How do I express my feelings, in the era of #metoo?

It’s Valentine’s Day! With love in the air, you may notice a colleague or two walking with a spring in their step, heart filled with the joy of a flourishing office romance. 

We spend 71% of our waking hours at work per week, so it’s no wonder that cupid’s arrow has been responsible for 22% of relationships beginning in the workplace.

But what happens if Cupid misfired? What happens when the relationship or office love affair breaks down?

The line between love and hate is a hair’s breadth, therefore when workplace relationships turn sour, there is a heightened risk of bullying or unfavourable treatment by one party over the other – particularly if one is more senior or the line manager of the other – as well as ongoing sexual harassment, if “no” isn’t taken for an answer. As a result, employees and employers become embroiled in some of the messiest of grievances investigations with HR firefighting the fury.

With this in mind and in the post #MeToo era, organisations are introducing relationship policies to protect themselves and their people from incidences of sexual harassment and bullying.

Relationship policies can vary, however – in severity and effectiveness.

Some organisations opt for an outright ban on office love. Take McDonald’s, for example. In November 2019, McDonald’s fired their chief executive Steve Easterbrook for “violating company policy” after he had a consensual relationship with an employee. McDonald’s said it had longstanding rules against conflicts of interest and Easterbrook had shown “poor judgment” in entering into the relationship.

Forbidding relationships risks driving them underground; exacerbating the consequences of when hearts are broken (we all know what happened to Romeo and Juliet), encouraging a culture of secrecy and harbouring feelings of resentment among employees.

While banning workplace relationships may be the more heavy-handed approach, other organisations’ policies require disclosure of the relationship in order to mitigate confidentiality issues and avoid conflicts of interest. For example, if an employee enters into a relationship with their line manager there is the potential for (or a perception of) favouritism in performance reviews and promotion. In which case, the couple would be required to work in different departments, under different line managers.

However, demands for disclosure can be problematic – particularly for same-sex couples who may not wish to reveal their sexual orientation as well as the relationship. And at what point do you even disclose the relationship? After the first date or on collecting the keys to your new home?

So, do Relationships at Work policies, well…work?  The key to managing office romance is to find harmony between the rights of employees to a private life and the interests of the business.

As with all matters of the heart, relationships at work are complicated. But they needn’t be fraught with drama; there are steps that organisations can take to protect all of your people, in all relationships and at all times of year – not just for Valentine’s Day.

 

Contact me directly by emailing lisa@telljane.co.uk to see how we at Tell Jane can help. And I’d love to hear how you manage relationships at work and if you have a policy in place so feel free to comment below.

 

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