s now facing a year-long suspension and significant financial penalties.
With clear communication and consistency in enforcing policies, workplace dating can be managed in a way that is beneficial for both the organization and its employees. But companies should carefully weigh the potential pros and cons of allowing office romances and implement appropriate policies to mitigate any potential issues that may arise.
In today’s article, I’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of having a more relaxed workplace dating policy, and I’ll offer some best practices for developing guidelines around this. Let's take a look.
The pros and cons of allowing office romance
We spend a significant portion of their lives at work, and it’s natural to make connections with people when you’re around them often. Allowing workers to date each other shows that you see them as real people with human needs for connection and romantic companionship.
In fact, one of the biggest pros of allowing employees to date each other is that it can create a more positive and enjoyable work environment. When employees are allowed to form romantic relationships, they may feel more comfortable and invested in their work, which can lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction.
In addition, keep in mind that for some employees, work is their passion. Their ideal partner might be someone who shares the same professional interests, and it makes sense that they’d want to form a romantic connection with a colleague in the same line of work.
Despite these benefits, there are some cons to consider when it comes to allowing employees to date each other. One of the biggest concerns is that it can lead to conflicts of interest and favoritism. When employees are dating, they may be more likely to give preferential treatment to their romantic partners, which can create tension and resentment among other employees.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for office romances to become a distraction, in which case they can detract from everyone’s productivity. It’s also important to recognize that some workers may be uncomfortable with seeing their co-workers flirting or interacting in a romantic way. And as I mentioned earlier, there a potential that some employees could be subjected to unwanted advances from their co-workers.
Lastly, keep in mind that allowing employees to date could lead to legal issues. If an employee feels that they have been mistreated or harassed because of their relationship with another employee, they may choose to file a complaint or even sue your company. And if an employee is dating a superior, they may feel pressured to comply with their superior's demands, which could be considered harassment or discrimination.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to allow employees to date each other is one that should be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the specific dynamics of each individual workplace. Some businesses may decide to have a strict "no dating" policy, while others may choose to adopt more relaxed policies. Companies should carefully weigh the pros and cons and make a decision that is in the best interest of their employees.
Key elements of a workplace dating policy
No matter what approach you take around office romance, it’s critical that you develop a clear policy to help manage potential issues that may arise. Some key elements of such a policy might include:
- Disclosure: Employees should be required to disclose any romantic relationships they are involved in with their co-workers, particularly if one party is a manager or supervisor of the other.
- Conflicts of interest: The policy should address how conflicts of interest will be handled, such as reassigning one party to a different team or department.
- Harassment and discrimination: The policy should make it clear that any form of harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated and that employees who engage in such behavior will be subject to disciplinary action.
- Retaliation: The policy should emphasize that employees will not be retaliated against for reporting or disclosing a romantic relationship.
- Training: Employees should be provided with training on the policy and how to handle potential issues that may arise from workplace romances.
- Consistency: The policy should be enforced consistently across the organization.
- Flexibility: The policy should be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. For example, the company should have the ability to adjust or add to the policy as the need arises.
It’s also important for employers to communicate their policy to employees, and to have a reporting mechanism in place for workers who have concerns or complaints.
Finding the right balance
Allowing employees to date can create a more enjoyable work environment, but it also can lead to conflicts of interest. Companies who are approaching this the right way are considering all sides of the issue, then creating a policy that fits with their company culture and business needs. By having clear and consistent guidelines in place, employers can successfully navigate some of the challenges while still allowing employees the freedom to form romantic connections with their colleagues.