Resource Actions: It's time to talk about office romance
Editor's note: Welcome to Resource Actions, our occasional, back-and-forth column covering everything from the bizarre to the day-to-day that, despite everything, impacts HR departments. Please feel free to send all tips, thoughts and boxes of chocolate to [email protected] and [email protected].
Kathryn Moody: It’s February, meaning we are being inundated with articles and studies on office romance. Of which there are a lot. Which I find curious.
Did you know office romance has hit a ten-year-low, apparently?
Ryan Golden: Hm. Can’t imagine why.
Kathryn Moody: #MeToo is pouring cold water on the fires of office love, according to many of these studies, which I find even more curious than the studies themselves because I think we all agreed in the court of human resources that harassment is not romantic.
But drilling down further, any number of things could freeze budding love at work — be it concern about misunderstandings or fear over what an organization may do when romance is discovered.
Ryan Golden: What makes the situation all the more difficult is the range of close relationships found in the workplace. For example, there is an Office Pulse survey conducted last year which determined that 70% of employees have a “work spouse.” That’s defined as a co-worker — generally of equal rank but in some cases a supervisor or manager — with whom an employee regularly communicates and confides.
The term isn’t necessarily scandalous. Only 7% of the respondents admitted to having “definitely crossed the line” with their work spouse. Most respondents in the survey described their relationship with their work spouse as cordial, positively contributing to their happiness at work.
Kathryn Moody: There’s an easy solution here for both sides that will both protect workers and allow people to be people: Make a policy. Stick to it.
I know “common sense” is a really popular axiom right now, and obviously it should be your guiding hand in creating the office romance rulebook. But if the rise of the silence breakers has shown anything, it's that the understanding of what behavior is okay may vary wildly among your constituency. Banning romance doesn’t work, and will simply create headaches for already troubled HR people.
So here are some easy-to-follow guidelines.
Have a serious, no-tolerance harassment policy in place.
Consider where you want to draw your hard line on office romance, because you will need one. Some suggest manager/employee relationships are out of the question. Others say that can be fine, so long as there isn’t a clear conflict of interest — in which case, the relationship must be disclosed.
- Make it clear that you expect personal and professional lives to be separate. Some companies opt for “love contracts” that make this explicit, but that can get weird fast. We’re not your lawyer, but we don’t recommend it.
Ryan Golden: Additionally, you might consider a simple baseline, just as Facebook and Google have. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled the two tech companies’ similar approach. The gist: you only get one chance to ask out a co-worker, and if the answer is "no," you don’t get a do-over.
There’s a middle-of-the-road approach here, so to speak. But really, so long as your HR process isn’t as disorganized (or worse) than the one on display in the following clip, we don’t think you’ll have much to worry about.
Turns out there really is an episode of “The Office” for every HR topic.
Kathryn Moody: The rules should feel like what you would have been following all along — respect and a bit of decorum. Employees still worried that simply talking to coworkers will result in a harassment claim? Maybe tell them about The Rock Test: speak to any coworker as you would Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.