As workers come together day after day, the development of romantic relationships is common, reports the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. What, if anything, to do about these interoffice romances -- which may ultimately fail -- is a common source of concern for business leaders who want to protect the carefully fostered harmony of the workplace. If you are concerned about the potential impact of an interoffice relationship, there are a number of different types of workplace romance policies you can implement.
The most no-nonsense approach to handling workplace romance is establishing an anti-fraternization policy. Policies of this type, which strictly prohibit dating among co-workers, may seem the most logical option, but they are complicated to create and enforce. As Chas Rampenthal cautions in an Inc. article, to write an effective anti-fraternization policy you must be specific as to what type of behavior you are prohibiting and you must clearly outline the consequences for failing to abide by the policy. In addition, you must unilaterally enforce the policy for it to have legs. If you are wishy-washy in your enforcement, you might as well not have a policy.
Generally, an employee dating another employee on his same level isn’t a big deal. Complications arise when people start dating their subordinates. If a supervisor is dating someone over whom he has authority, allegations of favoritism can run rampant. To prevent this, you can establish a policy that prohibits cross-level dating. If you elect to implement a policy of this type, you must make it clear what behavior you are prohibiting and what you will do if the policy is violated, just as you would have were you composing a more far-reaching anti-fraternization policy.
Instead of attempting to prevent potentially unavoidable office love affairs, consider making it a policy that all individuals engaged in office romances must sign a "love contract." A love contract policy requires only that the individuals engaged in the office relationship both sign a document stating that the relationship is consensual and that neither party is in violation of sexual harassment laws. By having workers sign a contract of this type, you can outline rules of conduct, such as no public displays of affection, or PDA, or disputes in the workplace should the love affair sour.
A workplace romance policy is by no means a requisite part of the employee handbook. There is some merit to following the suggestion of Mark Kluger, chairperson of the labor and employment practice at Mandelbaum Salsburg. Kluger warns his clients against establishing a policy of this type, citing the fact that workplace romance policies are largely unenforceable and that the existence of a policy of this type could unintentionally create a Romeo and Juliet scenario in which workers feel more compelled to engage in romance simply because it is verboten. Before you dedicate man- and brain-power to penning your policy, at least consider this alternative.
- Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc.
- Bloomberg Business Week: How Employers Should Handle Workplace Romance
- University of Rhode Island: Workplace Romance and Fraternization Policies
- Forbes: Would You Sign a Love Contract with Your Employer?
- New York Times: Office Romance: Would You Sign a Contract to Date a Colleague?
- Inc.: Is Workplace Dating Really Off Limits?
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images