It’s February and love is in the air… and on TV, in advertisements, on retailers' shelves. Markers of the approaching chocolate-and-rose-filled festivities that are the hallmarks of Valentine’s Day are basically everywhere you look – they may even pop up in your office. Whatever your opinion on it, virtually no workplace is impervious to office romance, or the challenges it presents.
Office romance fast facts
Recent surveys by Vault and CareerBuilder that asked working professionals across the US about the topic of office romance yielded some pretty interesting results:
More than half of business professionals have had an office romance.
10 percent of people met their spouse while at work.
One-fourth of office romances have been between people of different levels of company rankings.
5 percent of people who've had an office romance that ended badly ended up leaving their jobs.
One of the studies also found that a person's industry can indicate their likelihood of having an office romance. The retail and technology industries led the field with rates of 62 and 60 percent, respectively.
But what do all these lovely statistics mean for employers?
Strategies for dealing with office romance
Employers aren't oblivious to the possibility of inter-office relationships, of course. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that the number of companies with formal policies in place that addressed workplace romances doubled between 2005 and 2013.
And for good reason: Romantic relationships between employees can be fraught with complications for employers. Possible consequences include reduced employee productivity, negative effects on employee morale, increased potential for conflicts between employees and even sexual harassment lawsuits.
If an employer wants to include a formal fraternization policy in their employee handbook, they should make sure to consider both the legal and practical implications of doing so. Policies should comply with provisions of federal, state and local laws that address sexual harassment and retaliation claims. At the very least, the policy should prohibit romantic or sexual relationships between employees and their direct supervisors. When it comes to other categories of office romances, best practices dictate that the policy outline permitted and prohibited behaviors, as well as what may happen to employees who violate the policy. This will likely reiterate many of the points in an employer's anti-sexual-harassment policy.
While not common, another avenue an employer can take in order to address office romances would be a "romance agreement." Such agreements are designed to document that an employer has been made aware of a consensual among co-workers. They also often ask the employees involved to acknowledge that the relationship is consensual, that they understand that the other person has the right to end the relationship without fear of reprisal, and that the relationship will not affect with the overall workplace nor their individual performance. When used in conjunction with the employer's other policies, romance agreements can help to protect the employer against claims of harassment or retaliation, even though the agreements themselves might not be legally enforceable.
If an employer isn't already conducting sexual harassment trainings, they need to begin doing so immediately. All managers and supervisors should receive this training periodically, and it should cover both the company's anti-sexual-harassment policy as well as any fraternization or other office romance policies.