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Office Romance – It Happens
November 14, 2023

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Office Romance – The Real

An often-discussed subject, office romance, continues to stir up interest for all the right reasons. There was a period of time when office romances were not acceptable. America was coming to terms with power dynamics and too many illicit behaviors by senior executives coercing direct reports into inappropriate situations. For sure that happened and we’ve read a lot of national headlines describing this despicable behavior. We watched major companies settle lawsuits and have their reputations ruined for looking the other way. We understand that it’s a mine field and why many companies reacted by forbidding any relationships among their employees.  But while such policies reduce liability, they don’t override human nature  

Let’s face it. Relationships happen. People are people. Forcing them into hiding by a standard that won’t be maintained isn’t the answer either.  

It’s a tricky line to walk. When is a relationship worthy of disclosure to HR (or its equivalent)? What about the privacy of your people acting outside of the office? Is it ok for a manager to date a direct report if both parties are consensual? What defines consent?  

A Deeper Dive

We don’t have the answers to all these important questions, nor do we profess to know all the questions to ask. That is up to you and your company to decide.  

We only suggest the following:  

Cleary state rules of romance that are not to be crossed and who the responsible party will be if those rules are crossed. Examples:  

  1. A manager and a direct report. A Team Leader and a team member. There should not be a romance between these people. Should one happen, and they do, it will be the responsibility of the person in charge to disclose the relationship and arrange for their move from the group or another assignment acceptable to the less senior employee. 
  2. An executive and a member of the staff. This should not be permitted.  
  3. An executive and and an individual who does not fall under their “chain of command”? Say someone who is from another division, another office building? Well, that’s probably ok. But it must be disclosed immediately and put into the files, privately, by both parties.  
  4. A C-Level Executive or Board Member and anyone in the company. Absolutely not permitted. 

Be Consistent

Have a consistent policy.  This can’t be addressed on a case-by-case basis, which is a litigator’s dream. 

The point is to protect the company, the company’s promotion and assignment independence, and to ensure that a relationship does not bring conflict into an otherwise productive department, team or division.  

Treat your people like adults. Give them the option (and policy support) to protect their privacy and the company too. 

In The End It’s Your Call – Be an Adult

Whatever you decide, make certain that the announcement is crystal clear. Make sure that policy changes are clear and universally distributed. Make sure that all of your employees sign a document that includes these policies and changes. And don’t just stuff them into the employee handbook or as part of their employment agreement.   

Yes, a discussion should be part of the onboarding. But this same discussion should be had by all managers and team leaders with their employees.  

Motivated people will regulate themselves.  They likely won’t need to be tested on office romance policies. But you still need policies.

You don’t want people hiding things in the office and you really don’t want your office to become a college style free-for-all either. 

 

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