Is the potential office romance worth risking your good job or name? Writes Irisha Luhanga

Is the potential office romance worth risking your good job or name? Writes Irisha Luhanga

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IRISHA LUHANGA – Redefine Human Capital

First let us define what a workplace romance is: A workplace romance can be defined as some form of intimate relationship between two employees who have both expressed their romantic feelings in the form of dating or other intimate association. It is not uncommon for co-workers to date. After all, the workplace is where most people spend most of their waking hours.

There are the success stories where a couple met at work, had a great relationship, got married and lived happily ever after. However, some relationships can spell disaster for a workplace. Those include extramarital affairs and a romance between a boss and subordinate. They can disrupt the office, harm teamwork and lower morale.

Romantic relationships in the workplace are often known and easily detected by the couple’s fellow co-workers. Once it is made known that the two individuals are in a relationship, it is often difficult for their co-workers to know whether to view them as individuals or as a team. Co-workers are often confused about how to react to the news of the relationship or the breakup, which can lead to awkward interactions in the workplace as well as avoided conversation.

Conflicts of interest often arise in workplace relationships especially when the couple work in different departments. Their opinions may differ, and they may disclose private information to each other that may hurt either side when making important company decisions. Many companies have policies that do not allow married couples to work together to avoid conflicts of interest in hopes of maintaining the integrity of the company as well as protecting the couple’s relationship. However, some companies do allow married couples to work together but may provide guidelines on what is ethical and what is not.

Another type of relationship that may cause a conflict of interest is when an employee is involved with a manager or an individual in a higher position. Co-workers may feel as if the employee in the relationship is receiving special treatment, and this in turn can affect the way employees trust the management of the company.

Many employees view a romantic relationship in the workplace as a risk that is not worth taking because it may jeopardize their career. When office relationships end in a breakup, it can not only ruin the relationship between the two co-workers involved, but it can also eliminate any personal connections that the employees had with their previous partner’s department. Because the two employees will continue to see each other daily, the breakup can cause negative feelings toward the other individual as well as a reminder of one’s failure.

Along with this, businesses and companies are still confused at whether or not they should interfere in the romantic relationship. If they do choose to interfere, what department should be in control of handling the situation and what policies should be set if workplace romances do happen. If there are not policies, should there be set guidelines? These are still questions that many companies are trying to answer.

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As a business owner, you might ask: “Where is the legal issue?” or “What’s the best policy regarding workplace dating?” Some companies do nothing. This seems to be the overwhelming favorite for smaller companies or companies that are just starting to formalize employee training. Some companies ban it. This is another common method, known as an “anti-fraternization policy.” This type of “no-dating” policy is not without problems. A less restrictive policy that a lot of companies have is one preventing nepotism–prohibiting spouses or relatives from working at the same company or preventing employees from supervising related co-workers. Some companies allow office romance, with written disclosure. This is commonly known as the “Love Contract” approach. A signed document will confirm a consensual relationship and provide additional notice of understanding of the sexual harassment policy.

Even in environments where relationships are permitted in the workplace between managers and subordinates, those involved in these relationships need to maintain a professional distance while on the job. Not all relationships last forever, of course, but if and when the relationship between manager and subordinate ends, the work relationship may need to continue. That can be uncomfortable for both parties as well as for co-workers. Think of it this way, is the potential office romance really worth risking your good job or name?

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Marcia Mphahlele

Marcia Mphahlele