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Responding to Workplace Romance

October 23rd, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Responding to Workplace Romance

Romance is a fact of life in the workplace. Managers often avoid confronting the workplace romance issue much as one would avoid a sleeping dragon. Why go looking for difficult and dangerous problems when your management plate is already overflowing? About 80 percent of employees may at some time be involved in or know of a workplace romance Employees often believe their love life is nobody’s business but their own even if it is evident in the workplace and may impact workplace outcomes. However, organizations often end up dealing with the aftermath of a workplace romance on one or more levels—including accusations of favoritism, sexual harassment claims, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims, confidentiality and/or privacy issues, and even workplace violence—all of which result in the potential of legal liability for the organization. The organization—most likely through the office of human resources—should develop policies and processes for managing and dealing with workplace romances.

The workplace has always been a major place for individuals to meet and learn about each other. This proximity may lead to attraction and romance, which in turn may lead to productivity losses for the organization, charges of sexual harassment, perceptions of employee favoritism, the potential for breaches of privacy, and even workplace violence Even fewer organizations include workplace romance and related issues resulting from workplace romance in employee orientation and training, preferring instead to ignore the problem in the hope that those involved will at least be discrete and modest and thus potential negative consequences will be finessed. Due to this lack of preparation, many office managers find themselves dealing on an ad hoc basis with the negative aftermath of failed workplace romances rather than effectively responding to and managing these romances. The reality seems clear effectively be banned, and workplace romances are difficult if not impossible to control or manage; yet, guidelines and policy can be created that assist managers and others in competently reducing liability for the firm however the romances turn out. – workplace romance cannot This paper first addresses the difficulty of defining just what workplace romances are and outlines the potential downside resulting from inept human resource management of these relationships. Second, the paper offers key components and concepts that should be included in a policy on workplace romances in order to minimize negative outcomes. Generic human resource management policies may provide guidelines about sharing confidential workplace information and appropriate behavior in the workplace, although these are not directly focused on managing such romance situations or the individuals involved in the workplace romance. The concern of about companies is that sexual harassment claims had evolved from failed workplace romances suggesting that workplace romance and sexual relationships in the workplace need serious organizational management and policy effort and concern. Prior research on workplace romances has focused on the eventual outcomes of workplace romances, the perceptions of employees and romance participants regarding workplace romances, the impact of these romances on organizational performance, and recommended HR actions and practice regarding attempting to monitor or even control romance in the workplace.

Workplace romance is defined as a mutually desired relationship that includes physical attraction between two members of the same organization. Workplace romance is consensual and mutually welcomed . More specifically, as with other romances, workplace romances are characterized by desiring to be with the other person and feelings of emotional and physical attraction, which may lead to a sharing of personal information, mutual caring and respect . Many employees in the contemporary workplace are working more hours in nonsex, segregated, team-based work environments. Logically, these interactions all contribute to increased romance, dating, and marriage among work colleagues or at least workplace interaction that goes well beyond the purely professional.

Working together allows people to get to know each other; and as familiarity grows, workplace romances may be more likely to occur. These relationships may form between peer co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, or even with company clients. The workplace may even be the ideal setting for developing romantic or sexual interests because of constant exposure; therefore, individuals can evaluate each other in an atmosphere that is non-threatening or time bound. The workplace is perhaps the most common place to meet one’s future partner or spouse. Yet, resulting legal cases and reduced organizational productivity resulting from failed relationships means that workplace romances need to be a focus of management’s awareness and attention and should be addressed in organizational policy and procedures. Each workplace romance, or any romance, has unique characteristics; but broad categories of workplace romance need specific mention as different outcomes and implications for the organization are common.

Three categories of workplace romance:

Employee peer to-peer workplace romance, supervisor and subordinate workplace romance, and workplace romance when one or both employees are married.

Romances Between Peers or Lateral Romances

Workplace romance between peers

That is employees who work in similar positions in terms of the organizational hierarchy, are often thought of as being more benign in terms of consequences to the organization. These affiliations result from the fact that many individuals spend more time in the workplace than in any other setting. Employees meet people with similar interests, education, and/or background at work. Employees involved in a peer workplace romance often keep their relationship a secret, at least in its early stages. Other employees in the same workplace are less likely to perceive a peer workplace romance as inappropriate or unfairly impacting power, influence, and/or decision making. One problem with peer romance is that peer romance employees may inappropriately share confidential or sensitive information especially when the involved employees work in different areas of the organization. Other issues may involve inappropriate or explicit sexual behavior in the workplace or even the more mundane problems of spending inordinate amounts of time together instead of attending to work tasks. An over-riding concern from managerial perspective is that if the workplace romance ends badly there might be disruption to participants’ and co-workers’ job performance or the ubiquitous fear of resulting sexual harassment claims

