Don’t expect employees to know by osmosis that management frown on romance in the workplace and don’t think that people will ever anticipate that things may go pear shaped in future when they are enjoying the thrills of a new relationship. When like minded people work together for 8 hours a day, if you have a great culture where people have fun, they like coming to work, they feel safe to be themselves and trust each other, it is a natural progression for personal relationships to blossom.

Every situation is of course different, relationships can be very unpredictable. This article explores when relationships turn sour and make a workplace toxic. There can be a massive fallout from a workplace romance that’s gone wrong. Its arguable whether things like this can be avoided completely or even managed. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate against having situations that are very messy.

How bad a split becomes depends on several things, the situation surrounding the parting, how amicable the couple are, the roles that they have, colleagues around them and the part they play and the policies and procedures in place in the company.

Employees of a similar/equal role tend to be easier to resolve. However, where one of the couple is the manager of the other there are additional implications and if the relationship is between two directors or senior partners in an organisation there could be far reaching consequences.

Prevent, Train and Document

There are measures that you can put in place in your company to prevent issues arising and that protect your organisation from possible future harassment claims.

Have a clear policy regarding relationships in the workplace for example documenting that you cannot directly report to a partner. If you currently don’t have one, consider getting HR to create one and consider your unique individual company circumstances. What scenario could be a complete disaster for you? Provide support for your people and policies with follow up training.  

You should be explicit and not assume that everyone will know and naturally have professional standards, when it comes to relationships sensibility can go out the window. Be clear this is a place of work and you expect people to be professional. Be clear in your training that as a manager you need impartiality in decisions on pay, promotion and performance appraisal and there is an obvious conflict of interest to be in a relationship with a subordinate. It can be distracting and cause resentment and hostility from other employees and therefore it should be declared and will result in a change of reporting lines for one of the partners. There is nothing unlawful about a consensual relationship, however a fall out can create a power imbalance and have wide implications. Transferring one party to another department or location may not be an amicable solution and may lead to claims of one party being unfairly treated for promotion or pay prospects. It is essential that you have your company policy documented, available to everyone and used as the foundation for training in your company.

So, what happens when you have a relationship breakdown in your company? What options do you have? Is it necessary to speak to the people concerned and who is the best person to do this?

Sometimes all that is needed is a bit of space. It may be that the each party can manage a ‘good morning’ to each other and eventually any resentment starts to disappear. However, in other situations it can be like continually walking on egg shells, egos are hurt, the office gets sucked into ‘who is right, who is wrong’ and taking sides can literally bring a company to its knees.

It may be necessary for an intervention where a third party talks through rationally how a split will work during office hours. It may be that avoiding working together on the same project for a while is enough for things to blow over. It can take a while for couples to find a middle ground in any separation especially if there is a home, finances and perhaps children to also causing friction in the background.

You can imagine the company fall out when it is senior staff, perhaps two directors that split. It may take months of mediation and counselling to find a middle ground if any. Every year there are numerous high-profile case studies. Many people do not have the emotional agility to move on, even with serious effort some things can’t be fixed, they may not be able to work with objectivity going forward and there is a massive disruption to harmony and productivity. The preventative steps you have taken with your company policies and the diligence with which you have documented meetings and actions is what saves you time, money and emotional impact of unfair dismissal or sexual harassment claim.

We can match you with an HR partner who can provide you with the expertise in this area.

Author: Love Your Employees

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