Rules of engagement for the office romance

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Rules of engagement for the office romance

According to Onetest psychologist Matthew Neale, office romance is becoming more and more commonplace, but when co-workers fall in love employers need to keep their heads.

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Did a gift of flowers or chocolates reveal a blossoming romance at your workplace yesterday?

If so, the lovers may be happy, but the boss might not be quite so pleased.

According to Onetest psychologist Matthew Neale, office romance is becoming more and more commonplace, but when co-workers fall in love employers need to keep their heads.

He says love and sex in the workplace can easily lead to problems such as performance issues, accusations of favouritism, blackmailing, bullying and sexual harassment.

Neale advises employers in his role as senior organisational psychologist and national consulting manager for employment solutions group, Onetest.

High pressure jobs

‘Studies show that 11% of Australians and a whopping 33% of Americans fall in love at the office, and this is likely to increase in the future as people spend more of their waking hours at work and in high pressure jobs,’ he says.

‘Yet many employers struggle with the challenges posed by workplace relationships which can have significant effects on the individuals involved as well as the broader group.

‘For example, maintaining appropriate professional boundaries, particularly if the romance is between a supervisor and a subordinate, can often be difficult.’

Drop in performance

Neale said that while performance does not necessarily drop in a stable workplace relationship, other team members often perceive a drop in productivity.

In one recent study, 70% of people agreed that workplace relationships led to a drop in productivity due to chatting, socialising, long lunches and lengthy discussions at work.

Also, failed workplace romances can easily lead to harassment and discrimination claims.

‘To avoid expensive harassment claims, organisations need a strong policy on handling workplace relationships’, says Neale.

Rules

‘Given that workplace romances are highly likely to occur, organisations should have a set of “rules of engagement” for workplace romance, rather than outlawing it entirely.’

These rules could include:

  • having a comprehensive and enforceable harassment policy with access to an adequate complaint procedure;
  • ensuring that policies on relationships between co-workers are clear; and
  • having effective supervision, with supervisors properly trained to manage their work relationships with subordinates.


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