It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and no matter how much we want to deny it, that day exists in the workplace as well as everywhere else. It turns out that something we all suspected and observed is actually true: lots of romance happens at work – and many of those romances end in permanent relationships and marriages. According to a recent survey by careerbuilder.com, 40% of those surveyed have dated a co-worker, and one third went on to marry that person. So, my guess is that the combination of work and romance is likely here to stay. It also means that the office gossip, accusations of favoritism and allegations of sexual harassment (especially for the 2/3 of those relationships that don’t last) are also here to stay. What’s an employer to do?
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do. A few of the most important things are:
- Provide management and staff with sexual harassment training and give them copies of your policy (you have one, right?); talk specifically about how it applies to workplace romances. Consider developing a policy about dating in the workplace.
- Be clear: your harassment or dating policy should forbid relationships between supervisors and their subordinates. If you work with youth or students, make sure the policy absolutely forbids relationships between them and employees.
- If a relationship develops between co-workers who work together, address it as soon as you become aware of it. Meet with the couple, clarify behavior expectations, and move one or both to other work units if at all possible (be sure to talk with them about who will move, and be sure your policy speaks to this).
- Don’t allow romantic expression (romantic hugs, kisses, whispered sweet nothings…) in the workplace, even between spouses. It’s simply not appropriate.
- Reinforce that “no” means “no.” It means one request for a date or phone number is ok, but if the answer is “no,” there must be no second request, no pursuit of friends to get information about the person, no comments on Facebook.
Obviously, romances at work can be exciting, fun and…well…romantic! They can also be dangerous and expensive pitfalls waiting for the unprepared employer. So, be clear and be prepared – and Happy Valentines Day! ~DS