A Company’s Guide to Handling Office Romance

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Office life means spending the majority of our time with the same people, week in week out. With all this time to chat and get to know your colleagues, it comes as no surprise to see that office romance has become commonplace in the modern workplace. According to our research, over two-thirds (68%) of people have been involved in an office romance. While being surrounded by office furniture may not scream romance, whether it’s just a kiss or a long-term relationship, most of us have been romantically involved with a colleague at some stage of our lives.

A relationship in the office can be complicated. There can be anxiety over what people may think or uncertainty over how is best to behave in the office. We questioned 2,000 UK workers about their experience of office relationships and how this affected them at work. The results offer guidance for HR teams on how best to handle office romance.

Creating an Open Discussion

For many workplaces, the daily grind of sitting behind a computer can leave us longing for something exciting to talk about. It means that when something like an office romance emerges, it tends to be the topic of conversation in all corners of the office. 42% of people said the worst thing about having a relationship with a colleague was being the subject of office gossip.

As a result, many just take the easier option and don’t tell anyone. 59% of those who have had a relationship with a colleague said they hid it from people in the office, with one-third (33%) choosing to keep it from HR. Nearly one-in-five kept it a complete secret or only told close friends, showing that discussing an office romance can be a daunting task. An office romance can raise issues around morale, favouritism, poor time management, or even sexual harassment, so it’s important management and HR are aware.

To encourage more employees to come forward about their personal relationships, create an environment where they feel relaxed enough to discuss their office romance. Providing training for managers on how to handle the subject will mean teams will be comfortable talking openly and getting advice from senior staff. Regular communication on the subject will make an office romance seem more normal, stopping it from becoming a topic for gossip.

Communicating a Romance Policy

A policy on relationships in the office can be as simple as making it clear on the rules around behaviour at work. How people conduct themselves in the office can affect those around them, even if it’s simply using printer paper to send love notes. On a more serious scale, romance policies can be instrumental in shielding businesses from hostile lawsuits. With this in mind, more businesses should be introducing a policy of their own, as our study highlighted that 36% of people are unaware of their employer’s policy regarding office romance and a further 31% said their employer doesn’t have one.

Making company policies on romance and relationships will minimise the effect they have on office life. Our study questioned people on their experience of having a relationship in the office which threw up the following results:

  • Decreases productivity and creativity – 37%
  • Increases stress – 22%
  • Is distracting – 26%

If employees are clear on what’s acceptable behaviour in the office and understand the rules regarding relationships – it will reduce negatives such as lack of productivity and getting distracted. It’s down to your discretion on what you want your policy to be, but you can implement rules that you believe will best benefit your business. It will also stop their relationship from affecting those around them.

It’s important you set out the rules. If left to employee’s judgement it can create divided opinions and lead to disputes. An extreme highlighted by our research shows disagreement over whether it’s acceptable to have sex in the office. 40% of people say it’s ok – but over half (57%) say it’s unacceptable, with 21% believing it to be unprofessional. Without clear policies, this kind of disagreement could lead to an unfriendly atmosphere.

Introducing an Equal Opportunities Policy

15% of people who said they have had a relationship with a colleague said it was their manager who they dated. This can throw up other issues, making a romance policy all the more important. When two people of different seniority are together it can lead to problems regarding favouritism. If other colleagues suspect favouritism, they are less likely to work as hard, or they could file a hostile work environment lawsuit. Introducing an equal opportunities policy will outline your commitment to fairness. The guidelines will ensure all employees conform to these guidelines and know how to handle situations where the policy is in question.

This, coupled with the romance policy, also covers the sensitive issue of sexual harassment. The equal opportunities policy is set out to eliminate discrimination and this covers any form of harassment. In extreme cases, office romance could lead to suggestive comments, unwelcome verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or unwelcome sexual advances. It’s important to have policies, rules, and guidelines to refer to should this occur in the office.

Office Romance on the Rise

74% of 24-35-year olds say they have had an office romance, compared to 62% of over 55s, showing that these types of occurrences are becoming more common in the workplace. This makes it increasingly important for companies and their HR departments to adapt their approach to office romance in order to take care of employee wellbeing and the best interests of the business.

Office ‘hook-ups’ are also on the rise. 29% of 24-35-year olds also said they have had a one-night stand with a colleague, compared to 13% of over 55s, and over one-in-ten (12%) people have cheated or had an affair with someone at work. These situations can lead to awkwardness and fallouts which will cause disruptions, outlining why training for management and harbouring an environment where people are comfortable talking openly is so important.

Communication and guidance are the two key focuses for companies and their HR departments. Office romance has a commonplace in many modern workplaces and being able to handle this fairly and clearly will help reduce the negatives and turn them to positives.

If you have any thoughts or stories of office romance, share them with us on our Twitter at @viking_chat.