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Handling an Office Romance

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 7 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Handling An Office Romance

We all know that office romances and affairs happen. They're certainly nothing new. What has changed, however, is the attitude of employers towards this conduct. In the past employers often turned a blind eye to what was going on. More recently, there have been attempts to ban office romances altogether and there are also widespread and conflicting opinions on whether or not office romances are a good or bad idea.

The State of Relationships

The last thing an employer (or even the head of a department) wants is to be caught in the fallout when office romances goes sour. Currently companies rarely prohibit relationships, but a few do place restrictions on situations where involved couples work together.

So what is discouraged? For obvious reasons, manager-subordinate relationships are frowned on, and some will try and restrict office romances from being conducted in the same department or team (and possibly even on the same site). Also, again for very obvious reasons, couples interviewing each other for a job isn't a good idea.

The Solution

More companies these days are making their employees sign contracts, under which they agree to inform managers if they begin an office romance with other members of staff. From the corporate point of view, this makes perfect sense. It avoids any hint of favouritism, stops legal action being taken by employees for having their rights infringed, and can cut down on the problems that might happen when affairs end. Also, corporate thinking allows them to be aware of what's going on in the workplace and how it can affect productivity. It's certainly worth considering when surveys have shown that seven out of ten workers admit to having had an office affair - a staggeringly high figure. Therefore, office romances have their dangers too.

However, the longer-term effects of this kind of policy remain to be seen. According to lawyers, contracts of this type might breach the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights.

What's To Be Done?

Whilst legal challenges to the contract seem inevitable, and unions and staff might object, the idea of the contract and "confessing" an office romance to the boss might remain, although how many workers will live up to it remains to be seen?

The real answer, of course, is to make sure you don't begin a romantic involvement with anyone at work. However, that might be excellent in theory, but in practice it doesn't seem to work. However secret people try and keep a workplace romance private, word inevitably leaks out so it's rare that you can safeguard your privacy.

Although it might seem restrictive and an intrusion, there is a certain logic to making it somewhat official within the office. It stops all manner of conflict, and if the relationship ends (which most do), it means the problems associated with that can be contained. It's certainly better than the Draconian measures of banning sex between employees, which is an unworkable policy.

Obviously, companies would ideally prefer no office romances, as they lessen productivity. But realistically, that's not going to happen. It's better, then, to be aware of what's happening, with a code of conduct, for them to monitor everything. People spend so much time in the office that romances are inevitable. Having some control over the situation is better for the company.

It's also better for the employees - there's no need for them to keep everything hidden, or be forced to skulk away. Whilst that doesn't address the moral issues if one of both has partners outside work, being open in the office improves both morale and productivity.

Be aware of the policy within your company and comply with it.

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