As Valentine’s Day approaches, one employment lawyer advises that clients should let love blossom - so long as it doesn’t distract them or others from their work.
We spend an increasing number of hours at work; United Nations figures last year revealed that a quarter of British workers spend 48 hours at work each week. It comes as no surprise that on average 30 per cent of relationships start at work. In the past, many employers have frowned on couples getting together during working hours as they feared that the distractions would result in disruption at work.
In today’s modern office, where distractions are numerous, employment law specialist, Law At Work, is suggesting that employers should keep an open mind when it comes to love in the workplace. Donald MacKinnon, director of legal services comments:
“Work is stressful enough in the current environment, so when two people find themselves attracted to each other, having a common sense approach works best.
“While some employers seek to be alerted to a relationship, most simply want the two adults involved to manage their workload and for their relationship not to affect others. However, it is the breakdown of an office romance that the majority of the employers we deal with are mostly concerned about.
Top tips for employers managing office romance
1. Keep your nose out. Your staff should already know what is expected of them. As adults, if they decide to embark on an inter-office relationship, give them the same opportunity as someone beginning a relationship outside of the workplace. If their work is deteriorating because they are love sick - then address this in the same way you would do with any poor performance.
2. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Don’t expect employees to alert you to a first date - this period is stressful enough without involving HR or the boss. If you really want to know if employees are in a relationship, let everyone know at what stage they must alert you - if at all.
3. Vertical v’s horizontal office dating. Understand the hierarchy of the relationship. Have clear guidelines as to what happens if one person in the relationship is more senior or manages the other person e.g. the manager has to move to another department.
4. Colleague counsellor. Don’t gossip or become the ‘agony aunt’. If you are alerted to an office romance, do not discuss this with the rest of your organisation. Similarly, just because you are aware of the relationship, doesn’t mean that the couple should turn to you for counselling.
5. Heartbreak hotel. Have in place procedures that you can follow should an office romance turn sour and make sure that all staff know what these are. This means that they are aware of the consequences before they make the decision to get involved.
Top tips for employees
1. Is it lust or love? Familiarity breeds positive feelings. Ask yourself - are you finding this person more attractive because you spend so much time together or could they be ‘the one’? Don’t let a little late night working closeness cloud your judgement - think about what happens once the lust dust wears off. If it’s the real thing, keep it discreet whilst you work out your feelings for each other.
2. Know the rules. Think before you jump in. Does your organisation have policies in place about workplace romances? Most will have something to say on the subject - even if it is as simple as we expect you to behave like adults and continue to undertake your work without disturbing your colleagues. Claiming that you didn’t know it wasn’t allowed will be no defence when one of you is moved or asked to leave.
3. Don’t let it affect your work. You want to shout your love from the roof tops, but keeping it under wraps and continuing to deliver your work in the usual professional manner will. If you decide to go public later, demonstrate to your peers that you are a consummate professional and gives your boss no reason to worry about your inter-office romance.
4. No PDA please. Public displays of affection might be very good for reminding your lover of your feelings for them; however, no work colleague wants to see this. It isn’t cute and it isn’t professional. Remember where you are and work hard to keep your private and work lives separate.
5. You’re the boss. Dating a sub-ordinate can be very tricky. Some might see it as you taking advantage, whilst others perceive the sub-ordinate as using cheap tricks to work up the ladder. Still convinced that they are the one for you; consider any decision you make about that person and be as transparent as possible in order to knock those rumours on the head.
6. It’s all gone wrong. We have to kiss a lot of frogs to find our prince - or so the story goes; the chances that a workplace romance can go off the boil or even turn sour are very real. Set out the ground rules in advance about what happens should you break up and then try to behave like adults and stick to the rules.
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