It must be love...

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, now is the perfect time for businesses to give some thought to how they manage interoffice relationships.

According to a study by Approved Index, more than 65% of office staff say that they have been involved in at least one office fling. With people spending more and more time at work, it makes sense that an office may end up the place where many a relationship starts. And providing that the relationship is going well, often there is no problem. But what happens if, and when the relationship turns sour? How does this impact on your work space, the rest of the team and more importantly the performance of those employees?

As many employers have found, this needs some consideration.

So firstly, if you don’t already have a policy regarding inter-office relationships then you should consider putting one in place. The main reason is that a policy provides consistency, so that everyone is treated fairly and the same rules apply to all. Written guidelines set out clear expectations for employees and what behaviours are acceptable. It also ensures that employees feel protected and provides managers with a point of reference. It is important to be clear that as an employer you are not trying to control what your people do, but encouraging an environment in which staff feel able to be open and transparent.

What should a policy contain?

1. Whether the business condones dating in the workplace or not (most do), and if so what the boundaries are. For example:

  • Keeping personal discussions outside of work

  • Not spending too much time talking/interacting with each other as opposed to undertaking work duties

  • Advising HR if/when you enter into a relationship with a colleague in order to demonstrate transparency

  • The importance of maintaining professionalism at all times

2. Consider whether you may wish to prohibit relationships between managers and subordinates due to the risk of allegations of favouritism.

3. List all those things which the business considers inappropriate conduct (and the consequences of such action, for example disciplinary action):

  • Disruptive behaviour

  • Offending other members of the team

  • Adverse effect on performance

  • Arguing whilst at work

4. Make reference to the fact that non-consensual relationships constitute sexual harassment and they are prohibited and will be dealt with accordingly, refer to a separate Harassment Policy (see below).

5. Friendships in the workplace, for example you may wish to cover points such as borrowing money, gossiping, cliques, and ensuring that employees always adhere to the company code of conduct.

If you already employ workers who are in a relationship consider speaking to them about the importance of maintaining a professional working relationship with not only each other but colleagues too.

A further consideration, and a timely one given the current media coverage, is how businesses can ensure that they are better equipped to support employees who make allegations of sexual harassment. An Interoffice Relationships Policy should make reference to harassment but you should have a separate and much more detailed policy which details solely with harassment.

Companies need to be aware that harassment can take many forms. As such, defining what harassment is would a helpful first step. A definition for the purposes of a policy could be: “Any unwanted, unwelcome contact or interactions that make someone feel uncomfortable, threatened, embarrassed or intimidated.”

The key thing for managers to remember is that it is irrelevant whether a person intends to cause harm, upset or embarrassment. It is the opinion of the recipient which is the deciding factor.

So, how should a business deal with a harassment claim which comes from a soured relationship?

Well firstly, ensure that you have a zero-tolerance harassment policy in place and that the policy is communicated out to all members of staff. The policy should be accessible to your people and you should be confident that the employees understand it. it may be appropriate to look into training options to ensure that a policy is successfully embedded (as opposed to something which gathers dust in a bottom drawer somewhere).

Often the requirement for training will depend on the culture of the business and whether there are ingrained issues and reoccurring complaints of harassment.

And finally,…don’t forget that the language you use in all of your communications sets the tone for your business and everything begins with the point at which an employee learns about your company and considers joining. As such, take note from this ad (listed in January with Guardian jobs) of how not to do things…

For assistance with any policies please drop me a email on or give me a call!

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