By Leigh-Ann Athanasius & Kathleen Kibi

It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air! But should it be left at the office door?

Most people spend more time in a day interacting with their colleagues than they do with their friends or family. So it’s only natural for relationships to develop beyond the professional, with romantic relationships emerging every now and then.

Everyone knows that romantic relationships in the office are generally frowned upon and for good reason. The big question with workplace romances is – should you pursue the relationship?

As HR professionals, this is our take on it…

It depends.

To employers:

To enforce any kind of restriction on romantic relationships in the office, you need to have a policy in place that all employees have signed. Then there is something that you are holding your employees accountable to.

Some of the things you can include in your organisation’s policy are:

  • Clearly laying out the rules around dating people of different ranks within the organisation especially between direct supervisors and their subordinates
  • Prohibiting dating within the same department to protect the team dynamics
  • Requiring the relationship be declared to HR

To employees:

It is important that before you even consider a relationship with your colleague, you understand your company’s policy surrounding this. Each company may have its own policy on how relationships should be handled. Knowing your company’s dating policy can save you time, energy, and potential heartache as you will already know what is off limits, and the consequences of violating that policy.

If you went on one date and it didn’t work out but ended amicably, then you can probably keep that just between the two of you. However, if anything seems like its heading long term (2+ months), it should be disclosed.

Letting HR know about your relationship allows for contingency plans to be made to deal with however your relationship progresses. Our role as HR isn’t to be ‘involved in your business’ but to assess how your relationship may affect the working relationships and environment of the business.

If you do have a relationship with a colleague, these are some things to consider:

  1. Save the PDA for outside the office
  2. Address any relationship issues after work
  3. Plan for the worst. Be prepared to potentially leave the job if things go sour

Why are relationships discouraged?

From the organisation’s perspective, workplace romance can come with a lot of risk.

Team dynamics can change especially if the couple is within the same department. Other team members may be uncomfortable with the new relationship if it affects the way everyone used to interact.

There can be issues of perceived favouritism when the relationship is between a supervisor and subordinate. This is where policy would need to come in to protect the company and the rest of the employees. This is particularly necessary when it comes to performance review.

If the relationship ends, there is a possibility that the productivity of the relevant parties is compromised. Worst case scenario, there is animosity and resentment after the breakup that could lead to sabotaging each other’s work. This ultimately could negatively affect the company.

Obviously, this is not always how these relationships pan out, but it is something that has to be considered by employees before deciding on whether or not to pursue a relationship with their co-worker.

Is the risk worth it?

To be honest, we can’t make that decision for you. If this is a scenario you are faced with, you would have to do your own cost-benefit analysis and assess the effect it could have on your work and ask yourself a big question, ‘are they worth it’?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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