And do you need one?

Watch out, Cupid’s about. Yup, it’s that love-filled time of year again – Valentine’s Day! And when it comes to the workplace, love appears to be very much in the air.

A survey of almost 6,000 UK employees by TotalJobs revealed 22% had met their partner through work and two-thirds had either previously dated a colleague or would be open to doing so; although these figures are indeed likely to be higher, with over three-quarters of workers choosing not to disclose their workplace relationships.

However, with Interflora going into overdrive and bouquets of roses popping up on desks across the country it may not be so easy to keep the office romance a secret and, in turn, organisations may be considering whether to introduce a Workplace Relationship policy.

In response to increased conversations surrounding Workplace Relationship policies, we at Tell Jane conducted research into whether they are necessary for today’s workplaces.

Firstly, we asked our LinkedIn community whether they already had a Workplace Relationship policy, which 20% did. When asked whether there was a need for Workplace Relationship policies in today’s workplaces, the community was split with 43% voting yes. Finally, we asked our community to consider whether they thought Workplace Relationship policies were effective in preventing sexual harassment, of which an overwhelming 88% said no. This then begs the question: what’s the point in a Workplace Relationship policy?

Let’s explore Workplace Relationship policies in more detail.

What is a Workplace Relationship policy?

A Workplace Relationship policy is not a means to police employees’ personal lives, especially as everyone has a right to a private life under the Human Rights Act 1988. Rather, the policy is intended to set the standards for acceptable workplace behaviour among employees in personal relationships – this applies to family relationships as well as romantic relationships.

What are the benefits of a Workplace Relationship policy?

The primary purpose of a Workplace Relationship policy is to mitigate issues relating to conflict of interest in line management, recruitment, and promotion. For example, if an employee enters into a relationship with their line manager there is the potential for (or perception of) favouritism in performance reviews and rewards. In which case, under the Workplace Relationship policy, the couple would be required to work in different departments and/or under different line management.

Similarly, post #MeToo, organisations introduced relationship policies to protect themselves and their people from incidences of sexual harassment and bullying. Unfortunately, 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. By setting standards of behaviour, Workplace Relationship policies therefore aim to prevent mistreatment and discrimination of employments as a result of relationship breakdowns.

What to consider before implementing a Workplace Relationship policy?

Workplace Relationship policies tend to include definitions of what constitutes a personal relationship, defining acceptable behaviours, managing workplace relationships (for example line management, recruitment, and reward), and addressing incidents of harassment.

Similarly, some organisations may include disclosure of personal relationships as part of their recruitment processes, while others may choose to include a requirement for employees to disclosure relationships as they occur as part of their Workplace Relationship policy. 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 when issuing the wedding invites?

Should my organisation have a Workplace Relationships policy?

Hmm…In my opinion, I would rather organisations concentrate on creating a culture of respect among all employees at all times – at Valentine’s Day or all year round, when falling in or out of love – than implement another policy. It is the company culture that is the key to reducing any negative impact that relationships and relationship breakdowns may have on the workplace and its employees.

I would, however, recommend that organisations detail in their overall Dignity and Respect at Work policy or Complaints and Grievance policies that those in romantic or family relationships cannot be responsible for line management or decisions relating to recruitment, salaries, promotions, or rewards.

 

As with all affairs of the heart, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to managing workplace relationships so feel free to contact me directly by emailing lisa@telljane.co.uk to see how we at Tell Jane can support your organisation.

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