HR BLOG: Preventing cupid problems

STATISTICALLY, one in five people marries a co-worker. Perhaps unsurprising given how long colleagues spend in each other’s company. For employers, it’s hard to know which side of the fence to be on when two of your team make their working relationship more personal.

Relationships at work are like Marmite for employers and employees alike. Some staff members are open to dating colleagues, whereas others avoid it like the plague. Similarly, some managers promote or rule out workplace romances amongst staff. It all depends on your management style, company culture and policies. So what is your take on love in the workplace?

Some managers see love as a powerful motivator, driving performance, enhancing working relationships and reducing staff turnover. You can see the thinking: having your partner close can be a fantastic way to boost your mood during the day, and you’re much less likely to leave a job when such a strong connection remains. This approach is being tested by Toronto-based accounting firm ‘Freshbooks’, who actively set up blind-dates between employees! Although the blind-dates don’t always end in romance, they’ve definitely succeeded in bringing employees together who may never have even spoken before the experiment.

Before a romance blossoms, there may be flirting! Flirting can be time intensive and distracting so it’s important for managers to ensure that performance doesn’t suffer. If two members of staff are spending most of their day by the water cooler, it may be time to reiterate the rules. Workplace flirting can also touch a nerve with colleagues, irritating them or prompting a relentless cycle of ‘will they, won’t they’ which could distract the whole team.

What happens when the flirting isn’t reciprocated? It’s easy for a flirtatious message or an innocent gift to be deemed inappropriate, with the potential to cause offence this Valentine’s Day. Make sure you’re prepared to manage any fall-outs.

It’s important to be realistic about office romances. Love has a bad habit of turning sour; and when personal relationships end, working relationships often follow suit. Make sure you have written policies that separate employees’ lives from their work, to prevent arguments spilling over into the workplace. Should an employee be upset, be an open ear to them – you may be able to diffuse a situation before it gets worse. If they simply can’t work together any more ensure this is managed appropriately. Always consider the team dynamics when taking action – side taking will divide your workforce!

So what approach should you take as an employer when Cupid fires his arrow? You could take the ‘Freshbooks’ approach and embrace it, or do the opposite and ban it, like this company did. A good middle ground, appropriate in most cases, is to make it clear through your policies and handbooks that personal relationships are to be pursued outside working hours. This approach avoids invading an employee’s private life, whilst safeguarding performance.

Happy Valentines Day!

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