HomeOpinion & AnalysisWorkplace dating: From boardrooms to bedrooms

Workplace dating: From boardrooms to bedrooms


By Emmanuel Zvada

HAVE you ever crushed on someone you work with? Or asked a co-worker out on a date? If so, you are not alone because almost half of the people reading this article have gone into the same trap of trying to balance boardroom issues (workplace) and bedroom issues at work. Given the number of hours we spend at our jobs, it is not surprising that many love matches have been made in the workplace. Unfortunately, not all love stories end happily. But even if they do, the potential problems employers face from romances at work should not be ignored. Love may be in the air but it doesn’t have to poison the workplace.

The most important question almost everyone asks is if workplace dating is permissible. The workplace has always been a major place for individuals to meet and learn about each other. This closeness may lead to attraction, workplace cliques or workplace romance which in turn may lead to production losses for the organisation, charges of sexual harassment, perceptions of employee favouritism among other negative effects. In most cases when this topic is a subject matter, very few people want to discuss it as if it is a taboo, yet in actual fact many organisations often end up suffering the aftermath and consequences of a workplace romance or cliques at workplaces.

It is very crucial to note that workplace romances and workplace cliques will happen regardless of what the company does, but there are things that can be done to alleviate the challenges that come with them. The organisation most likely through the office of human resources should develop policies and processes for managing and dealing with workplace romances and cliques. In this regard, we are not saying employees should be placed on undue restrictions to do with dating each other, as everyone should be free to choose their partners. But we want to make sure that relationships and unnecessary cliques will not cause problems in the workplace

Office relationships invite trouble but are inevitable depending on the type of relationship. These connections are complex as they can exist in and out of the organisation, and can be both positive and negative. Workplace relationships are not limited to friendships, but also include superior-subordinate romance and family relationships. While face-to-face workplace interactions are common, romantic workplace relationships are a virus that has hit many organisations both private and public.

Risks of workplace dating

Romantic relationships have a great impact on the workplace as well as employees who are involved. Office romance can sometimes lead to serious conflicts. While these conflicts stem from a personal relationship, they can impact business as well. Regardless of your organisation’s approach to workplace romance, no one organisation is immune to possible litigation over workplace romance especially if it extends to sexual harassment.

Workplace romance also affects the employee’s performance and productivity. Workplace romance affects a number of important employees’ work-related activities, it leads to deterioration in employee productivity and performance, reason being divided attention especially for those involved. Work dedication and productivity can be negatively affected by workplace romance due to long lunches, extended discussions behind closed doors etc. Conflict of interest, flawed or biased decision-making and other workplace inequities that have a negative impact on both individual and organisational performance can also be the result of workplace romance.

Workplace romance is an inevitable issue that comes up in any work environment but measures should be put in place so that it does not affect the organisation. Below are some of the measures on how to deal with romance in the workplace:

Maintaining dignity and professionalism

Personal lives and professional lives should always be separated. It is also important to note that workplace sexual relationships are not only disruptive but affect productivity. Fraternising in that manner is bad for employee morale and for business because when it all blows up, everyone suffers from the fallout.

If the relationship falls apart, it could cause a lot of problems at the workplace. The couple could end up arguing all the time, and that would look bad on the employees themselves, and the business as a whole, if it is happening at work.

You should stick to your professional goals and stay true to who you are as an employee. Avoid by all means to use company emails or telephones for any communication related to your relationship. Keep it professional in case you are in one since in some cases it is unavoidable. And try not to make any of your co-workers uncomfortable as a result of the relationship.

Consider developing a policy on workplace romance

Workplace romance policies are not for every organisation and, frankly, there is good reason for that. Policies that prohibit all employees from dating are difficult to enforce, even if they are legal. The same is true about policies that prohibit supervisors from dating any non-supervisory employees. But after thinking about your organisation’s environment and culture and consulting with your legal counsel, you could decide, for example, that your organisation wants a policy that prohibits dating between supervisors and subordinates who are in a reporting work relationship.

If you do write such a policy, you must include a couple of disclosure obligations, the actions the company may take, and the consequences of violating the policy.

Train your staff about sexual harassment

Employees at all levels should be educated about the types of conduct that could be considered harassment. Make sure your employees understand what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behaviour at work and be explicit that your organisation expects employees to treat each other with respect at all times.

Also, be sure your supervisors understand that relationships with subordinates bring their credibility into question and raise significant concerns about conflict of interest and harassment.

Follow office behaviour guidelines

When you are at work, your focus should be on the job, not on your relationship. Avoid meeting at the break room to flirt or holding hands to and from meetings.

This is a place of business, so there should not be any public display of affection. Also, don’t seek a romantic encounter after hours on the premises. While it may seem exciting in your own view, you do not want a co-worker to report you and jeopardise your career.

Keep your ethics intact after break-up

There are many people who successfully date co-workers or businesses associates, and maintain their work integrity even when those relationships end. Please note that we are not encouraging workplace romance, but obviously considering that some are already in the situation, it is important to stay calm if the relationship ends because not every office romance will end in true love.

If your relationship ends, maintain professionalism and ensure you won’t disrupt the workplace. You mustn’t badmouth your former partner, sabotage their work or reveal any intimate details.

Workplace romances are a reality. Allowing people to be romantically involved at work is a bad idea, although not allowing it is not enforceable.

The workplace is a place to work, and romantic relationships need to stay outside that environment.

While being friends with a co-worker doesn’t mean you can be fired from your job, you could get fired if your relationship causes work disruptions.

  • Emmanuel Zvada is an award-winning Most Fabulous Global HR practitioner 2020, HR disrupter and trusted coach. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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