Valentine’s Day may have been last month, but this month’s topic is an important one that all business owners and leaders should be prepared to address. After all, since a big chunk of life is spent at work, it should not come as a surprise that many people meet their partners in the workplace. Office relationships typically won’t be an issue – unless, of course, one or both of these individuals are already in a relationship. That said, leaders will want to keep the following in mind:
- Make it an expectation that staff advise their manager if they are in a relationship with another employee in the organization.
- Be prepared to address the situation if the relationship goes south. It may be a non-issue if the break-up is amicable. If not, however, does it mean moving one partner to a different area of the organization? Depending on the circumstances, it could mean one or both partners exiting the organization, especially if it is a relatively small company.
- If there is a reporting relationship between partners, ensure that measures are put in place to change the reporting structure. For example, instead of the employee reporting to the Manager of Finance (their significant other), they could instead take direction from the Manager of Operations. However, this can still bring about challenges, including the perception of fairness among other colleagues. The ideal solution is to make it an expectation of your senior leaders that they do not engage in a relationship with a more junior staff member.
- Reporting relationship or otherwise, be prepared to address situations whereby others feel that favoritism is shown because of the relationship. If questions arise, be transparent and have an open discussion.
- Have a conversation with both parties and provide them with your expectations of how they will conduct themselves in the workplace. Make it clear that you expect each person to act in a professional manner, regardless of what is happening in their personal lives together.
A bit of an aside to this topic, but it’s likely best to organize office parties that do not involve alcohol, which will lessen the likelihood of flings occurring between colleagues. And if there is alcohol, ensure that it’s in a controlled environment/situation. For example, have the company Christmas party on a Wednesday from 5:00pm – 7:30pm at a restaurant instead of having it on a Friday night at the local pub starting at 8:00pm. Another option is to invite spouses to the party, which may reduce the risk of anything too wild happening between coworkers.
And let’s face it, the admiration that one colleague feels for another may not be mutual. To this end, always take allegations of harassment (including sexual) very seriously. This involves conducting a proper investigation. If it is a small company and perceived fairness may be an issue – or there is not internal expertise to conduct the investigation – it is best to engage with an outside organization/consultant to take on this work.
As a leader, there are situations that are out of your control. However, like many issues that arise, being prepared is always best. After all, you never know when Cupid may strike in your organization!