Most Americans spend a minimum of 40 hours a week at work. We are encouraged to work in teams and on project groups and therefore are thrown together with members of the opposite sex. We get to know each other on a personal level and very often romance starts. It’s bound to happen in this type of environment but problems come when romance starts.
First, forget thinking you are keeping your relationship a secret. Even if you don’t tell anyone, your co-workers will figure it out. I am reminded of the tv show, the Mentalist, where he observes body language, the sly looks, the invasion of personal space, etc. The more you try to hide it, the more obvious it becomes; so, don’t be surprised when you find out everyone already knows. I know a couple who were married and working for a major airline. They couldn’t announce it until they both retired.
So, as a company, should you have a non-fraternization policy? Most companies have figured out that you can’t regulate love in the office. After all, Bill Gates met his wife at work. If you want to have a policy, have it pertain to supervisor/employee relationships. Of course, the reason employers get nervous about office romances is the relationship may go south and the employer ends up with a harassment charge.
What happens when two people fall in love and work together? If this is your situation and you supervise your partner, my best advice is to go to management, advise them and change the supervisory relationship. As management, if the couple doesn’t come to you and you are hearing rumors, you should call in the supervisor and hit it head on.
If there is no place to move one of the employees, let the couple decide who stays and who leaves the company.
The “bad” is when one or both of the parties is married. A few years ago I was HR Director for a high tech company that shall remain nameless. I had a team of 20 covering all aspects of HR, recruiting, employee relations, benefits, compensation, etc. I had a situation in the group of a single recruiting manager having an affair with a married manager, also under my supervision. The married manager was having performance problems and was not fulfilling her improvement plan. We were at the point of termination. The recruiting manager became angry over his lover’s termination and he transferred out of my group; so, I lost two employees instead of just one. Two others in the group were having affairs with married VP’s and they were privy to company information before I was. They were invited to VIP parties. At one point, the CEO came into my office and asked me what was going on with all the “unhealthy” relationships in my department (like I was responsible?) I asked him why he didn’t tell all his VP’s to keep their pants zipped. He turned on his heel and walked out at that point. It’s difficult to supervise a group when things like that are going on. Eventually one VP ended the relationship and another actually divorced and then married his lover. Rather than attack the “love situation” and make them think you are jealous, deal with the behavior, i.e. taking too much time at lunch or having too many closed door meetings that aren’t related to the tasks at hand. Good luck with that.
The ugly is the sexual harassment that sometimes happens when people work together. Sometimes it’s nasty, obvious and degrading, and when reported should be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Make sure you train your employees on reporting these incidents and have a strong policy.
There is less obvious harassment when employees don’t even realize they are offending people. This happens at all levels and still amazes me that these things go on even after all the news and publicity of offenders that lose their reputations, marriage and careers, like General Petraeus, most recently. In a previous company I had to counsel the VP of HR (I was Director, reporting to him). He was “just joking” and thought it was ok because “it was just us”. We had a temporary who had just broken up with her boyfriend asked what it was like to now have sex with someone different. One day he talked about who in our department would look good in a bikini. And no, I wasn’t on the approved list! No one spoke up so he thought it was ok but employees came to me and let me know they were offended; so, of course, I had to speak to him about it. He was astounded and he did apologize to them but it was not a comfortable situation for me.
Sex and other harassment is a huge subject and we only touched on it here. Make sure you have a clear policy, do your training and make sure you take every complaint seriously. If your company needs training or help developing policy, contact me or forward this to your manager: It’s free to talk!