Love is in the office air

Love is in the office air – should your business care about office romances?

Office romances and office relationships may be inevitable, but companies need to plan ahead to make sure that employees and the office environment are protected 

Navigating office romance can be challenging. Relationships and romantic entanglements between senior executives and junior staff can introduce unexpected complexities, while inter-office marriages and affairs can introduce toxicity into the working environment. As Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit warns, this is a tricky area and often the complications that come with romance in the office are only obvious when it’s too late to fix the damage they’ve caused.

“It makes sense that people fall in love at work,” he says. “You’re at the office, with the same people, for nearly 70% of your week. These are the people you connect with, talk to, go for drinks with, and who understand what you’re dealing with on a daily basis. As environments well-suited to creating romance go, this is definitely one of the most potent. But, you have to be careful because the office is also a space where romance can turn bad.”

There are several scenarios that immediately spring to mind when thinking about toxicity in the office romance. What if the couple is married and the wife is jealous of her husband’s assistant (or vice versa)? Or what if a senior executive starts a relationship with a junior employee? Other employees may feel that the partners of these senior executives are receiving special treatment or more of an opportunity for advancement, and this may lead to them to treat that person differently and create a toxic environment. The reverse is also very often true – the junior dating the boss does get further, faster, and this in itself is a sign of a poor working atmosphere.

Managing romance without controlling people

“The problem is, employees who are not in a relationship will feel that their hands are tied, that they can’t say or do anything when the couple behave badly or show clear favouritism,” says Myburgh. “People take advantage of situations when things bend in their favour, it’s human nature, but in the office it can cause the entire atmosphere to implode. This means that the business needs to pay attention and find clever ways of managing romance without controlling people.”

The office will always be a space where love is ignited, but businesses can minimise the risks by putting procedures and policies in place that are built on a framework of mutual respect. These rules should be clearly communicated, and often, to not only engender a culture of respect but to ensure that no office spark is turned into a case of sexual harassment.

“The best way to manage this is to adhere to best practice, to keep an eye on situations within the business, and to constantly refine policies to ensure that they respect both individuals and the business alike,” says Myburgh. “Always communicate the rules of romantic engagement clearly, and step in to address conflict and poor behaviour as soon as it becomes apparent. Leaving things to ‘sort themselves out’ can result in the situation becoming far worse and far more complicated.”

To avoid employees feeling that the business is trying to control their relationship, or to avoid the feeling that a relationship is inserting itself into the cracks of the company culture, it’s essential that the business be as transparent as possible. Transparency is key to catching problems early and reducing the risk of complicated situations or bad behaviours.

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