Managing your employees is complicated enough. It becomes even more of a challenge when you throw office romances into the mix. With the amount of time co-workers spend together, employee relations are a definite possibility, which makes it important to prepare accordingly.
Why Are Employee Relations a Problem?
Any kind of employee relationship opens a huge can of worms for your company. The absolute best-case scenario is that the employees involved never let their relationship affect their work. Maybe your company gets lucky in that regard, or maybe the employees make their relationship too obvious at work and annoy everyone else. If they break up, they could have trouble working together. Office romances can easily tank your office’s productivity.
That’s only looking at what could happen if you have two employees who decide to start dating. If it’s just one employee developing a crush on another, there’s the risk of it developing into sexual harassment. Relations between an employee and a manager are especially problematic because of the potential for preferential treatment. Even if there is no preferential treatment going on, other employees may believe there is favoritism.
How to Set Boundaries on Workplace Relations
It’s best to attack the issue head-on by including a section on workplace relations in your employee handbook with clear written guidelines on acceptable conduct at the office. Some companies even choose to prohibit employee relations entirely. The problem with that rule is that in most cases, a company can’t police what employees do in their free time. Telling employees they can’t date each other crosses that line.
The good news is that you can set boundaries on what employees do while they’re at work. Make sure your policy states that flirting and public displays of affection aren’t acceptable office behaviours.
What to Do When a Problem Develops
While the hope is that your employees follow your guidelines, some may choose to toe the line. If that happens, you may need to step in. When two employees are openly flirting and causing a distraction, it’s best to speak with them privately and explain that you need them to stop. If it continues to be a problem, then you should follow your standard disciplinary procedure like you would for any other recurring issue. Document everything and go from verbal to written warnings so you have a paper trail if you eventually need to let them go. You can follow the same procedure if it’s just one employee acting inappropriately.
If one of your employees develops an infatuation with you, it’s trickier and certainly a situation you should handle with care. Try to ignore subtle flirtations, as the employee could plead ignorance if you talk about it. If the behaviour becomes too much of a distraction, then you should have a private conversation. Do your best to let the person down easy. After all, those feelings aren’t necessarily intentional. At the same time, firmly explain that the behaviour needs to end.
Left unchecked, employee romances can derail your business or even lead to a lawsuit. Be upfront about your conduct policies and take disciplinary action when needed to keep relationship drama away from the office.