Hierarchical Romances

Romances involving individuals at different levels in hierarchical position–or when one of the employees is a manager or executive–can create complicating issues well beyond those involving peer employees. These hierarchical romance/relationships are often viewed as inappropriate and or unfair by the majority of employees because of the power dynamic and supervisory relationship and the potential for abuse or advantage to the lower ranked employee. This negative perception is especially true for romances involving interns because the intern has even less authority and power than full-time employees and thus is more susceptible to abuse or manipulation. Mentoring can also lead to workplace romance or at least a workplace sexual relationship. The involvement of a manager or executive with a subordinate can significantly increase an organization’s liability in the aftermath of a failed romance because of differences in power and authority, which may have lead to implicit statements or workplace-related actions made during the romance. Other employees tend to see supervisor-subordinate romances negatively due to the potential of unfair influence in work-related outcomes such as specific assignments, promotions, pay raises, and bonuses, which may have components of discrimination against them because of the perceived benefits to the participants. Thus, these can lead to legal action or detriment to the firm from those not directly involved in the workplace romance including lowered morale. Also, issues related to confidentiality and privacy may be heightened in supervisor-subordinate romantic relationships. Men more frequently hold the higher position in a hierarchical romance, so a hierarchical workplace romance not only can be a potential workplace disruption issue but also can open the door to gender and discrimination issues. Clearly, a workplace romance can negatively conflict with the business and legal best interests of the employees.

Romances Involving Married Employees

If one or both of the employees are married, the negative outcomes to the individuals involved and the organization can be further increased. The number of stakeholders affected by this romance expands to include others outside the boundaries of the organization; thus liability for the company expands as well. Extramarital affairs are regarded negatively by social norms generally, and this negativity is enhanced by concerns of lack of professionalism or judgment by participants when occurring in the workplace and likely has negative consequences for the reputation of the company as well. The challenge is that companies need to protect themselves from the negative consequences of workplace romance (including harm resulting to individuals who don’t work directly for the company) while maintaining a positive workplace environment for all employees.


Management and Workplace Romance

Workplace romance is now common, regardless of its category and has likely always been present in the workplace although perhaps less open in the past. Workplace romances are usually grudgingly tolerated by management, but this tolerance is most likely a default position given that responding to workplace romances and developing policies and procedures to manage them, seems daunting. Management may implicitly agree that romance, even in the workplace, is none of its business. Management may realistically acknowledge that stopping workplace romance or sexual relationships is simply not possible or that its attempts to control or even prohibit workplace romance may push the relationship underground and, therefore, create even more legal complications if the workplace romance ends harshly, for example, making it difficult to prove the relationship was consensual. Yet tolerance should not be confused by employees with acceptance. So, although some organizations prohibit workplace romances, many are reluctant to acknowledge or deal with the accompanying issues until forced to by the potentially negative consequences of these relationships. This reactive instead of proactive attitudes also create grief for the organization.

Potential Outcomes of Workplace Romances

It is clear that at least some of the time there are potentially serious consequences of workplace romances in the workplace. It also seems clear that fear of sexual harassment lawsuits leads to attempts to regulate workplace romance, and sometimes these regulations in turn lead to issues of discrimination or damaged privacy rights. The organization may find itself in a no-win situation.

Positive outcomes Some research indicates that the energy associated with workplace romance may be channeled into work and dating employees may have higher productivity than before the romance . There is related research on workplace friendship suggesting reduced stress, increased communication, better workplace outcomes, and even greater acceptance of organizational change. In addition some organizations experience lower turnover because married employees who work in the same company tend to stay with the company some of workplace romances end in marriage, so workplace romance can lead to positive organizational outcomes. Study found that workplace romance has a positive effect on organizational commitment and neutral effects on job performance or motivation. However, some of workplace romances do end, sometimes unpleasantly; and some of these failed romances do result in negative workrelated or legal outcomes.

Negative outcomes

Negative outcomes from workplace romances are numerous and may include lower productivity on the part of the couple and the co-workers, claims of retaliation when the romance ends, complaints of favoritism on the part of other workers during the romance, negative perceptions of the organization or its employees by those both inside and outside the organization, and possibly even violence.

The issue of sexual harassment is subjective to some extent, and management cannot ignore or brush off accusations even if it appears the claim has no merit.

Line Managers and Supervisors and Workplace Romances

Many managers and supervisors remain uncertain of how to recognize workplace romances when they occur, or what should happen once they perceive or know that two employees are involved in a romance. A clear workplace romance policy, as part of effective Human Resource policies, would certainly assist these managers in managing a workplace romance. Obviously, some employees believe that romantic relationships between coworkers are none of management’s business and may intentionally try to keep these relationships a secret. Depending on organizational culture or climate, the supervisor(s) or manager(s) of the two employees involved in a romance are often the last people to know about the romance. However, these relationships are difficult to keep secret from other co-workers because the romantically involved employees often spend much more time together than in times prior to the relationship. Other changes in employee behavior that may be related to a workplace romance may be obvious as well. Early intervention on the part of management is completely dependent upon early awareness of workplace romances as they are developing. Without a clear policy and reporting guidelines, supervisors and managers have a much more difficult task in terms of early response and any necessary interventions whatever these interventions may be. The potential damage to an organization requires a proactive position on the part of the employer, specific guidelines and policy from the human resources department, and the consistent response from managers and supervisors with respect to employee romances. Organizational leadership and especially human resources management leadership need to be trained in dealing with workplace romance. Today, it has to be management’s business to manage workplace romances.

    October 24th, 2015 at 17:23 | #1


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