The inevitability of the office romance—undeniable attraction, furtive yet sweet glances, flowers, small gifts, stolen moments, claims of favoritism and sex harassment, disruption to the workplace, and potentially, litigation and job loss. Not so romantic!
As adults, we spend most of our waking hours in the workplace. Opportunities to meet other adults become more limited as our work responsibilities increase, highlighting the common goals and bonds we share with our coworkers. Add the magic of attraction to this formula, and the product is often workplace romance. Over the last several years, news feeds have informed us that these attractions are not limited to employees but also extend to the C-suite. In 2019 McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook abruptly resigned from his post for what was described as having a consensual relationship with an employee. The McDonald’s board of directors said he had “violated company policy and demonstrated poor judgment.”
So, what is an employer to do? Prohibit relationships between coworkers completely? Require the employees to sign a “love contract,” a document indicating that their relationship is consensual, laying out expected office behaviors during and after the romance ends? The reality of these solutions is that they are not always practical or effective, often forcing employees to lie about their circumstances and turning HR into the dating police.
There are solutions. Start with a culture that values respect for all. Follow with policies that support open communication and prohibit conflicts of interest (such as a supervisor/subordinate relationship) and retaliation. Train your employees, supervisors, managers, and leaders on their responsibilities related to handling any harassment.
Happy Valentine’s Day!